Tuesday, September 7, 2010


But enough about ads and music and all that stuff. The real reason you read this thing is for embarrassing stories about ways in which my brain is broken.
[This is a long post. tl;dr: "I'm hilariously shy."]

This past Sunday night seems like a perfect example that might help you to understand a little bit what it's like to be me: I don't know if it's simply introversion, or something more unusual. Jason and I went to a post-PAX meetup at a bistro in Seattle. Upon arriving, I'm in an unfamiliar place around people I've never met before, and immediately I could think of nothing but finding my ex-coworker there so that I'd be around another person that I already knew. The fact that we all shared common interests—we were all gay men who love video and board games—was not enough to console me. For that first minute I was already in a state of unease. Something in the back of my mind was flooding my thoughts with messages. Why are you here? You know what happens when you're around new people. It never ends well. You should go. GO. You shouldn't be here.

But of course we didn't leave, and it wasn't more than a minute or so until we met up with that ex-coworker, and then I became a lot more comfortable. I didn't really leave his side other than to order a drink for a while. I stood there talking to him and Jason, observing the other people around me playing Rock Band, but not able to start a conversation. Why would you start a new conversation? You don't know these people, after all! I don't know what subconscious thing prevented me from talking to them. Did I fear the rejection of them not being interested in what I had to say? I actually think I'm kinda awesome and smart and pretty fun to talk to, so I don't feel like it's for lack of self-esteem. I went to this event with the explicit purpose of meeting people, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn't do it. It was like I was paralyzed from the brain down. I was trying to talk to these people, but I couldn't open my mouth. Something was stopping me and I didn't know what.

That sort of thing makes me extremely uncomfortable. I'm generally in rather good control of myself. I don't swear unintentionally, I don't become violent when I'm angry, and I can calm myself down or cheer myself up at will. (People who observe me in action behave as if I have some sort of meditative superpower.) The idea that my behavior is not completely under my control is actually pretty terrifying. People talk about how hard it is to quit smoking, and whether I want to or not part of me always thinks of those people as just being weak-willed, but come to think of it, I probably have a pretty good grasp of how even simple and positive actions can be blocked subconsciously for unknown reasons.

Not too long after we arrived, someone proposed a game of Uno, and I countered with Coloretto, which I'd brought with me. As soon as people were talking to me, I could effortlessly interact with them, but if he hadn't spoken up, I wouldn't have either. We got five players and a couple tables and started setting things up. I introduced myself, explained the rules, and the game progressed as if we were all friends. Once we had a purpose—to play Coloretto—my conversational difficulties dissolved entirely.

But Jason and that ex-coworker weren't technically the only people I knew there. I had also talked to one of the other guys before: not in person, only online. When I saw a few minutes after arriving that he was there, I planned on going over to say hi and start a conversation. I planned this for four hours and it never happened. Many times I had completely resolved and decided that I was going to walk over there and talk to him, maybe shake his hand or something; say "hey, I'm Travis, remember me? ...nice to meet you." I couldn't actually do it. I would turn in that direction and tell my legs to start moving, and they'd remain motionless. I was physically unable to go over and talk to him. And this wasn't even someone new: I knew his name, the games he plays, his Starcraft II character's name, and all sorts of things that one could start a small-talk conversation on.

Several factors conspired to bolster my shyness this time. At first he was in a group, and it would have been perhaps rude to interrupt a conversation just to introduce myself. But many people in this sort of social situation will immediately leave one group and join another effortlessly. This was a conscious block: I told myself that if I waited for him to be alone I'd never have a chance to talk, so I'd just have to go mingle and wait for a chance to talk, and that was that. I got over it. I already knew this person and I'd come up with a plan, so it'd be easy to go chat. Simple! Of course that didn't happen.

Another problem was that this guy is attractive. Like, really hot... Mr. April 2011 kind of hot. I have a really hard time talking to attractive people. It's not even solely people I am actually attracted to myself: I was at a party about a year ago with a quite good-looking girl I'd talked with like a hundred times before. She works at the gym and we talk all the time there and she's very lovely and friendly, and at this party it was challenging to bring myself to talk to her. (I don't recall if I ever actually did.) Why can I talk to her at the gym? I don't have to; I could easily just be as cold and rude as the other patrons there. I never had any trouble at all talking to people working at Burger King or the grocery store checkout lanes or the deli or Microsoft. Something about parties and bars in particular must scare me, because I don't seem to have the same problem at a workplace.

It seems that with sufficient willpower, I can overcome a few of my difficulties talking to people (unknown people, unknown places, parties/bars, attractive people), but not all of them, and when that willpower falls short, I end up just standing there, seemingly paralyzed. I try to move my legs to walk toward someone, try to open my mouth to talk to them, but nothing happens, and it starts to freak me out. I have enough weird and adorable little personality quirks that I've come to love and accept, but this one in particular angers and scares me. I hate it. I don't want to be this way.

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