The first time I meet someone out with the realms of chance meetings in clubs and without the aid of an alcoholic crutch, is always a nerve racking experience for me. Even if it’s not a date, y’know, just a casual coffee, a hopeful prelude to friendship, I’m still freak out. The lead up is the worst. I chat with the person, we organise to do something and I play it cool as I drool over my phone screen, trying to remember what human touch and interaction feels like.
I arrive and linger on the street corner and stand in the cold like an idiot. A normal person would go inside and wait, and for a moment I debate this, but then conclude that such a sensible move is ridiculous. I’ll just chitter away in this winter breeze. It’s inexplicably cold but the burning dread that I’ve been stood up keeps me warm and awake. This feeling of waiting is awful, like walking through a desert or spending the day at a Christian bible camp or something else terrible. I look around for him/her awkwardly, standing their aloof, trying to avoid eye contact with strangers. Then they arrive and during those three seconds it takes for them to notice me I feel calm. Then I remember I have to have actual verbal conversation with this person without being able to hide behind social media. It doesn’t matter what gender my new coffee partner is (although I naturally get more anxious when it’s a guy), and it doesn’t matter how confident I feel that day or how single the person is or isn’t; I still feel as awkward as a dog-owner whose mutt just tried to try hump a toddler.
I’ve spent so much time imbued a crippling sense of self-loathing that I quite often don’t see why anyone would want to start a friendship with me. Like the geeky girl in teen movies who is suddenly befriended by the hot guy; I spend the first few encounters armed with piercing suspicion. I mean, I have something in the way of redeeming qualities, but mostly I still feel terrible. Even on days where my hair is on point, my skin has a natural matte, and my figure looks slender-yet-toned I still choke at the start of new-sentences with a fresh-face and believe with religious conviction that I am as fun as a perforated refuse sack. Being in a busy coffee shop with someone new, whilst juggling the above, is a whole lot of BS I cannot be dealing with. I go and I order our drinks and wait for what seems like an eternity, before eventually the barista, who is a typical coffee-slinger; perpetually grumpy yet full of energy in a way that suggests he’s coked out, shouts my name across the counter – and he says my surname wrong. I let it go though, because having your stupid French surname pronounced wrong isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things when you’ve got Donald Trump, police brutality etc to worry about. I bob across the crowded coffee shop, waiting for people to part for me like I am Moses or Jesus, and being my journey back to the table.
I’m trying to stitch together the beginnings of a new a friendship with the person sitting in front of me, whilst also navigating around my paranoia, which is telling me that everyone else in the coffee shop is making unsolicited comments about me under their breath, in between taking sips of their lattes – they aren’t, I know they aren’t, but I feel like they are, even though they aren’t. I have prepped for this. After a healthy dose of Facebook stalking I know what he/she is interested in. I try and think of something funny to say, but all I’m handed a week-old fart-of-a-thought and left to work with that. My laugh gets higher, my joints get tenser and my brain gets considerably less academic. I set goals: make this new friend laugh whilst you giggle; show them how compassionate you are but without revealing you can be as smothering a homicidal mother. If it’s a guy, let them know you think they are hot but don’t want fuck them in the bathroom. If it’s a girl, let them know how pro-feminism you are but without coming across like you’re trying to grow a vagina on the back of a mouse. I watch as people around me whizz by, kissing, laughing, rushing back to work; all of them seemingly able to function like someone that isn’t emotionally dented. Everyone around me seems totally at ease; their shrill laughter and fluid conversation echo in my head like they were dog whistles that brought no adorable puppies. I am so envious I want to beat them with a broken bottle.
I used to judge people that met online or who spent most their friendship conversing via iMessage and social media, but now I am of one them. Meeting new people is hard, man. I’ve had quite enough change this month, thank you, three cheers to remaining the same. Whether this difficulty is born through an increasing dependence on social media and my phone I couldn’t say, but all I know is that my social skills used to be great; I could pilot my way through a whirlwind of conversation with complete strangers at ease; now I handle social encounters with all the elegance and grace of a dog in high-heels. I’ve spent such a large amount of time leering at my phone screen, that this ability is now layered with dust. Who was I to judge these people? Turns out meeting people online doesn’t always result in murder; it also turns out that no matter who I meet, or where I meet them, unless I’ve got the aid of alcohol – which even then doesn’t ensure anything – I am nearly useless. Meeting new people appeals to me the same way ‘everyone is jumping off the harbour into the sea’ did as a child. Why was everyone doing that? Didn’t know they know how dirty the water was? Was the world ending? Secretly I wanted to splash into the sea like everyone else, it was just fear that held me back; and this currently translates to meeting and making new friends. Jump I shall.