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Monday
Jul172006

Social Distortion

"An hour of anger an hour of love,
This hour of confusion as I look above.
Death life as I've never seen before,
One more trip like that I'm in the mental ward"


-Social Distortion
Hour of Darkness

I am sitting at a chunky, roughly hewn tree of a table. The restaurant is dimly lit. In celebration of the marriage of a well respected friend of The Surge's I am surrounded by several people, many whose names you may recognize. Although I admire their books, enjoy their movies, tonight is my worst nightmare.

Person: So you're from Utah?
Me: (Oh god, Oh god! Small talk! What will I say? It will be awkward! It WILL BE AWKWARD! Answer the question! Be funny! Say something funny!) Yep. But I only have one Mom (ba da boom! Hi-yoh! I'll be here all night and don't forget to tip your waiters!!)
Person: Excuse me?
Me: (shit) Oh.. Um (sweat bullets slip into bum crack) You know, Utahns are known for polygamy? Lots of wives?
Person: So you're a polygamist? That's so interesting (this is said while Person is peering over my shoulder, apparently listening in on the much more interesting conversation underway behind me)
Me: No, no. I'm not. I was just being funny. Stupid joke. So where are you from?
Person: London. Born and raised. (Person pauses as if expecting applause) So is this your first time here?
Me: No. But I love it here. It's so clean (oh jesus I am simply enthralling!. Life of the goddamn party, right here.) The weather has been just perfect (NO! NOT THE WEATHER! ANYTHING BUT THE WEATHER FOR CHRISSAKE!) Not too hot, but not rainy either.
Person: (Searching, I imagine, for something, ANYTHING to slice wrists. A dull butter knife will do!) What's the weather like in Utah?
Me: It's hot. But it's a dry heat. But I live in New York City now. It's a wet heat there. (Like my armpits!)
Person: Oh. What brought you to New York all the way from Utah?
Me: (Okay.. let's jazz this conversation up a bit! Like Emeril, I'm takin' this shit up a notch.) I met my husband. He was on tour in Salt Lake with his rock band. (Person does not seem impressed) We had sex the first night we met. Twice! (BAM!) Married two months later. (BAM! BAM!) And it's a slam dunk for Monica's Social Tourette's!

If I were any more socially awkward I would be, oh.. say.. defacating on the restaurant table. As it is, I am doing everything but. That may be a bit of an exaggeration. but not much. If I thought shitting on the table would increase your esteem for me I'd be squatting at our next get together. I am that desperate for your admiration.

Granted the shit example may be extreme, but the sentiment behind it is not. My social anxiety has progressed long past endearing, left quirky in the dust and has joyfully high-stepped it's way by weird. Along with those marigolds Mom planted in her backyard in spring, my Social Tourette's is in full bloom this summer.

If it shouldn't be said, I say it. The crass girl shouting motherfucker within earshot of that sweet, old bird just trying to walk her little chihuahua? That's me! The girl discussing her sex life as if she wants the entire bar to weigh in? Right here! The girl that endlessly, needlessly, tirelessly compliments strangers in an effort to make them like her? Ahem... over here.

No, NO! I'm not proud of it. It's a strange confluence of not wanting to be noticed and dying for attention. Doesn't seem to make sense, does it? Let me try and explain. I dread social gatherings of more than two people. Engage in small talk? You may as well ask me to pick a stranger's nose whilst he roots around in my nostril. I shudder at the specter of small talk like normal folks fear heights, confined spaces or Joan Rivers.

Where does this fear come from, this dread of social situations?

According to Wikipedia, Social Anxiety Disorder is "referred to clinically as social phobia, it's a psychiatric disorder involving overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. People experiencing social anxiety often have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.

So my self-dubbed Sociaphobia finally has a clinical name; Social Anxiety Disorder. SAD. What an appropriate acronym. I've thought long and hard about this disorder as it has surfaced time and again throughout my life. It isn't consistent. Oftentimes, like a volcano it lays dormant for months, years even. Then, out of nowhere; Vesuvius. I am left socially paralyzed in it's sizzling wake.

I think it started early in life. When I was a member of The Bad Family. The Butlers. Those heathens. They never come to church. "I hear the Mom is divorced and the big brother worships the devil. He skateboards, you know. And has long hair. I saw the youngest one peeing in the gutter just last week! Don't they have a working bathroom?".

