The Pressure of Mass Appeal

For a long time, I have struggled with the idea that I am not the kind of person who people are immediately drawn to in social settings. We all know people, I personally think of my step-brother, who can walk into a room and have five new best friends in as many minutes, and it is easy to negatively compare ourselves to them. Am I awkward? Too shy? Lacking a developed emotional intelligence? Bitchy? Giving off weird vibes? 


It is something I especially grappled with when I started my freshman year at Northeastern University. I made some great friends my first year at college, but I will always remember this one group of students who lived in my dorm. They immediately seemed like a tight-knit group, drawn to each other by their loud jokes and their proximity, and my attempts at conversations with one or two of them fell flat. I would frequently pass by them sitting in the common room, and - even though I was usually on my way back from hanging out with friends - I was convinced that they saw me, by myself, and felt that this confirmed, what, my weirdness?


I realize now that that’s crazy, and it was a vicious cycle to inflict on myself. I have no idea what they ever thought of me, but I later learned more about that group of people from a friend, and - suffice it to say - we likely would not have gotten along. So why was I torturing myself? I made myself feel terrible for not being able to connect with people that turned out to be less than fantastic, and I made it about my own alleged deficiencies. 


Yet, for a time, they appeared to be a group I wanted to be a part of but could not interest. When I transferred to Barnard, I told myself that I would put myself out there more - become someone that people wanted to befriend. I definitely did make an effort to get involved and to open up, but, at first, I did not think that I achieved my initial goal. There were times at the beginning where I still felt like the butt of some joke or an afterthought. 


It’s possible that this will come across as a desire to be conventionally popular - the kind of popularity we all saw in high school. It wasn’t really that, though. I just wanted to feel like I could put people at ease, make them laugh, and get them to see that I was worth getting to know. I wanted to be the typical extrovert who could make friends with anyone. I was so hung up on this idea that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. I love my girl gang at Barnard; they are people who I truly love and respect, who make me laugh, and who appreciate my quirks. And I did that - I found these people and brought them into my life, just as they did with me. I instinctively felt good about each of my friends when I met them, and, whether or not I realized it, I followed my gut. I needed to stop feeling insecure about my ability to befriend people that I wasn’t connecting with.


My brother-in-law likes to call me an introverted extrovert. I take time to assess and to think to myself, but, once I have a good feeling about people, I go to great lengths to include them and to amuse them. I only needed to feel comfortable with the fact that this is how I am.


Going abroad means that I’ve shown up at a new school, knowing nobody, for the third time now. Without my past experiences, I think I would have had more trouble adjusting. As it is, I have no problem that a girl on my street art tour showed much more interest in befriending a guy we had both been talking to than in befriending me. A half-hearted plan to go to a fancy hot-chocolate store we passed on Brick Lane never came to fruition, not because she’s cliquey or I’m somehow abnormal, but we just didn’t click. That’s perfectly fine, and, instead, I got to invite along a girl who I increasingly hope becomes a life-long friend. I have a good feeling about her.