I have in my head the idea that everybody should like me. Like, I should be able to present myself to everyone else in a way that makes them connect with me on a genuine level.
I'm not sure if everyone has a "genuine level", like if some people are P-zombies with no consciousness (or NPCs), but when I'm interacting with you, I'm assuming you're all there. Maybe trapped under layers of artifice, but still there's a real you in there.
I'm not a fan of small talk, but I recognize its usefulness. I just want to get to "real talk" as fast as I possibly can. Usually humor is a good way to do that, by pointing out the absurdity of some social convention or throwing out a good play on words.
I can do this a whole lot when in good mental health. And I love doing it, when it works. But it takes up real mental energy. Plus, it means I don't get into a lot of "small talk"-centric conversations.
But I should. I rationally know that "small talk" conversations turn into "real talk"...they're just a way of fishing for something of substance. You keep throwing out those topics and see which one the other person bites on.
And the problem with eschewing "small talk" is, I run out of "real talk" material. And then I feel awkward and like I should leave, but leaving without a good reason seems rude. Wouldn't want to seem rude; that might make the person dislike me.
I guess I need a "medium talk" level. Just two people talking about their interests in a shallow way.
I'm a deep talk junkie, though. Having a good conversation with someone literally makes me feel high. It's just that you can't always have that. Maybe at first it's easy because everyone's got stuff they're dying to reveal but never do. But after that, it's more difficult. You have to scrape deeper and deeper and eventually you hit rock.
I don't know what to do then. I just want to get away. Like a crowd's watching me that's gonna scream "hey! this guy doesn't have anything to talk about!". And then I'll wet my pants and run away crying or something.
On the trail, you see the same people an awful lot. And plus most of your energy is drained just by the hike itself. It's hard to be clever when you're exhausted. But my thing seems to be being clever, so I kinda felt like I had nothing good to say most of the time. I'm not an outdoors expert; I can't identify edible plants (I took a course on it at Trail Days and remember almost nothing); I screwed up more bear bag line knots than I got right. There was nothing special about me out there.
In short, I couldn't be clever and witty and say my "good day"s and not have to see a person again until my mental/emotional energy levels had been restored. And that created fear in me. I worried about what other people thought of me all the damn time.
Side note: I notice that I do this driving, too. I'm thinking "does the person behind me think I'm going too fast or too slow?". Oh, and at the grocery store. I wonder if the cashier is judging me because of my purchases. It's honestly crazy to live like this, but I do.
And this isn't a forever thing. It goes away. It's gone away before. It's such a relief when it does; life seems fun again and friends are easy to be around. Making a phone call doesn't require a pep talk.
What I think I'm describing here is "social anxiety, but only sometimes". Which is weird because I haven't seen anything that recognizes that social anxiety fluctuates.
The standard way to treat social anxiety is to teach someone how to interact socially, as if it's a matter of a lack of skills. But I know what you're "supposed" to say. I just kind of loathe it. I think I can do better than that. I think I can use an interaction as a deep connection.
That's the thing, really. When I care about what people think of me, I always try to get them to think of me as deep. When I don't care, well, I don't care, and there isn't any pressure on me at all.
The trick really is to not give a fuck. It's so simple but so hard because of tons of deep behavioral grooves in my brain.