As my family's reputation proceeded me, upon meeting people, especially friend's parents, I felt as if I had to prove myself. As if I started as a negative and had to work my way to positve, hence the excessive complimenting of new acquaintences that accompanies anyone meeting Monica Bielanko for the first time. How else does one endear oneself to strangers? Kiss ass, right? Doesn't everyone enjoy a good ass-kissing? Doesn't everyone love to hear sweet nothings about their fabulous hair, gorgeous eye color, cute sweater!and so forth?

I carry the Butler Burden with me still. Unlike my dauntless friend Natalie, who is certain everyone loves her (they do) at first sight (good parenting) I assume you hate me. I must prove my worth through self-depracation and wit even though you have no idea who I am, that I used food stamps or that my little brother once peed in the gutter.

This latest grapple with SAD? Of course, moving to a place where - unlike that famous Boston bar - nobody knows your name can be difficult. Can shake your already fragile self-confidence to pieces. So a mild case of SAD took root. And flourished.

Oh, sure. Nobody enjoys awkward social gatherings. Do they? You might be surprised. I've observed jazzy little things (fuck you) who prattle on about this or that, flitting confidently between groups at parties. Mingling, chatting self assuredly about proper subjects like sports, current events, world politics and J.K. Rowling's latest Harry Potter book.

One could argue these dazzling social creatures detest awkwardness as well, which is why their social skills are honed to sword sharp and ready for slashing through any and all inelegant situations. Sometimes I am that jazzy little thing - generally after the first or second glass of wine. Despite sweaty palms, pits, ass and occasional heart palpitations, I try. And I start out just fine. Problem is, very quickly I become hyper aware of the gargantuan effort being employed to keep the patter flowing.

Soon, like a fat lady on a treadmill, I am sweating profusely with the herculean effort of keeping conversation moving in a forward momentum. It is totally up to me! I think desperately. Or they will think I am a retard! Immediately thereafter the thought what if I'm as boring as the person I'm conversing with? occurs to me. No matter that I think they're boring. Oh my God! What if they think I'm boring?

This dreadful thought niggles it's way to the part of my brain where Social Tourette's is blooming and then--- you get fireworks. I'll blurt out something entirely inappropriate within five minutes of meeting someone, just to keep things interesting and moving along.
Person: Yes, I do like working in Human Resources.
Me: Say.. what's your favorite sexual positon?!
This may be appropriate were I mingling at a swingers convention in Vegas but not at a wedding reception in posh North London. Even folks at the swingers convention may consider this line of questioning a tad premature. The gentleman swinger in the spiked dog collar and assless leather chaps - he may want to ease in with chit-chat about how unseasonably cool the weather in Vegas has been lately.

The upshot? After tiptoeing through the landmine of a party with the aid of several glasses of wine (mind you, landmine navigating whilst drunk is wholly unwise - you're bound to set off one or six) I end up asking inappropriate questions (Social Tourette's!) when the trickle of small talk runs dry. I say Tourette's because I don't ask these questions on purpose, of course. The words just force themselves from my lips (the reverse of anal rape) in an unexpected assault upon party guests.

Similarly, in an offshoot of the Social Tourette's, in my effort to be folksy and self-depracating I foist more information than necessary onto innocent partygoers. This sadly, is just another way of endlessly complimenting so that I might come off endearing. But the small talk, the offering too much information, those aren't the worst of it. The horror? It's the aftermath.

I limp home, as much from the pinched stilettos I employed in yet another gambit to be admired as from the weight of my Social Tourette's. Like touring a bombed out neighborhood in Baghdad, after a party I scrabble through the wreckage left behind. I pick through conversations more thoroughly than my Grandpa sucked clean a Sunday chicken breast. To the bone. I study expressions with a magnifying glass, debating what this person meant with that comment, pondering how that sentence came off, fearing the other person didn't understand my "humor". Did they get that I was being sarcastic? Oh my god! What if they thought I was serious! One moment I think they're all idiots who can't possibly understand my "wit", the next I'm fearing they saw through my socially adept facade to the bumbling idiot beneath the black cocktail dress.

So the ride home is particularly miserable. Especially for The Surge.
"So-And-So hates me." I proffer.
"Why?" He sighs.
"Because I kept complimenting her on her book."
"Compliments are nice." He is familiar with the post party deep tissue massage I require.
"She didn't like me." I am positve that no less than three and as many as eight partygoers are right now! in taxis headed home, discussing what an annoying retard that Monica is. No matter that I didn't particularly enjoy their company - it's what they think of me that matters!

