I can be gregarious at times, chatting up strangers, making groups of friends (if only for the night) and buying rounds for the bar. From the outside, it can be hard to believe that I suffer from crippling social anxiety.
a time long forgotten
I wasn’t always this way. In college, I was as far from social anxiety as you could imagine. I was in several student groups, even running some of them. I went to parties with groups of friends, and roomed with three of them for several years.
My friendships weren’t always healthy, but at least I had friendships.
The same trend continued through my mid-twenties, at one time being one of eight roommates. We spent almost all our time together as a group, with some supporting characters moving in and out as couples got together and split, and friends of friends of friends were introduced and faded away.
The one thing that held steady was the eight of us.
I wonder what they’re doing now.
Social Anxiety: Friendship killer
I am a contradiction. At one time, I am terrified of general connection, yet at the same time, I crave relationships.
When my girlfriend (who was one of those eight) and I broke up, I lost contact with all of them. I like to joke that I “lost the friendship custody in the divorce”, but the truth is, they didn’t drop off the face of the Earth, I did.
My wedding was two years after that breakup. I hadn’t contacted any of my friends in all that time, and I found myself staring at a blank guest list…with no one to invite.
All my friends’ phone numbers, facebook contacts, and emails, were still within my reach, but I couldn’t get past my anxiety.
I was sure it had been too long. They didn’t want to talk to me. It would probably just be embarrassing, inviting them. Images flashed in my mind of them getting the RSVPs and writing in: “No, and don’t contact me again!” before stuffing it in the envelope. They’d call each other up to see who got invited, and laugh together at the absurdity that I would think they’d say yes.
I should have sent the invitations anyway, There was nothing to lose. I hadn’t been talking to them anyway, and who knows? They might come.
But I just tried to forgot about it and wrote: “Grandma” on the top line.
Social Anxiety sabotaging your relationships
Yesterday’s post was on self-sabotaging behaviors. If you haven’t read it, don’t worry. You happen to be talking to an expert.
The root of my detrimental behavior lies somewhere in fear and anxiety.
Like I said, I have no trouble making friends. I would routinely chat up strangers on waiting at the DMV or sitting at the bar. Keeping friends is the trouble.
Despite what my parents taught me, strangers always feel safer to me than people I know. With strangers, you have anonymity, and there’s no attachment. When the conversation has run its course, you go your separate ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s awkward or if you make a faux pas. When it’s over it’s over. Nice and clean and safe.
You’re my best friend. well, bye forever.
A lot of my social anxiety around friendship stems from an avoidant attachment style. This means that I tend to avoid close relationships, and once in them, try to distance myself mentally by poking holes and finding reasons for distrust.
Based on the common understanding, this is a sort of defense mechanism for me. By convincing myself that relationships are untrustworthy, or that people are just faking friendship, I am creating a cushion between myself and abandonment.
I begin to withdraw and act coldly. Hangouts become less and less frequent. I will turn down invitations and ignore calls for months, and when they stop coming, I laugh to myself and say, “see, I knew we were never real friends.” In my mind, they are reinforcing every negative thought I already had about myself.
I take the loss of contact as proof that I’m right. That people aren’t worth it, and I’m just wasting my time trying to make friends, and that everyone is just going to abandon me some day. So one day, convinced that friends just “weren’t my thing”, I just stopped trying entirely.
It was my inability to be vulnerable that began my social anxiety.
No time like the present…or maybe tomorrow
Being aware of my social anxiety, why am I writing this instead of messages to old friends?
Because you, dear readers are strangers. I am more comfortable with you than I am with them. If this article is trash, I’m not wounded if someone doesn’t like it. If I embarrass myself or say something I shouldn’t, I don’t have to avoid eye contact when I bump into you at the grocery store.
I know that I can just come here and have a casual conversation and a brief friendship, and when it has run its course, we can go our separate ways.
Maybe some day I’ll overcome my social anxiety and contact those old friends (maybe even share this blog). In the meantime, if you know someone who needs a new one, send them my way.