I hate meeting new people, and I’ve never been good at it. I’ve always felt like there is this implicit assumption that, whenever we meet a new person, we’ll somehow give them a little overview of who we are, then they will give theirs, and then we will evaluate each other to see what kind of relationship will be born: “Hi, I’m Nes, I have a Master’s degree, a ton of baggage, and make jokes at inopportune times.”
I don’t want to give an overview. I don’t want to meet a new colleague and spend the first few meetings in quiet contemplation over whether this person will judge what they know of me as worth ridicule or friendship. I don’t want new friends or new email addresses to ignore.
I think a lot of universal discomfort with meeting new people comes from this unstated judgment of our respective character introductions. That’s probably why we look for friends in places we’d want to be. I get along decently with other English teachers, and that is because there is at least one thing we have in common that we both approve of. Conversely, if I met someone at a Trump rally, I’d probably start off with unremitting disdain for that person because they have put themselves in the company of a bigoted man-baby who lusts after the unjust authority of a dictator and has had a direct hand in the wrongful imprisonment of children.
I would probably make some decent friends at a writing workshop or a book club for people who like dragons too much, and I would want to abandon alone in the desert anyone I met at a meeting for racists-who-don’t-call-themselves-racists. But what about everywhere else? There’s all this neutral ground, or places slightly weighted with my own enjoyment or dislike of them that still attract people of communities I might like to be a part of. I’ve heard knitting circles can be wild.
What about a Denny’s at 3 in the morning? If I met someone there, they could be like me. They could be tired and spiritually exhausted and have the general sense that their time is running out faster than they’re using it, and we might get along by sharing this mutual sense of our own inevitable demise. But there is equal probability that the person I’d meet at a Denny’s in the desperate hours of the morning has just killed someone and left the body in the storm drain outside, and they’ve come to Denny’s because they like the food and want to get rid of that I-just-killed-someone feeling.
Seeing as lately I feel terrible if I think about even eating chicken, I don’t think I’d hit it off with someone who leaves bodies in drains. Also, you don’t go to Denny’s that early in the morning because you like it; you go because you know there are hours before the sun comes up and it’s hours since the bars closed and Denny’s is the only one that will have you.
So what do we do about all this neutral ground? Worry, of course. My brain tells me anxiety is the answer to all these uncertain places.
I am an anxious person and trying to figure out why that is has driven enough conversations with my therapist that I felt like it was worth writing about to explore further and see if anyone relates. I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of neutral, negative, and positive ground for interacting with other people. I’ve started categorizing the places I go regularly, but all that has done is either make me guarded whenever I’m somewhere neutral or somewhere I can’t characterize.
And what about this place? I’ve been writing here a long time, and I’ve noticed, remarkably, that I have no idea what kind of person likes my writing. I don’t exactly like my own writing, so they probably aren’t exactly like me. It’s weird to say that this blog is neutral ground. I’ve no idea if the people that read my writing would like me as a person, and I don’t know if I’d like them. Maybe?
So what’s left to do? Worry, I guess. Worry and wait and avoid people in some places and tentatively seek them out in others. And no more Denny’s.