Thursday, March 17, 2016

How talking to a stranger made me realize I am interesting

I am an introverted, socially awkward person. It takes me a while to develop any sort of connection with people. I also never approach people I don't know. There are so many potential outcomes to speaking to strangers beyond the normal civilities. So, to my brain, that is just suicide. All the friends I have made in my life happened because they decided I am friend-material or I worked with them or I went to school with them. There has always been a clear, firm context with any connection I have made. When I start a new course, it usually takes me two weeks to a month to actually be able to speak normally to my classmates. Sometimes, it might take even more time than that. When it comes to social interactions, I am a total newbie, a 29-year old newbie, but still.
I am currently studying abroad, and when my plans for March Break fell through, I felt bummed. However, spurred by my inner-clown (always up for a laugh), binge-watching Girls (if Hannah can go through all this and survive, I can talk to a stranger), and a comment by my instructor to "try and do something new", I decided I will not waste the break. I will take that week to push beyond my comfort zone and do something I find scary whenever I have the chance.
Day one: I wore my frizzy, curly hair down. I thought that was enough, but my inner-clown refused to shut up.
I have been a patron of a nearby cafe. I go every couple of days to work on college projects, draw or just have a cup of tea. I like having a hangout spot for people-watching. The first question one of my best friends asked me when I first came here "Have you found your cafe yet?". I am a person of routine, just like a cat. And so, I found my cafe. It is near my apartment, on a main street, has multiple electric outlets and usually quite busy. It is perfect for my people-watching/tea-sipping/working needs.
During my "work sessions", I noticed a stranger that I found attractive and also intriguing. I don't know which came first, but we can question my uterus later. At first, as with all men I like, I thought of him as creepy. He already passed the first hurdle. Then, with time, the intrigue grew. I wondered if he was part of a cult because he was always at the cafe. It seemed like he never worked. Was he a vampire? He does have squinty eyes. The obsession grew beyond anything that my inner-clown can ignore. And so on the first day of March Break, my inner-clown decided, "today, I will talk to a stranger".
I stepped out of the cafe, almost turning around and ignoring my obsessive thinking. However, I stopped in my tracks when I reminded myself of the proposed challenge. I might be socially awkward, but I never back down from a challenge and I am very persistent. So, I collected my nerves and courage by throwing snow balls at a tree and missing completely. It did not boost my ego. Finally, I decided, just like I used to take cough medicine as a child, I will just close my eyes, not breathe and power through it.
I went to the unassuming stranger and mumbled something about tea. He was gracious enough not to stand up and shout: "Hark, old hag. I beseech you, stay away from me". Although, in my mind, I thought he might. He said something about the pyramids; the no. one topic when anyone knows I am Egyptian and promised to "see me around". He tried to get me to sit down, but I said I was leaving. My stomach was in so many knots, I might have buried the cafe in vomit. I left the cafe feeling dazed and confused.
This was not a good interaction. It was weird, awkward and strange (I know synonyms too). I obsessed over what I should have said or done or maybe not done. I prayed for a chance to redeem myself.
For the following few days, my whole self was cringing. I continued with my "planned events" and some were really redeeming. I avoided the cafe because it was stressing me out. Finally, I decided I have to face my fears. I kept telling myself "it will only be awkward if you let it be". And I did let it.
The second interaction was even worse. When I saw him, I said "Hi" sheepishly and then proceeded to ignore him. The cringing only got worse. I prayed for a chance to redeem myself... again. I know the universe has been kind, but I just need one more chance to right a wrong.
Today, the universe gave me that chance. I went to the cafe, sat in my spot and waited for my social prey (cue evil old hag laugh). The guy came in and avoided me, which made sense. I probably seem like a maniac. After some time to write some mental script, I went over and started a conversation by apologizing. We talked for a bit and then I invited him to join me at my table. I was very smooth and also cringing the whole way through. We talked a bit and I answered the mundane, small talk questions people usually ask to get to know you.
This time it was different. There was no common ground, no similarities, nothing. The context was totally lost and so when I was describing myself, I only had the facts, nothing to relate them to. This story is not about the stranger, this story is about me. As I spun the tale of my life, I realized that I am a fairly interesting person. If I was on the other side, I would be intrigued by me (arrogant, I know). Up until this point, I have always thought of myself as confused or undecided or stunted. Interesting or intriguing has never been part of my vocabulary. I realized there was a lot to talk about even though I always thought I was sheltered. I was no longer a sad, confused girl, but a woman who has obviously worked on her self-development. I realized that I am not just physically, but also mentally well-rounded. In short, I would make the perfect party guest.
I am not saying you should talk to strangers to know your worth. You should know your worth before even talking to anyone. If you don't like something, work on it, but stop the self-deprecation that we have been taught and start celebrating whatever accomplishment you have.
So, I thank the stranger who aided me through my journey and we will probably not cross paths again because I will be avoiding the cafe from now on. Quit while you are ahead; another great lesson. I will miss the cafe though, but you always have to sacrifice something to gain something else.

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