Two weeks of small talk, Internet. That is what’s been going on around here.
Firstly, I joined a women’s service organization. It meets approximately eight million times a month.
Secondish, I went to a wedding where I knew about 5 people. Of the 260 who attended the wedding.
Thirdness, I went to a three-day business conference for networking and fact-finding.
Internet, I am an introvert, through and through. A couple of hours spent meeting new people is enough to make me take to my bed for a week of rest and recuperation and introspection about what an idiot I made of myself and self pity about how no one will ever want to be my friend despite my efforts and consternation about how I nevereverever know how to dress appropriately. (That last one is a lie. If the activity is lying on the couch watching Suits, I can totally dress appropriately. Well, if it’s just me. If you’re there, I will undoubtedly look like an idiot.)
Some people get their energy from being around others; I just don’t. It stresses me out and exhausts me. But I have realized that I need more human interaction. (Aside from the human interaction I’m forced into via work and wedding obligations.) I mean, I see my husband a few hours a day. And, while they make me laugh, Barney and Robin and Lily and Marshall and Ted just aren’t willing to listen to MY problems. It’s a two-way street, guys.
So I’m trying to put myself out there. And that doesn’t mean just showing up: It means actually putting myself out there – walking up to strangers and smiling and saying hello.
But that horrible diving-board moment of plunging into conversation with a stranger is not the worst thing about Putting Myself Out There. Oh no. There are Other Things.
The handshake. Internet, no lie: 98% of the population does not know how to shake hands. I have shaken about a thousand hands (hyperbole) in the past two weeks so I feel confident in this assertion. Women, particularly, seem to SUCK at it.
There is the Used Hankie version, in which the Shakee grips the Shaker’s hand much in the way she would grip a hankie that had just received the brunt of a big ol’ Early Fall Cold Blow. Listen, Used Hankie Shakers. I know it’s not fun to smush your sweaty palm into a stranger’s. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the need to snap my fingers at Sharona for a wipe after meeting someone new. BUT YOU DO IT ANYWAY, and you do it with gusto. Firmness. Strength.
But not too much strength.
That brings me to the I Will Crush You version, in which the Shakee tries to communicate her awesomeness by pulverizing the Shaker’s phalanges. Yes, ladies, my father ALSO gave me many lectures about The Art of the Firm Handshake. But that does not mean that you need to cause physical pain. It does not leave me with the impression of “My, that girl knows how to shake hands! I suspect she will be smart and capable in all things!” No. It leaves me with the impression of pain to which I will respond with a Pavlovian sort of cringe in every future encounter.
Summary: If you are headed into a handshake with the thought, “I am going to leave an impression on you all right. The impression of my giant diamond ring in the flesh of your palm.” you are doing it wrong.
Side Note: Being on the receiving end of so many Horrible Handshakes has left me shaken (ha! dual meaning!) about my own Handshake Aptitude. And I don’t know if you know this, but it’s almost impossible to shake your own hand in any way approximating reality. Perhaps I need to enlist my husband’s help to make sure I’m neither a Used Hankie nor an I Will Crush You sort of handshaker.
Then there’s the issue of…
Appropriate footwear. Events that primarily revolve around meeting people and/or chitchatting require long periods of standing. Internet, I’ll be straight with you: I’m a sitter. I don’t wear shoes except to take out the trash and get the mail. And let’s be honest: I make my husband do those things most times.
This is all to say: shoes hurt my feet. Flip flops, sneakers, pumps, wedges, boots, EVEN UGGS. They all hurt my feet if I wear them long enough simply because I have the feet of some sort of coddled Elizabethan princess who gets transported from place to place on a satin litter. So choosing footwear is kind of like picking a night in the stocks vs. a public flogging: painful and humiliating no matter what.
But I have double footwear angst when embarking on a night of Meet-and-Greetery. Because not only do I need something that won’t turn my feet into hamburger meat, I need something cute.
I HAVE NEVER MET A CUTE SHOE THAT WAS COMFORTABLE.
(Confidential to E: I do not have your long legs so please do not suggest I try to pull off a pair of those cute flats you [used to] have a thousand pairs of. FLATS ARE NOT MY FRIEND.)
Listen, if you are about to say something reasonable and sensible like, “Wear something comfortable even if it’s a potato,” stop. First of all, a potato? Really? That doesn’t SOUND comfortable.
Second of all, no. Shoes are major ego-boosters. They make me taller. They make me feel cuter. They make an outfit. And I know you should want people to Like You for Who You Are. But I sense the up-downs and the critical stares.
I want to look Pulled Together and Stylish when I meet people for the first time. Instead of what I normally look like, which is Chili-Stained Pajama Lady. Because then my weak-tea personality doesn’t have to do the double work of compensating for Crazy-Wear. I prefer my clothes to act as a time-release capsule, wherein strangers meet me thinking that I’m at least exteriorally normal, and then I can expel little bursts of Real Me over time, so as not to send a heart-attack-inducing amount of Real Me coursing straight to the brain. See? This is all for others’ safety.
Anyway, I spend way too much time contemplating footwear before these events. I may even order brand new shoes from Zappos just so I have something to wear to meet strangers. I know. IT IS A SICKNESS. (Thank goodness for free returns, amiright?)
P.S. No matter what I choose, I always end up feeling dowdy. SIGH.
But choosing footwear pales in comparison to…
Entering and leaving a conversation. Oh Internet. You can reach so many levels of awkwardness at an event filled with strangers.
One of those awkward levels is trying to insert yourself into a group of people. Which is sometimes the only option besides hanging out by the buffet table and trying to look really interested in the rye crackers. Believe me – there is only so much cracker examination you can do before you look like a crazy person.
But it’s so incredibly awkward to walk up to a group of people and join the conversation. Some groups will naturally open up to bring you in. Others will not. But no matter what, you always have a decision: Laugh along heartily with whatever the speaker just said as though you’d been there the whole time or hang awkwardly at the edges, waiting for a lull or a kindly person to draw you in with a question.
It can be equally awkward to leave a group. Saying brightly, “I need a refill!” seems like a good plan. Unless you still have half a drink left. But easing out of the group without a word is simultaneously creepy, insulting to the others, and depressing.
Who am I kidding? I am totally standing over the buffet table, feigning intense fascination with the veggie dip.
And, of course, the silent-but-deadly aspect of meeting people…
Repeating the same boring shit over and over and over and over and over and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I get that small talk has a valuable purpose in life. But there is only so much “Where are you from? Where’d you go to college? What do you do?” that a girl can take. Seriously.
But I do appreciate the women who are Rapid Fire Question Askers. These women have no qualms about being nosy. (Handy Recognition Tip: These are typically the same women who give you the bone-shattering handshakes. So, you win some, you lose some.)They simply want to get All the Information in the shortest time possible. So they are straightforward and brisk and if you don’t watch yourself, you’ll end up telling them your deepest secrets, your mother’s maiden name, what you ate for lunch last Tuesday, and your bra size. But I like a person who gets down to business.
What I do look forward to is a time when these women are more than strangers. When we can talk about Subjects of Depth. When we can joke with each other. When we can hang out easily, without worrying about subject matter or exit strategies or footwear.
Oh Internet. Why is meeting people as an adult such a horrible, frustrating, embarrassing, exhausting, awkward, heart-pounding enterprise?
And who am I kidding? I’ll always worry about footwear.