I go for a lot of long walks on my own. I enjoy being outside, away from people and their associated traffic. The fabulous views of the countryside spreading out before me in this beautiful corner of the world are an added bonus. It is a chance for me to relax, breathe and think my thoughts.
Sometimes these thoughts are replays of times I have spent with other people. I think about the conversation, how I acted, how I said and did things that I now look back on with embarrassment. Why do I remember the times when I made a fool of myself so much more clearly than the times when I fitted seamlessly into a social scene? There must have been good times too, times when my talk was successfully small and unremarkable.
So there I am, walking across a field or along a quiet footpath, remembering something stupid that I said at a gathering years ago. My body language would look very strange to observers. I find myself grimacing, exclaiming, crossing my arms protectively. I wonder how I can handle looking some people in the eye after behaving so idiotically. I wonder if they even remember.
I try to comfort myself, to convince myself that it doesn’t matter. I will be more aware of my behaviour than others, most of whom are unlikely to have given it much thought. If people have a lower opinion of me after our encounter then why should this concern me when I rarely see them? Perhaps my discomfort is one reason that I feel socially awkward. I enjoy watching people, but will look back on most occasions more fondly if I have managed to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself.
I have no idea why I find small talk so troublesome. Once we have greeted and discussed the weather I seem to struggle to keep things bland. I chat about my kids or what I have been doing, see a reaction of surprise or disapproval on another’s face and go into panic mode. The words that fall out of my mouth dig me deeper and deeper into the hole that I am creating. I want to jump in, cover myself up and never reappear.
I am not like this with everyone. There are people out there with whom I can truly relax; old friends or family who know me well and seem to like me as I am. I can talk naturally without fear of seeing them mentally step back from our discussion. If they disagree with what I have said or done then they will articulate their feelings and we move on. My treasured companions can laugh with me, share my tales, show interest in what I am saying. I come away from these all too rare encounters feeling happy and satisfied. I wonder if that is how others feel after most get togethers with friends.
I do not believe that the people I mix with are hugely judgemental; they do not condemn me for thinking differently to them. I guess what makes me uncomfortable is that feeling of being a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I can only be myself, yet so often that makes me feel uncomfortable in a crowd. This discomfort provides a catalyst for my foolish talk as I struggle to blend in.
It is not good to dwell too much on past misdemeanours. The way I act will be regarded as unimportant to most. If my behaviour, conversation or attitude is disliked then I would hope that those who feel this way towards me would choose not to include me in their future social plans. We can all be so much happier only mixing with those whose company we truly enjoy.
I cannot take back foolish things that I have said or done. In processing the memories I am trying to come to terms with myself and move on. There are still people out there who choose to spend time with me; I need to make more of an effort to allow this to happen. Too much navel gazing will not make me the better person that I wish to become.