Intellectually I know that no one is as concerned with me as I imagine them to be. Oh, certainly, during the course of my social career a few folks have probably legitimately decided that I am an ass - but not the legions that I am certain are discussing my idiocy on a regular basis.

So I continue to fear social gatherings because I know my perception of them is distorted. I glug wine before each event like a runner carb loading for the big race. But I only have a short window where the alcohol seems to work for me and even then, even when drunk, I know it's a false confidence. And the Social Tourette's loves liquor! Very soon, the liquor will pull a Benedict Arnold and begin working against me, distorting my aleady distorted perceptions which in turn will lead to inappropriate comments and questions. It's SAD. Social Anxiety Disorder. It's a real thing.

Reader Comments (21)

i'm so awkward at social gatherings! if i don't know personally, more than half the people there, i'm a complete mess! i'm so nervous too because my best friend is getting married, i'm a bridesmaid, and i have to be all socially capable in less than a month!
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte
You know I don't really know anyone that is socially fantastic. I dread small talk. Hate, hate, HATE, being forced to converse with people I don't know. My boyfriend says I'm anti-social. Maybe I just have SAD. Thanks for this. Makes me feel alot better about my awkwardness.
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGemma
Daily photos are back! I love "Chess". Who is that guy?
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGemma
i completely relate ... i hate small talk, and end up discussing stupid crap and spending the whole night analyzing how stupid i sounded, how loud my laugh was, the fact that i made a comment about wishing someone was dead to a widow or an orphan. i will avoid these situations as much as possible ... but then i get voicemail anxiety where i fear that i sounded like an idiot on someone's answering machine. *sigh* there is no winning!
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermichelle
Damn!

My question is: Who DOESN"T feel like that?

A few tips:

Talking about SAD with a few select, fellow party goer's is an icebreaker. Your honesty may make you new friend's.

Silence and reflective thought in a quiet place (perhaps outside) may lead the other victims of SAD to you.

You can always stuff food in your mouth to eliminate the need for discussion.

Hang near the bar. That's where a lot of fellow SAD'ers will be.

Ease the fuck up on yourself! It's not like you killed anyone.

We're all fucked-up! Remember that!

YOU just admit it. I admire that.

July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJoe knows cumming
The point is you quoted Social D. And that makes you one cool motherfucker.
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrian
The key is to drink so much that you don't remember what the hell you said. Yes, everyone will think you are an idiot but you'll be clueless of that fact!!
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
Nobody loves small talk--if we're all relating to your post, who are these flitters who can make witty and charming banter? I usually go in with a (dork alert) strategy. First of all, it's nice if you can arrive with a buddy. If nothing else, the two of you can stand in a corner and talk about your SAD but people will be forced to join your group and impress you, instead of the other way around. Also, I think ahead about conversation starters (supreme dork alert). Like at a wedding, "how do you know the bride/groom?". FWIW, I think if I met you at a social event and you asked my favourite sexual position I'd think "man, what a GREAT event! This chick is a blast!", not "looooser"! I'd be so relieved that someone had broken the ice and gotten past the weather chat.
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPurr Meow
It's not so hard. Remember that everyone, I don't care who, likes to be complimented. Do you know how good you feel when a stranger says something nice to you? Pass it on, you'll give someone a lift and feel good about it. Don't say too much else if you don't feel like it, be the mysterious silent type, smile and nod and sip your drink and laugh at what other people say and, if pressed, ask them a question rather than trying to impress them with your witty banter. Put someone else at ease and they will think of you kindly forever after.


janet
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjls
nick hornby!!!!
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrobin
The majority of people have a small bit of social anxiety, but I understand how you feel-- you'd jump fer joy if you had just a 'bit' of social anxiety.

I too, sweat way too much, think too, too hard, drink so much (and too fast) that I am quickly a drunken wreck. Over time I have come to realized that the people I'm talking to are worrying about themselves and they're not nearly as focused on me as I think.

