It’s Just a Dance

Photo by Michael Zittel on

I went to a party recently. It was essentially a high school dance for grownups. There was music, food, spiked punch, and a lot of people in formalwear milling about having a good time. Just like high school, there were people with no fear out there on the dance floor and there were the unpopular kids that would have been more comfortable hanging out in the dark corner avoiding any sort of attention what-so-ever.

My partner was definitely in the “no fear” category. I was definitely in the “let me live in that corner over there” category. The thing is, I’d like to be in the “no fear” category. I want to be the person that jumps out there and dances like an idiot. I think about it a lot.

I wonder, “What would it be like to not worry about what people think?” But, so far, that’s not me. In my life, social interactions are a mixed bag and here’s how it tends to work for me in various situations.

Social Situations

1-on-1: I do okay when I’m with one other person. I can usually keep a conversation going, ask questions about the person, and generally have a good time. This is, of course, assuming the conversation is kept to a shorter period of time… maybe an hour or two.

Groups (non-work): When it’s a group of people and we’re not in a work-related situation, I clam up. Typically, these situations are something that I’d be attending with my partner anyways so I’ll latch on to her and listen to the conversations she has with people. Sometimes, I’ll try to toss in a comment or be involved but really only if it’s a subject matter that I’m super comfortable with.

Groups (work): These are the easiest for me. Going to a conference and being around a group of people where we can largely discuss only the most superficial kind of stuff. I guess these are easy because the subject matter is almost always something I have an opinion on, something that I know, or it’s something that doesn’t matter. Most importantly, though, these are largely people that I probably won’t see again.

I think that’s the key. When you don’t plan on seeing someone again, you can be whoever you want – say whatever you want. I mean, within reason. I still don’t want to be a jerk or anything. But, it removes the pressure of making sure that you leave a good enough impression that when you see someone again, they don’t immediately think, “Oh it’s that person… ugh.

A lot of my social interactions are with people that I expect to see again. Typically, I want those people to like me, so that leads to some level of worry. Sometimes it starts before I even leave the house, with pretend conversations in my head. I get stuck thinking about the possibilities of how the conversation should go, things I should say, things I should definitely not say.

When it’s over, and I’m on my way back home, I often have to deconstruct the conversations that I had. Did I say anything dumb? Anything that might leave a negative impression? In the case of those 1-on-1 meetings, there are also the questions like, how long should I wait to see if they want to hang out again?

And then there’s the social norms…

How well do you need to know someone before you ask them for help? How well do you need to know them before you talk about your problems or really dive into who you actually are? If you did the inviting for an engagement, do you wait until they invite you for something before taking lead again?

If you landed on this you might be thinking: Hey, dude, chill. There’s a self-help book for this. I’m not opposed to self-help books or therapy in general. I just haven’t really done it and I didn’t set out writing this in search of answers. I started off thinking, What should I write about to update this blog? And then I thought, Oh, hey, social anxiety. That could be interesting.

So my goal was less about finding solutions and more about just writing out the problem. In a semi-public way. I don’t know why.

That’s why I can’t dance.

Yep, that’s why I can’t dance. At home, I can pop in my headphones and dance all through the house with the vacuum or whatever. Because these people already know me. And they’re stuck with me. But outside of the house? Nope. I haven’t figured out, yet, how to get over that initial hurdle. Logically, I know that no one actually cares. And, if they did, it doesn’t impact my life in any meaningful way.

Yet, here I am, without dance in my life.

Dancing isn’t the real goal, though. The real goal is to be the type of person that can dance. The kind of person that is a real joy at a party – the kind of person that doesn’t dread going to a party. The kind of person that can just chill in all social situations and be comfortable.

You know, the kind of person that can be a good friend which seems to start with being able to talk and listen to other people. Not hiding in a corner or behind someone else.

The kind of person that lives in the no fear category.

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