It’s fifteen minutes before the bell is due to ring and I’m maneuvering my car into a tight spot in the packed parking lot of my daughters’ school. I’m showered, dressed smartly, hair is coiffed (well, it’s blown-out) and I have applied makeup all before 8 AM (a small miracle in itself). I am sacrificing my daily hour of sweat therapy at the gym, and instead, I am suppressing my nervous and anxious energy by wringing my sweaty palms together. I am about to walk into the Parent Welcome Fair at my children’s new school. I want to barf.
I loathe walking into these things. I become overly self-conscious, and feel like I’m back in the ninth grade waiting to be judged by the popular girls on the first day of school. I try to apply the advice I gave my daughters only a few weeks ago when they were embarking on their first day of school at their fourth international school… Be yourself! Try new things! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! OMG. I could seriously kick my own ass right now for spewing all that garbage, so I can only imagine what my two daughters were thinking at the time.
I’ve talked about this before… I’m an ambivert (half extrovert and half introvert). I am terrible in big rooms with lots of new people. I try to act normal, but I come off either totally awkward (rambling on about absolutely nothing) or I’m the woman in the corner with severe RBF (Resting Bitch Face – it’s a real thing, and it’s been studied) trying to look busy checking my messages, but secretly scrolling through Facebook because I have no friends in my new country yet. I’m not proud of this… it’s just me. I hate being in a big crowd where I don’t know a soul and have no one to cling to for support. BUT, put me in a room of my best friends and I am the life of the damn party… seriously, you can’t shut me up.
For some of us, it can be terribly painful to be vulnerable. I envy those who can confidently walk into a room full of unknown faces and walk out an hour later knowing the name of everyone in the room. But, let’s be realistic… that’s just not going to happen for me. Even though I’m nearly 42 years old, I still get a pit in my stomach before I have to walk into a room full of strangers. There is no doubt putting your guard down and letting your true self shine bright like a beacon is the best way to attract those best suited for you, but I will not lie… it can on occasion be fucking terrible too.
The other day I complimented a woman on the cutest pair of sparkly sneakers (I love cute sneakers), she too was standing alone (scrolling through her phone) and I thought maybe she was new arrival to Switzerland as well. Once I was done speaking, she gave me one of those curt smiles, said thanks and turned the other way like I was a leper… I am not sure she ever even looked me in the eyes. It was humiliating and cut right to the core of my existence. Now, I’m an adult and know that person is totally not worthy of my time or attention, but man did it fucking hurt.
So, here’s my theory — Being the loneliest person in a crowded room is a tough feeling to shake, but it only takes one small word to change it all. Hello. Bonjour. Hola. Grüezi. It can come from others, or it can come from you. I used to find myself waiting for others to say hello in places where I was the newbie, but I am trying to be more proactive at being interactive. Even if they really don’t want to respond, it’s the polite thing to do anyway and if they don’t reciprocate, they are the asshole — not you. The person you engage with might be going through a really shitty time, and your teeny effort of politeness just might be the pivotal moment that changes their day or maybe even their outlook.