When I ride an airplane or train, I secretly hope that the person I sit next to will be very quiet. I like listening to music on the bus. I like falling asleep to sudoku on the airplane. I like reading for long periods of time.
In all fairness though, I'm a frequent flier, and 90% of the time the person sitting next to me will strike up a conversation...and it has almost always been a pleasant experience. One time, a guy noticed I was reading Hyperspace by Michio Kaku and we had an interesting conversation about string theory and quantum mechanics after he mentioned his dad was some sort of quantum physics professor. A girl I was sitting next to told me about how she was on her way to Africa to save the world (my summary, not hers). I guess I struck the fancy of a woman I was having a conversation with once because she upgraded my ticket to premier class and had me sit next to her for a flight. She said she liked my energy and called me her "sister from another mister".
(And as I typed this, the person sitting next to me in the coffee shop noticed I had out Clausewitz's On War and asked me about that. I hope he didn't see what I was typing. I also somewhat irrationally hope that by putting it into parenthesis, I'm making a quieter, less noticeable note).
Despite my propensity to hear the life stories of fellow travelers, I still find occasions like dinner parties or small gatherings that involve a few (or more) people insufferable and acutely painful. I find myself thinking "wallflower" to myself (in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy) and I'm caught between hoping someone will talk to me and hoping that no one will talk to me. I kid you not, I feel uncomfortable even thinking about it right now. I've been known to disappear into a side room during parties just to avoid the whole situation. And since I'm being uncomfortably truthful right now, once I fell asleep on the bed in said side room because I was so tired from the whole experience.
One time, I was chatting with a barista about Woody Allen movies and I asked him what his favorites were. He took a long time to answer, which I appreciated a lot (though this may seem contradictory to what I said in the last paragraph). I like when people are careful with their answers. He said his favorite was Stardust Memories, among a few others. I said that I would check it out, and I did. I actually liked the movie quite a bit, and there was so much about it I wanted to talk about: the beautiful montage at the end, the way that the movie reminded me of Ingmar Bergman's works -- especially those black-and-white closeup shots of people, how funny Woody Allen was, and that even if this movie wasn't strictly or purposely autobiographical, it was true to him.
But when the barista asked me how it was the next time I saw him, I said two sentences: "It was good (1). I thought it had a little bit of everything (2)."
This might sound odd to people who know me because I've worked several jobs that require socializing, and I've mostly enjoyed them. I like chatting with people at the library when I'm checking out their books, or discussing movies with patrons at the movie theater while trying to upsell popcorn sizes. I think this is because in these situations, there are a certain set of expected words, jargon, or phrases that I pull from regularly. It's familiar. I can deal with that.
I don't want to miss out on experiences to cater to my awkwardness, though. I'm especially game to try things that have a ready exit available if things go sour. Earlier this week, I went swing dancing for the first time, just for the heck of it.
Another side note: I used to take ballet when I was a kid, but those that say if you know one type of dance it just transfers to other genres of dance have clearly never seen me try hip-hop. I'm just like that ballerina chick in Saves the Last Dance except well...I've never gotten good. Instead of imbuing some badass attitude and moves, I can't stop with the flowy arms and the toe-ball-heel jump mentality. The result is extremely awkward. If hip hop is all about "hit-hit" with the beats, I'm more of a "sashay-sashay" kind of girl.
These are all things I probably shouldn't have to think about, but sometimes my mind goes into hyperdrive to compensate for my lack of action.
Besides, trying to make conversation during swing dancing is like trying to talk during a techno song. In the former, you have to squeeze a sentence in-between twirls and swings. In the latter, you shout a few words between the loud (UHN-suh UHN-suh) beats.
Last side note (I promise): On my way to swing dancing, I tripped over my own feet while walking on the sidewalk. It did not seem like a good omen.
But if I can muster up the gusto to put myself into these situations, maybe you can too.
Or you know, maybe I enjoy self-deprecating humorous stories more than you do.
Conversely, I don't think anything is wrong with wanting to stay home or wanting personal space or wanting to read instead of interact with people. I like going to movie theaters on my own. I like going with other people too, but sometimes I revel in the private/public experience of being alone in a crowd. I like silence in car rides. I like riding the ferry by myself. I like dancing to Miles Davis in my kitchen. I like getting so absorbed in reading that when I finally come out of the words, I find all the light has gone out of the room -- slipped out on tiptoes to escape into the night. These are all things I cherish. And although there may be a sort of melancholy in the knowledge that we can never fully see into a person and all the experience that encompasses that person, and vice versa...there is a sort of grace in that private self that we are never able to give away, even if we wanted.
So, I think we should all dare to be uncomfortable, but also revel in our comfort too.