August 16, 2006

Requesting Social Advice

Okay, this post is going to ramble a bit, but I genuinely could use some help if anyone has ideas.

Anyway, I'm heading back up to Syracuse on Thursday afternoon. Band camp starts on Friday, and classes start in a couple weeks. This is going to be my senior year, and it occurred to me recently that I've really been wasting a large part of the whole college experience. This can probably be at least partially attributed to my horrible social skills. Let me explain.

I've mentioned my social retardation several times on SIT. I realize that I'm a better than average writer (not bragging, just telling the frickin' truth), so I should be able to interact fairly well in any setting involving words, but when it comes to face-to-face communication...holy crap. There's no limit to the ways I manage to screw up.

As I've also mentioned, some of this social blundering is probably due to my ADD (since random lapses in attention = missing some of the subtle nuances of communication), although some days I might as well be frickin' autistic for how poorly I handle things. However, that's really no excuse for not at least trying to improve, and I have made a lot of progress. I've even read a couple books on people skills (this and this), although I usually forget to actually apply this stuff when I have the chance.

All that aside, a major problem I can't seem to really solve is the fact that I have trouble connecting with people. I have had friends and everything, but a lot of that seems really random, since I don't recall acting differently around them. The issue I'm concerned with is that I seem to drive people away and/or make them uncomfortable, and several times, I've experienced a bizarre phenomenon where I'm on good terms with someone, but they start ignoring me or trying to avoid me after a certain period of time.

Example: I wrote a few posts about my roommate sophomore year and how we got along fairly well because we could have political discussions, etc. However, we actually didn't say a word to each other during the last three weeks before the end of the spring semester, and things generally got really awkward after a while, despite the fact that I didn't recall pissing him off on any specific occasion. It just sort of happened.

Example 2: The girl who lived in the room next to me last year was also in marching band, and we were on decent acquaintance terms (saying hi in the hall, occasional conversations, etc.) for a while. However, I passed her one day and gave the usual "hey" or "what's up" or whatever I was saying that day, and she kind of looked at me funny and gave a half-hearted reply, then didn't talk to me again for the rest of the semester. Fucking bizarre.

Now, I realize that crap like this could just be due to the things I'm aware of doing, but usually forget to control when the pressure is on. Just to help out, here's a list of various stuff I tend to do in social situations that probably makes people want to avoid me (incidentally, I know at least one occasional blog reader has met me in real life and can verify most of these):

- Cutting people off in mid-sentence
- Impulsively arguing with any criticism even if I kind of agree with it
- Nervous gestures such as looking at the ground, rubbing my face for no apparent reason, blinking rapidly, etc.
- Watering down positive comments by adding negative stuff (something like "Yeah, there were a few problems with that, but we can fix those" rather than "That was pretty good").
- Generally making negative comments about everything
- Talking really, really fast in a monotone voice that always makes me sound vaguely pissed off, even when I'm in a good mood (I've lost track of the number of times people have reprimanded me for giving them "attitude" when trying to ask questions politely)
- Thinking out loud in the same voice
- Responding defensively to any comment concerning me, even positive ones
- Inserting random bits of information about myself into a conversation when nobody asked for anything even remotely resembling that
- Probably more stuff I can't remember at the moment

Now, you're probably reading this and thinking "Well, there's your answer, dumbass. Just stop doing all that crap." And again, I'm aware that I do most of these things, but I usually don't realize it until after I've done them. However, I keep getting a strange feeling that there's something else going on, because even when I do make an honest effort to stop being so ridiculously awkward, I still have the magical ability to drive people away.

There's a certain facial expression that people make when I do something socially offensive that I'm not aware of. Apparently, the entire human race knows this expression and the proper time to use it, because I've seen it dozens of times. Here's a crappy drawing to illustrate it (I tried to do it myself and take a picture, but I couldn't get it right):


Again, that's not a great drawing, but I've seen something similar to that many times: The person kind of smiles in an attempt to play along with whatever it is they think you're doing, but at the same time, they usually lean backward a bit and have half their mouth hanging open in a "what the fuck did you just say and/or do?" manner.

Like I said, most of the times I've gotten that, I actually had no idea what I was doing wrong. Can anyone shed some light on this?

Anyway, getting back to the connection thing, one of my big problem areas is small talk. I can't really carry on a conversation, so when I try to talk to someone I've just met or don't know very well, it usually leads to awkward silences (I can recall at last two times when someone tried to sit at a table with me in the dining hall and we both ran out of things to say within a minute, leading to a very uncomfortable eating experience).

