life · social anxiety · Talking to strangers

Unexpected Encounter

Sometime last week I ran into an old acquaintance whom I have only met a couple of times before in the past. Two, three times, maybe? He used to attend my meetups within the social anxiety support group before I stopped hosting them. I would have seen him weeks earlier had I attended a certain meetup that I signed up for. His name was also on the RVSP list. Being the chicken that I am, as the date of the event grew closer, I decided not to attend for the irrational and stupid reason of being afraid of seeing him there and not knowing what to say. I wouldn’t say he’s my friend since I don’t know him that well. He follows me on Instagram and we’re “friends” on Facebook, but this kind of arrangement isn’t uncommon for the millions of other people who have online social accounts.

Anyway. I think maybe it wasn’t a bad thing I ran into him that day. I was walking past Bryant Park towards Central Park when I passed some guy wearing sunglasses who was walking in the opposite direction of me. I saw him out of the corner of my eye but I didn’t bother looking directly at him since I was so focused on getting to the park. Then all of a sudden I hear him calling my name. How can I describe what it felt like in this moment? First was the small pinpricks of surprise, like little stars lighting up in my mind. Then an explosion of doom settled over me as I realized, Oh shit, he’s talking to me. Only when I looked right at him, I realized who he was.

The short story is that we chatted for a few minutes and since he was headed in the same way I was, he asked if he could walk with me for a few blocks. My knee-jerk reaction was to want to say, “Umm, that’s okay, I’ll be all right by myself”, but I couldn’t force the words out. Instead, I said ok since that was the easier answer and because a teeny tiny part of myself wanted to see what on earth was so scary about talking to a random person for the next fifteen minutes. Although, I mostly wanted to hightail it out of there. Damn it, why do I do this to myself?

I can say that I tried to make an effort (at times) to talk and/or answer openly when he asked me a question. Or I hope I did? I even asked him some questions. The question I got stumped on (as usual) was, “What have you been up to?” Man, I get so self-conscious whenever someone asks me that question because A) I’m shy about sharing what I actually have been up to, or B) I have actually been doing nothing special and am just too embarrassed to say it. Option A is like opening up a can of worms and expecting there are worms inside but not knowing with 100% certainty that there will be worms. What I mean is, sharing what I have been up to can open up the conversation to a variety of topics and it scares the living daylights out of me to not know where the conversation will go from there. I cannot accurately predict another person’s reaction to an answer I give, after all.

I am satisfied that I managed to share some things during the conversation though. It’s crazy, but I actually mentioned to him that I’ve been writing on my blog and told him my posts were about my experiences with social anxiety. I didn’t give him the URL name though. If by some weird coincidence he is reading this now, I hope he isn’t offended by my perspective on some things. It’s not necessarily that I disliked talking to him, but I have trouble keeping a conversation going because I get so nervous about talking in general and/or sharing my opinion on things. Yes, I am that insecure about myself, as dumb as that sounds. Yes, I felt caught off guard that day and was totally not expecting to run into anyone I recognized, though I survived the walk and the conversation with him. After we parted ways, I was relieved that I at least made an attempt to talk to him. The encounter was one that happened by chance and was likely bound to happen, I think. If it wasn’t him, it might’ve been someone else on a different day that I ran into because that is what is so unexpected about life.

Have you ever run into someone you didn’t expect to see and have a conversation with the person? How did you feel during it and what was bad/good about it?

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3 thoughts on “Unexpected Encounter

  1. I hate chance encounters, especially at grocery stores. If I recognize someone I quickly turn my cart and hope they didn’t see me. However, where I live (in a large complex) I run in to people a lot, that is, if I walk around during the day. If I intentionally want to do this, like to chat with people at the mailbox, then it’s okay. But if I don’t, which is most of the time, I have to attend to things at night. Sadly, if I have to talk to someone in the office, that is daytime hours. I used to feel obligated to stop and talk. I now just keep my feet going, saying hi but not stopping. I’d like to think I figured this out on my own but I didn’t. My therapist asked why I didn’t just keep moving. Wow, I hadn’t thought of that… it made things better but there still is a slight anxiety before entering the building. Sometimes I run in to people who know me but I don’t know them. Maybe I met them one time, they remember, but I don’t. I’ve gotten in to the habit of just saying hi to everyone. I’m finding, I think, that by saying Hi to everyone I feel less uncomfortable. I think it is because I have the habit so I’m less anxious about what’s going to happen. I’m going to say Hi, they will say Hi back, end of interaction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d like to be the type of person to say hi to people I recognize but I feel too awkward doing it if I were passing someone on the street who I know. One time I was in a rush to get to the train station and a lady around the corner had seen me and kinda greeted me. She looked somewhat familiar but I wasn’t sure who she was. I also had my earbuds in and kept walking so I guess I’ll never find out who she was lol.

      It seems cool to just say hi to neighbors who live in the same apartment complex as you. It’s good that you don’t have to have a conversation with them and they don’t seem to expect that from you either.

      I’m the same way at grocery stores. I’d rather hide in another aisle or turn away in time so the person doesn’t see me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Many people recognize me but I don’t remember them because it is out of context from where I met them. I am easy to remember though for some reason. Because of this I’ve learned to nod my head or say a quick “Hi” in asking just in case.

        Liked by 1 person

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