Okay, so I’m about to share a truth about myself that might surprise you, especially since it is very incongruent with the stories I tell, and my social media presence:
I am neither outgoing, nor a ‘people person’.
When I say this, the first reaction most people have is ‘yeah, right’, because they’ve seen me holding court at a gathering, or have had long conversations with me, or they consider all the random people that approach me with their life stories. However, the reality is that I can be outgoing when I know my audience very well (or if I’m a tad liquored up), but I’m mostly just a good listener, and that comes as a product of being painfully shy. I can paste a smile on my face and make small talk, but 8 out of 10 times, I’d rather be by myself than in the company of most people, much less a stranger.
Last month, I joined a lady gym, which is mostly frequented by Baby Boomers (this is relevant, I swear). I picked the gym because I figured working out with women older than myself would keep me from building comparisons between us. It’s not a fashion show, they’re not scantily clad, and they just look like real women. Great. I’ve been working out there, and I feel motivated to keep going. It’s wonderful, except, I forgot one key element to this, which was brought very clearly to my attention today:
Women, particularly moms and grandmas, especially when placed in a physical circle, REALLY like to talk to you.
And not even in a ‘oh, nice weather we’re having!’ way. They. Want. To. Know. About. Your. Life. They come from the old school, where people actually got to know the other people in their neighborhoods, at their local haunts, etc.
I’d just jumped into the workout circuit, a few machines away from a cute, stylish lady. I smiled, and she smiled back, and that’s when it happened.
“I heard the bell ring, did you lose some weight?”
oh god, is she talking to me? she must be. that was my bell. oh god, can’t i just work out?
“Um, yes. I lost a little weight. I thought it would be more, but it’s okay. I lost a few inches, too, and that surprised me.” I rattled it out quickly, awkwardly.
“Wow! Congratulations! Way to work, honey! Every little bit counts, you just keep at it!”
I thanked her and kept on with my workout, but next thing I know, she’s asking me something else about me. Dammit.
“So do you have President’s Day off of work?”
I considered lying. It was easier to say yes than to launch into my writing, my current unemployment, etc. But then she was going to ask me what I do for a living, and it’s just a world of lies from there. Ugh. On the other side of that, if I told the truth, I’d have to explain so much. This is when I realized that I do more listening than talking in my interactions with others -on purpose. They might ask about me, but I’ll sum it up in a line or two and bring the conversation back to them. It was weird to have someone interviewing me for once.
I ended up going with the truth. Partly because it was way less energy than trying to keep up with a string of lies. Partly because she struck me as a cool aunt type, who I’d feel bad lying to in the first place. I mostly did it, though, because I felt such an aversion to it; I was out to prove that I wouldn’t die or be completely drained by giving my attention to this woman as we worked out. It’s 30 minutes, and what else was I going to do with my thoughts? What the hell? Why not?
“I’m, um. I’m actually not working right now. I had an office job, but I’m taking some time off to write a book.” I muttered, cringing at where this conversation was going to take us, though she surprised me.
“Good for you for following your heart! Our brains try and get in the way sometimes, but if you follow your brain over your heart, you’ll be sorry. That’s not to say go around living willy nilly, but it sounds like you mapped it out a bit. An unorthodox plan is still a plan.”
From there the conversation was cool. She asked a lot about me, but also shared a good balance of herself, too. It turns out she’s also a writer. She said she had taken two years off of work, also to write, and started taking singing lessons to open up her voice. I told her I’d taken similar steps, and she just thought that was the neatest thing. She reminded me that you can blend your other artistic abilities with your writing, and told me she’s preparing to perform a one-woman cabaret she wrote. She also made a lot of suggestions to help me along -connections, workshops, shows and techniques that would assist with my creative process. As I left, I told her I was very happy to have met her. The funny thing is, I meant it.
I’d gone to the gym right before lunch, and emerged starving. I’d planned to go to my local cafe for some food and to write a bit. However, I got there, and it was busier than I’d ever seen it (fist shaking at National Holiday). There was absolutely no place to sit, and the line was too long to even bother with a take-away order. Ravenous, I walked out and dipped into the next place on the street, a Vietnamese restaurant. They were super busy as well, but the hostess directed me to a large family-style table saying “you sit here until small table open.” Fine.
Well, the waiter didn’t catch wind of this, because in 20 seconds, I got condiments, tea, and a menu. Whatever, so I’m at a big table by myself. What’s the worst that can happen? As I think this, I hear “you sit here until small table open.”
What? I looked up to find a young woman sitting awkwardly across from me, also thinking it’s temporary, until again, waiter comes with condiments, tea, and a menu. My new table mate smiled at me and shrugged. I returned the gesture and ordered.
Here I’d like to say that this whole “there’s no place to sit because there aren’t any empty tables” is mostly an American thing. Many other countries I’ve been to will try and give you your own place, but they are not afraid to sit you at the one empty seat at a table with a family of 7. This is apparently what had happened, and I was having lunch with a stranger. No problem, it was fine. She seemed nice enough. It didn’t matter that we were facing each other. We could just as easily be at a lunch counter. Our food came at the same time. We’re just eating. It’s not like I have to talk to her or….
“Do you work around here?” my companion asked over the steam of her pho, startling me out of my thoughts.
“No, but I live just around the corner.” I thought that would do it. Keep it simple. Leave it be.
“So, you’re off today for the holiday?”
dammit, really? again? i just wanted to work out in peace, and that didn’t really happen, and now i just want to eat in peace, and ugh! dammit. but…but…BUT! i wanted to work out in peace, and ended up getting a lot out of it. i got some much-needed encouragement, some great life advice, and some practice at talking about myself instead of just asking questions. it was a good experience. it left me feeling good. i’m writing a book about the importance of human connection and community, and I’m shunning a perfectly nice woman who’s trying to make the most out of our being shoved together??
So again, I pushed myself toward conversation, and again, I was incredibly glad I did. My lunch companion, Katherine, ended up being really cool. I didn’t get the deep thoughts conversation I got at the gym, but I’m usually too serious as it is anyway, and lightheartedness does me well. She was into Star Trek, and comic books, and wanted to make sci-fi movies. She was surprised I hadn’t seen Firefly and urged me to stream it. It was actually nice to chat about random stuff. No negativity, no complaining, just two strangers bonding over a love of nerd stuff and vietnamese food. She was on a work break and was taking her time. I ended up leaving before her, and secretly buying her lunch. It was cheap, and she was awesome, but I mostly did it to thank the Universe for my lesson in opening up.