Social Skills Boot Camp

I really dislike social interactions. I never know what to say or even how to become part of a conversation. And when I do get into a conversation, it inevitably involves topics that either don’t interest me (comparing the length of time it takes to commute to work, for example) or about which I know next to nothing (Downton Abbey…that’s a show, right?), and ends with me smiling vacantly and the other person suddenly noticing that their glass is empty and that they need to run very quickly across the room to fill it.

This is why it surprised the heck out of my spouse when I agreed to attend a social event with a crowd of his former scientist colleagues this weekend. At the time, I was sanguine about it, but as the event draws closer, the thought of getting dressed up and hanging out after my bedtime with a roomful of actual adults with Ph.D.s and jobs that don’t revolve around wiping bottoms or managing conflicts around the construction of couch-cushion forts is kind of freaking me out.

With less than 36 hours left before the event, I don’t have time to familiarize myself with the basics of pop culture, but I do have time for a few preparations. First, I’m going to scrutinize my wardrobe for something that fits and that hasn’t been used as a tissue by my children when I thought they were just sweetly giving me a hug. And…I’d better make time to wash my hair and file the rough edges off of my nails.

Then, I’m going to commit to memory this handy list of small-talk topics and tips that Gretchen Rubin posted this week, which includes such advice as…

Ask getting-to-know-you questions. ‘What internet sites do you visit regularly?’ ‘What vacation spot would you recommend?’ These questions often reveal a hidden passion, which can make for great conversation.”

The only trouble is convincing myself that these kinds of questions aren’t too personal to ask a stranger. Well, and figuring out when to ask them. I’m not supposed to lead with these questions, am I? And if not, what do I say to start the conversation? I fear I’m in way over my head, here.

Maybe it’s not too late to send my spouse to the party on his own so I can just stay home and hang out with the babysitter.

What do you do to get ready for social gatherings? What are your favorite small-talk topics?

5 thoughts on “Social Skills Boot Camp

  1. Books and chocolate are my fall-back topics…I’ve rarely met someone who doesn’t like one or the other, and if they like both, then woo-hoo! A new friend! 😉

    More seriously, hope you enjoy yourself however you decide to approach it…


  2. Hello CJ. You needn’t ask canned questions to strangers. That would only broadcast that you are either shy, overwhelmed or shallow. In truth, you are simply a bit shy and out of your comfort zone.

    I, too, am uncomfortable in an unfamiliar crowd, especially if I am not the host or an honored guest. It leaves me feeling insecure. The solution is, of course, easier to say than to be…Just be yourself! For example…

    1. Approach a conversation, it you can sense that it is about something that interests you.

    2. If you are approached, answer with honesty and humility. You might be surprised to form a connection, if only for the duration of the event.

    3. Then, there is always the fall back plan: When others talk about your spouse’s field, you can always say “Hey! Jack is also involved/interested in that type of research. Have you met him? Let me introduce you!”. I am not suggesting that you live in the shadow of a spouse, but since this is his event and you are somewhat reserved, just let the connection be your conduit to meeting others.

    And don’t forget, there are many spouses and friends who were brought to the event. It is very likely that they are in the same predicament as you. Keeping this in mind is akin to your own trick of visualizing everyone in their underwear. It may help to take the edge off.


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