Social Settings and Their Anxieties

While it may seem like I can deal with being social on the surface, it’s rather difficult, especially with so many rules to follow. Sure, I’ve taken classes (an A in Interpersonal Communication) and have done things growing up that would help me reinforce this but it is all so strange.

I’m primarily an introvert, a guy who would rather do things on his own and spends time alone but has a close group of friends who are trustworthy, dependable, and all around fun to be with. Naturally, I feel comfortable being around these people whether we go out to see a movie, hang out at an art opening at our school’s gallery (all dressed up and mingling with other students, eventually making a giant circle in the middle of the room and blocking doorways), or just hanging out in the animation lab every day. I feel comfortable talking with them. Alas, this group will not be with me forever.

If I’m alone out in unfamiliar territory, I become self-conscious. It becomes obvious that there’s someone who doesn’t know what to do. If money’s involved, I worry that I didn’t bring enough to cover tax and that I will look incredibly stupid if I have to say that I don’t have enough to complete the purchase.

One night, there was a seminar of sorts on business etiquette and how to network with people. This required dressing up, not that I minded all that much. However, this was in the middle of the day and I had to change from my usual flannel and jeans in the winter to something more presentable. The anxiety I had was with the allotted time. Yes, I could change in the amount of time given but I needed more to collect my thoughts (half hour or so).

During the seminar, I learned the target range of how long eye contact should last in a conversation (40-60%). Eye contact is considered an obstacle for those on the spectrum but I have made every effort to engage in eye contact with whomever I was talking to. My problem is anticipating when to avert my gaze. I end up making direct eye contact with the other person but only looking away when they look away.

Also, I have a problem with making appropriate small talk. Obsessive behavior/specialized interests are common traits for those on the spectrum. For me, my topics for small talk are films and movie syncs. Unfortunately, movie syncs are not going to be well known for about 90% of the people I talk to. If I do bring it up, it delves into a detailed explanation that quickly tires people. With movies, however, I’m asked if I’ve seen a recent film but I respond with a “no”. I would explain why but it is considered unprofessional. Even so, I stand and listen and try the best I can to stay on-topic.

Dress code is not an issue with me as I’ve been in a dress code for most of my schooling until college started. The term “business casual” is still elusive. I tend to overdress but I do that unless the event is given a specific dress code.

So how in the world do I try and cope with everything? Music in my head, preferably something I’ve committed to memory like something from my mixtape. I try and see if any lyrics fit the moment and go from there. But then there’s a thing I do where I count every note on my right hand like I’m playing a piano. I noticed that I do this when I drive, in church, and sometimes with friends. It’s a quirk that I can’t seem to get rid of, maybe never will. I should try and figure something else that is less strange but at the moment I have nothing.

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