Saturday, March 29, 2014

the loner with social skills

People think that I'm crazy
Just cause I wanna be alone
You can't depend on friends to help you in a squeeze
We all deal with shit on our own

‒ The Roots, "Clock With No Hands"

I am a loner.

In fact, for as long as I can remember, I have always been a loner.  Without surprise, I cherished the few close friendships that I had.  Sharing with friends what I was really going through and sensing that they were receptive to that always made my feelings of loneliness disappear.  However, about two years ago, I started getting the impression that the receptivity was no longer there.  Or maybe it was just not enough.  While far from being an ideal friend by my own standards, I could not avoid feeling resentful towards some people when they were not reaching out to me in the way that I was expecting them to.  I felt like they had disappeared in some sense, and I was disappointed.  In spite of this, I made the effort to look at the matter objectively instead of doing anything dramatic.  I ended up interpreting this disappearance of sorts as the result of changes in my friends' priorities.  I accepted that they were possibly investing more in other areas of their life or perhaps quite simply in new friendships.  And I could not blame them for that.  It was not my place.  They were only doing what they felt was necessary for their well-being.  Something that I would wish for my own well-being in fact.

So I had the responsibility to let go of the resentment and to attend to the social and emotional void that I habitually expected close friends to fill.  This would be my own change in priorities.  I did not know exactly how to proceed, but I was certain that it would be necessary to open up more to others at the least.  And then one day, after an amusing moment shared with a stranger on the street, I realized that I had always enjoyed social interaction.  The more unusual and more unexpected it was, the better in general.  At best, an interaction was like an adventure during which I managed to forget my natural reserve and reveled in expressing myself as I desired, creatively and spontaneously.  This was sometimes the case being a foreigner in Paris.  Today, after seven years in the French capital, I still believe that each encounter with a Parisian or a tourist can be something special.  I always imagined the city as a place ripe for this kind of shared experiences, and I needed to get more than a bite.

To be able to satisfy my appetite, I knew that it was necessary to go beyond the loner persona that I had cultivated since childhood.  More precisely, I felt the need to develop social skills.  Getting straight to the point, I had to become capable of sparking the interaction rather than waiting for someone else to take that step.  Even though I was not particularly withdrawn as far as social situations were concerned, I had long remained in a sort of comfortable corner.  I needed to not only leave that corner more often, but also to remove the barriers that were preventing me from covering the whole floor.  And to make this process so irresistible that I would continue it in the face of the challenges that it posed, I had to act in a way that would be fun for myself and that would potentially be fun for the people that I would interact with.  Over time, operations were conceived and launched, one after the other.

As you can imagine, the market for social interactions is huge.  In addition to meeting a need for survival, we seek the company of others for the enjoyment that can result from such an endeavor.  While being with people can also be a source of pain and discomfort, the rewards derived from interacting with others cannot be underestimated.  Besides, many people want to feel useful to others.  Shouldn't we ourselves feel useful by helping these people?  If each of us was committed to developing his or her social skills in both enjoyable and meaningful ways, dare I say that the world would be a better place.

I would like to believe that someone with improved social skills is capable of reconciling with the people that he used to resent and whose actions or lack thereof motivated his efforts to adopt a more active social life.  Since he is more confident in social settings than before, he depends less on close friends to give him attention.  Besides, he could empathize better with these friends because he is more secure from a social and emotional standpoint.  Finally, given the abundance of opportunities for interaction wherever people are present, he is more capable of fending for his own if there are no familiar faces around.

It is likely that I will feel like a loner for a long time.  Even if I am surrounded by people more often.  Even if I had more loving relationships.  Yet many great moments in my life have occurred when I was alone.  I have even begun to embrace the loner in me.  But I do not want to be a loner who makes do with a quiet life in his small world.

I would rather be a loner with social skills.

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