Making connections

I think this is my biggest problem as an author, blogger, person in general: I struggle to make connections with people. Once I make a connection, it’s there for a long time, thankfully. I have a handful of really close friends I’ve managed to make and hang onto over the years. But there’s so much going on in my head when I first meet someone (face to face or virtually) that I basically set myself up to fail at making a genuine connection.

The desire is there. So what’s the problem?

Well, first off, I’m an introvert. My ideal day off is staying home and reading, writing, painting Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, playing video games, or watching some TV show, all while sitting next to my husband. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we run errands together or work around the house, and end up having a good time. But mostly, it’s in the quiet moments of simply being together that rejuvenates my soul, makes me take a big contented sigh and smile. Ninety percent of the time, I’m okay with this type of day or weekend. And then there is the ten percent of the time when I crave something different.

I get these spurts of adventurous cravings where I want to go try a new activity or do something I haven’t done in a really long time (like Escape a Room, go rock climbing, go hiking, drive out to the lake, go to the zoo, go to an amusement park, go mini-golfing, go swimming, go to a new restaurant, watch a comedian live, watch a play or a musical, drive until I run out of road). And I want to do these things with other people.

There’s something appealing about the idea of calling up my friends, being surrounded by a group of people I care about and am comfortable around, and striking out together. Going out on the town, hanging out somewhere public, goofing off, taking pictures, making memories. TV shows and books with large casts of lovable characters who treat each other like family (despite the fact that none of them are actually related) are my favorite. I love the interactions between everyone, the different relationships and personalities, how their strengths and weaknesses play off each other.

 

The closest thing I ever came to having something like that was when I was in high school. My cousin and her then-boyfriend, now-husband started a youth group at their church, located a town over from where I lived. There were ten to twelve of us at any given meeting, ranging from sixteen to twenty years old. I was the youngest and the outlier at fourteen, but I was “mature for my age.” Plus, my older brother and sister were kind enough to let their kid sister tag along. Some of us were related but distantly, while others were just friends. We’d get together for a time of Bible study but then we’d go on to do other things like play board games, go bowling, go to the movies, or to go to the county fair (when it was in town). I was even more shy back then than I am now so I didn’t participate very much, but I loved it. Simply being there, witnessing deep moments, listening to hilarious conversations, being included…it made my teenage years bearable. Then, of course, we all grew up and moved away or got married and the group was disbanded.

But I haven’t forgotten that group or the memories we made together.

Life is different in big city Phoenix, Arizona than it was in little town El Centro, California. (“Where is that?” you might ask, to which I would answer, “Exactly.”) As I mentioned earlier, I have a small group of friends I’m close to and hang out with as time allows but I’ve never managed to put them all together in the same room. I’ve never managed to recreate what I had with that youth group from my high school days. And maybe that’s a good thing. These friends aren’t the friends I had back then. I might have some unrealistic expectations for them, for people in general. And, as I also said earlier, most of the time I’m perfectly fine with hanging out with two to three people at a time and just doing what we always do.

The desire to be a part of a larger group of people still crops up when I least expect it. But I’ve never liked meeting new people. I hate small talk and I think strangers can pick up on that subconsciously.

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People generally ask about work, school, and family when they first meet me. Those conversations usually go something like this:

I’m a receptionist at my church. I’m currently finishing up a Creative Writing Program…Why? Oh, I’m an author. No, I haven’t written anything you’ve heard of, just a young adult romance novel called I Dare You to Love Me and a new adult paranormal fantasy about werewolves called In the Dark. No, that last one is not like Twilight. I have a new adult epic fantasy coming out in April called Asta and the Barbarians. Yes, that is interesting, thanks for saying so. What types of books do I like reading? Fantasy mostly. Books like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series and…Oh, you’ve never heard of them? Well, they’re great. You should try reading them sometime! Yeah, those are basically my two past times. I’m kind of boring. *insert nervous laughter here* I’m currently married, have been for two years and nine months. No kids yet, soon though, maybe. I have a dog and a fat cat that I adore. They’re basically my children. What about you? Uh-huh…Oh, I see. That’s so cool! Yeah, I’ve always wondered about *insert career or job or major here.* What can you tell me about that? Ahh…

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Once we’ve exhausted these routes, the awkward silence descends. I flounder for other questions to ask or things to mention (the weather, the event we’re at, the location), all the while smiling and hoping they don’t notice how terrified and small I feel, or how boring I sound to myself. After that, it’s been my experience, they come up with a polite way to excuse themselves and then I’m left standing there alone, feeling like an idiot, psychoanalyzing every word that was said and whether it was positively received or whether I could’ve done something differently.

My sister, who is more extroverted than I am, once told me to simply talk about myself, maybe even make fun of myself a little. “It will help you loosen up,” she said. “And usually hearing about someone else will prompt a stranger to talk about themselves. Then the conversation gets going naturally.” Thing is, I hate talking about myself. I hate being in the spotlight. I’d rather talk about anything other than myself. I think about the friends I currently have, wondering what I did that could’ve made them stick around and whether I could do that again when trying to make new friends.

Honestly, I think I just got lucky with those guys…

It’s slightly different meeting people online, but not by much. Scrolling through my Facebook or Twitter news feeds, I click incessantly, liking or loving or laughing at posts. Then people post questions about writing, publishing, marketing, blogging. I’m tempted to answer but, what knowledge could I possibly share? I’m still learning! Reading other people’s blog posts is fun. Most of the time I just have to say, “Great piece!” or “I agree!” with two to three sentences on why that is. Some people respond with more than a “Thank you!” but not very many. And how do you continue a conversation that way without coming off as sketchy or weird?

Uuuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhh.

When did making friends become so complicated? My first day of third grade there was a little girl sitting next to me who was crying because she didn’t want her mother to leave her. I was terrified too. Second grade had been hard enough; I wasn’t looking forward to third. I felt a connection to that girl. I was a little embarrassed for her to be honest, but I could understand how she was feeling. I don’t remember the conversation that followed, but I remember that her tears prompted me to talk to her. And we were friends from that day until sophomore year of high school.

I guess the moral of that story is don’t try, right? It’ll come naturally. Follow Kyoko Honda’s advice from Fruit Baskets.

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But sometimes that backfires and I end up pushing someone away with a careless word or phrase that wasn’t even intended to be offensive. So it’s kind of hard no to be paranoid.

How do the extroverts do it? No, seriously, how do you guys do it? I could use some tips here. I think it would help me become better at small talk.