This is where I could use some specific answers to questions I've had for a while:

- What kind of stuff can you talk about with someone you've never met once you're past the basic "where are you from, what's your major, etc." crap?

- What's a good non-awkward way to break an awkward silence?

- Is there some specific gesture or voice inflection that most people use when they're about to finish talking and want you to reply? This has baffled me all my life and is the source of most of my interruptions, since I have no fucking idea when the other person is going to stop talking, and if I wait for a pause, it usually turns out that they were just gathering steam for something else, and I end up cutting them off.

- Is it a good idea to try and reciprocate in conversation as much as possible? For example, if someone asks how your classes are going, are you expected to answer and then add a "how about you?" or something, or is that considered rude since they didn't bring it up? Sorry I can't think of a better example, but you get the idea.

Any other conversational advice would be appreciated.

I really would like to fix this connection problem I have. I'm still baffled by the fact that every year, I watch people who have never met each other become friends within ten minutes and stay that way. Seriously. It freaks me out to see people acting like they've known each other all their lives, then find out that they just met an hour ago. How the everloving crap shit do they do that? It usually takes me weeks to reach that level with anyone.

I remember thinking that my roommate freshman year had a lot of friends from back home, since he seemed to be on such good terms with everyone within the first day of arriving. In reality, he didn't know most of them until that day. How? The? HELL? Like I said, I have gotten to that point with people before, and I do actually have what you could call friends, but it usually takes a lot longer than a couple hours.

Also, as long as I'm on the subject of first impressions, what's a good way to remember names when you're meeting a lot of people at once? Most of the suggestions I've seen involve writing them down, but that isn't exactly possible all the time. I hate having someone address me by name and having no idea who they are.

A minor point I should make: I think some of my problems may stem from the fact that, until I got to college, I put up with a lot of stupid bullshit from a lot of people who really didn't like me and were out to make my life miserable. Yay, public school. As a result, when people are actually nice to me, I get this weird paranoid feeling that they're either trying to get on my good side so they can fuck me over later, or that they're being condescending because they pity me or something. I might be unconsciously repelling people because of this. Interestingly enough, I've met exactly two people in college who treated me the way I expected to be treated by everyone thanks to my past experiences, and I haven't seen either of them in a while, so this crap is completely irrational, but it's probably a factor anyway. Just something else to think about.

Anyway, I think I've gotten my point across. If anyone can help even with a section of this massive post, I'll be eternally grateful. Thanks.

Posted by CD on August 16, 2006 02:54 AM | TrackBack
Semi-Intelligent Comments

Wow, de ja vu, it's just like reading me.

In truth, i'm exactly the same way. What i recommend is watch other people, just observe. Like Jane Goodall with the gorillas, you know? When you feel the urge to interract with your "objects under test" and find thoe awkward silences, mention the facts above. They will explain your behavior to others and warn them for the future. They might also pick up the ball and keep rolling wth it.

You ound like a classic introvert, like me. You know how the conversation is supposed to go, but the other bastard inconveniently refuses to say what you want them to. The way that i've gotten around it (sort of) is make friends with a classic extrovert. I'm very very comfortble around her so i don't feel as awkward about opening up to others while she's around. Around her, i'm Casanunda (second greatest, you see) because i always have her to come up with a new topic to react to should th conversation with others begin to wan.

Also, if you are like me, and you do not have a predisposition to abuse or an addictive nature, i'd recommend alcohol. I have always described myself as about 2 shots low. Meaning that after about 2 drinks i'm as loose of yap as most people are stone sober. (C.f. now.)

Mind you, it rarely helps because most of the people that i hang out with regularly are either a) engineers, and as introverted as i am, but we play off each other well, or b) so freaking over the top that you can't get a word in edgewise, thus making it difficult to start secondary conversations. That, then, is another facet, but probably one that you've run into already, so we'll give it a miss, yeah?

Mind you, i'm shite at dealing with people socially, but great at dealing with them professionally, so my advice is at best apocryphal, and at worst, wholly inaccurate.

This probably didn't help one tittle or jot, but just know that you are not the only one who went through their entire collegiate life (so far, in your case) not enjoying it to the fullest.

Oh, and just go to a freaking party or three with kegs and the associated paraphrenalia. It might help. Again, stated without prior knowledge.


Posted by: tommy at August 21, 2006 12:42 AM

Posted by: Crispy23 at August 31, 2006 12:11 AM

A little cleaner this time. Link

Posted by: Crispy23 at August 31, 2006 12:15 AM
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