Numbers

Some people go to parties to socialise, or to organised groups, both formal and informal. They make music or things, exercise or discuss books; they get together with like minded people to enjoy their company, chat and hang out. They meet up with friends, get to know new faces, catch up on gossip and each other’s lives. Man is a sociable creature who thrives when welcomed and accepted by others.

For much of my adult life I did not question that this was the way I should live. I agonised over my inability to gain acceptance into any close friendship group. I had friends but we were not open with each other, not in the way I had been conditioned to think we should be.

And then, when I finally found my way into a clique, I discovered that I still struggled. I could go through the motions of attending and hosting the small and larger events as expected, but would worry afterwards about the detail of the things that I had said or done. I would do my best to cover my growing anxiety, but enjoyment was marred by the after effects as I suffered increasing bouts of mental self-flagellation.

Withdrawing from this way of life was not a concious decision but an act of self preservation. I could no longer cope with the days spent trying to deal with the growing anguish that followed each social encounter. No matter how often I told myself that my reaction was foolish and unnecessary, it was still all too real to me. The turmoil had become more than I could bear; I needed to allow myself space to be calm and peaceful.

I still very much enjoy getting together with a friend. I can cope with a walk or a meal out when it is with one or two people. Although I will still feel concern about what I have said and how I have come across at times, I do not wish to avoid society entirely.

I find it interesting that, given my anxiety when dealing with people face to face, the space in which I am most comfortable socially is on line. I know many people who feel that social networks are too public to allow them to relax; I know a few who are appalled that I share so much.

There are aspects of my on line presence, however, that give me cause to question my acceptance in this community. None of my many accounts are followed by large numbers of people; does this mean that I am lacking in some way? I do not agonise over the numbers but rather mull over what they may mean.

I do not know how one gains a following in cyber space. My Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest accounts are all as public as this blog, yet attract little attention. It is only on my Facebook account that I actively manage the privacy settings. Even there the numbers tell a tale; I know all who I have befriended on the site but am not accepted as a friend by all I know.

There are many little homilies and sayings that pop up from time to time entreating us to take notice only of those who offer acceptance of what we are and to avoid those who bring us down. I wonder what it says about me that I am of interest to so few. I am wondering if the numbers matter.

It is not good for my mental health to dwell too much on what others may think of me. I wish to grow as a person; to be kind, understanding and accepting of others. When I look to improve my knowledge and to question why I think as I do I value input. For this I need interaction, yet I struggle to cope with that which is offered; to attract attention from the like minded individuals who must be out there.

Yesterday evening I was trying to discuss a book I am reading with my husband. He was nodding and making all the appropriate noises in response to my enthusiastic comments but, as I continued, I could see his interest wane. He had not read the book and had no views to impart. When I converse with others it too often feels like this; I am eagerly trying to share but am choosing the wrong audience. It is not that I am disliked, but that I struggle to tailor my interactions in a mutually satisfying way.

And that is my lack. Others seem to slip so naturally into discourse with whoever they are with. Perhaps that is why I struggle face to face when I can read the body language and worry about how I am being perceived, or when I know that I will torment myself afterwards with anxiety over whatever verbal diarrhea my nervousness caused me to impart.

On line there is just as much scope to appear foolish but it is the reader’s choice to follow or friend; to interact or ignore. And so we are back to those numbers. I love that I can use my social networks to keep in touch with my family and friends in far flung places; those who I would choose to see more of if distance were not an issue. Perhaps I ask too much in expecting to use cyber space in any other way. Perhaps I am asking more of myself than I am capable of being.

An example of a social network diagram.