I was at a dinner party on Sat.night, and I had gotten up the courage to tell an amusing anecdote. As I was babbling away (it was a short story) I glanced across the table and noticed another diner just staring off into space--- he had his own stuff to think about.
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
this is amazing writing. But it's hard for me to match the personality here on this blog - witty, intelligent, sassy, beautiful - with the person you're describing here. And besides, I love people with social Tourette's. They're so much more fucking entertaining than all the "appropriate" people out there! :)
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteremily
People either love me or hate me when they first meet me and there is nothing I can really do about it (for those who have met me I am sure know what I mean). I would be lying if I said that it doesn't bother me when people don't like me but at the end of the day what the hell can I do about it?

FUCK EM!

This is me...that's it. Life is too short to waste my time sucking up to you about your bloody shirt if I don't really like your shirt! Chances are if you don't like me, I don't like you either! I mean, I know what is going on with you Monica is a serious thing - SAD - but I hope one day you can just say...

FUCK EM!
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRichelle
When I started reading that last comment, I knew it had to be Richelle before I even scrolled down to the name. God, that was funny.

Just the other night my husband and I were talking about the job-small talk - the "so what do you do?" question. He hates it, for various reasons I'll let him explain. I don't think it's terribly creative, but sometimes after talking about a lot of other stuff, I want to know what the person does, because it fills in a blank, so to speak. But only after you know something else.

I welcome those non-small talk questions. The weather is soooo boring. Sadly, i can count on one hand the number of people who have ever asked me something of substance at a social occassion. But if after talking to me for a while about my real life, you want to know what I "do" to sort of fill in the blanks, go right ahead.

I think the worst is mingling with people who are accomplished. Sorry, but it's true. Give me the slackers any day, I"m right at home. But you do end up feeling like an ass, talking to them about their boook you just loooved.
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEDW
I hate small talk, so I don't bother with it. I jump right to the good stuff like discussing my hairy ass crack. Well, not really. While I don't identify with the feelings you describe, I do know that feeling of wanting people to like me. I guess I just fake it until I make it.
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
First time poster here. I hate being asked what I do for a living because it's totally the opposite of how I feel about myself. I think it gives the wrong impression about me and so I never like to tell people right away or they jump to conclusions and make assumptions I don't like them to make. Monica, I love your blog!
July 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Don't worry about it so much Monica. Small talk is so incredibly boring for everybody I reckon. My husband avoids it like the plague. Not cos he's chicken but cos it's so pointless. People probably think I'm a real snob or rude cos I don't even bother attempting smalltalk. Unless of course I find the other person "sympathisch" and we're on the same wavelength, then it's bound to end up interesting anyway. Don't sweat the small stuff. Richelle is right on. But I know it's easier said than done. It took me all of my twenties to quit worrying what others thought of me.
July 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNiedlchen
okay, i'm in love with you. i don't drink so i'm always left with a painfully clear sense of how lame and uninteresting i am to other people. can sometimes read everyone's wish not to talk to me. i feel like a failure that in my mid twenties i'm still so dysfunctional. i can't even socialize. a pretty, talented white girl has the same problem? the next time i think i'll try to find another SAD'er and focus on helping them, instead of worrying so much about Everyone's Opnion of Me.
August 1, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbrowngrrrrrl
See..this is why I am WAY more witty in emails than in person. For the most part I'll just whip out what's on my mind..but in social situations, what's on my mind is "panic because you suck and you better say something funny"
However, once this is posted, I'll fret over it and hope that it can be deleted.

The day after is the worst. I can totally relate. I absolutely dread remembering the night before when I wake up in the morning. It's not like I danced naked on the bar but one "off" comment and it can haunt me for days. "WHY did I say that?" "Hopefully they're too drunk to remember"
It's a horrible monster this anxiety- I find myself avoiding stores and phone calls. I'm a stylist and I haven't take new clients in 3 years. Someone new gives me the heebiejeebies. I know that the clients I have love me so screw the new ones.
On a bad day going to the store takes forever- "is my zipper up? how's my breath? is my zipper up? wallet organized (heaven forbid I can't find my debit card!), teeth..hey, check that zipper!"
Fuh reek!
It's bizarre because on a good day- shower and leave and I feel great.

Does anyone else procrastinate because of this disorder?
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdena
Of anything I've ever posted - it means so much to know y'all can relate to this one. Really.
August 8, 2006 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko
oh my. my wit bites me in the ass so either I am completely silent or I'll interogate my victims. I'll ask question after question in hopes of making a conversation, but really, I get myself more nervous and the poor person who I was talking to aswell.

then I too sit and pick at those chicken bones for longer than I care to admit.
August 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteresperanza

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