Another reason I read the book Connected was because I have never really felt like I am a part of society but I couldn't pin down why I felt that way. Throughout my life I have watched others with envy and wondered at their ability to socialize with each other. I have never been able to socialize easily. When I talk I either give too much information or not enough information and am forever questioning myself about where that balance lies.
The best way I can describe it is to say it's like knowing how to sing without being able to sing. Knowing how to move my diaphragm for the best amplification, knowing what the notes are individually as well as the overall sound, knowing the timing of the spaces between notes as well as when to breathe during singing. But when I open my mouth to sing I'm horribly off key and no amount of training seems to change that. The realization that singing can be a natural talent that I simply don't have as well as a trainable trait that my body simply can't learn as well as others. That's what being social is like for me.
I'm not sure if other people do this, but I spend a huge amount of time running conversations in my head. From big discussions to small talk, I plan what I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it. I plan what I'll ask someone at work and keep in mind how to continue the conversation by asking key questions. During the conversation I'll have a running commentary in my head - 'did I say that right? was I too sharp? did I insult her? should I laugh now? show support, look encouraging, make your face like you are interested'. And then when the conversation is done I wonder 'Was I too talkative? Did I say too much? did i ask the right questions?' For big discussions I plan out my key points and get ready for any argument that could arise. And then I get frustrated or off balance if a point comes up that I didn't plan for, or if the points I discussed with myself are no longer relevant.
This is why casual conversations are not too bad. They are short, usually pleasant, and more like extended small talk. Like when someone at work wants to argue about a policy or person, or talk about their holiday. Emails and preplanned interactions are better because I have more time to think about what I need to say or do or act. Chance encounters are ok because the conversation is limited to 'oh hi! do you like your new job?' and whatnot. But getting beyond casual acquaintances is difficult because the relationship requires me to know how to give and take and I screw that up with panache. The intricacies of the relationship are just too complex for me especially with the mood swings. During a Down I have very different attitudes about things then when on an Up.
This is probably why casual acquaintances are much easier than close friends for me. As much as I may want more friends that I can call up to go to coffee or talk, building the relationships seems so hard. People frustrate me in their selfishness - mostly with only wanting to discuss themselves and their lives as well as interrupting me on a continuous basis. Now, it may well be that I've only chosen that type of person to befriend, but it is getting tiring. So when Connections spoke about friends as being people that would invite you to a party, there is only one person outside of family that fits that description. And even then, she keeps me separate from the rest of her world as much as I keep her separate from mine. It's amazing to me that I have been able to connect with S enough to form a stable relationship. And my boys, well, I can see now where I could have done better in the past in forming relationships with them. I wish I could go back in time and be a better parent now that I know more about parenting as well as how my brain works. And even though I'm doing better now because I know better, in ten years I'll still be able to look back and see where I could have done better.
Another thing I do constantly is watch people's microexpressions intently to gain information about how they feel, what they are really saying, and why. Then I do my best to be what that person needs right then and there. Do they need a confidant? a co-conspirator? a comedienne? a leader? And then later I wonder why I agreed with something just to get along when in fact I don't agree with that point at all. Don't get me wrong, I do have my own emotions. I feel happy or sad or empathetic of others, but I just don't know how to relate to others without attempting to be what they want me to be. Like if someone tells me she feels so fat I know she might want me to say she's not or that she'll overcome it. But in reality I want to point out the six donuts she just ate so of course she feels fat.
At least I seem to be better at social situations now then I was twenty years ago. But it's exhausting and I'm starting to see that it will never be easy or natural for me.