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Life with my Social Struggle

Socializing has always been a struggle for me. Maybe it’s that I can’t remember faces or names for the life of me. Maybe it’s a dash of social anxiety, or just general awkwardness that always comes back to haunt me. But whatever brand of struggle it is, it always shows up. 

This morning, I’m trying to get one of the last breakfast sandwiches in the caf when someone says hi to me. We have a long conversation about which classes they’re taking this semester, how my job’s going, how my sorority’s doing. I’m studying their backback, their shirt, their laptop case the entire time looking for a clue as to how they might know me. I don’t even recognize them. They walk away a few minutes later, and I still have no idea where we met.

I head out to class, and on my way across the plaza I see one of my sorority sisters I’ve known for the past four years. She’s far enough away that if I want to talk to her, I’m going to have to call out her name. You know her name. I tell myself. Her name’s Em*. Short for Emma. You can do this. But now I’m starting to doubt myself. Is her name really Em? What if it’s the other one who’s named Em, and this one is named Laura. There are a lot of Laura’s in our chapter. Statistically, it’s more likely her name’s Laura. I know her life story, her favorite places to eat, her position in our chapter, I can picture the time we rode the ferris wheel at the Spring Concert together, but I don’t know for certain what her name is. 

“Em” I finally call out, but she doesn’t turn. My vocal cords tighten with anxiety and I don’t call out again. I’ll never know if I called the wrong name or if she was just too far away to hear me.

On my way up the stairs, I get a text from one of my best friends, but I don’t know how to reply, so I don’t open it. I tell myself I’ll reply later. I know I won’t. Eventually, if she cares enough about the subject, she’ll ask me about it in person, and I’ll have to reply and then it’ll be over. I’ll stress about it until then. 

In art class we’re critiquing self-portraits we drew. I mention I’m bad with faces, because I can’t tell whose portrait is whose. “Ava’s in my sorority,” I say, gesturing to the girl next to me, “and I didn’t even recognize her for like three weeks.” I play it off as a joke, but no one laughs. I clam up and smile. Act casual, I remind myself.

The class goes on, while I sit there puzzling. It takes me another five minutes to realize her name’s Annika*, not Ava. At least now I know why no one laughed.

During class, I tell myself that today I’ll finally go to the roller rink. I’m an artistic roller skater, I’m supposed to be training at least once a week, but I haven’t been yet this semester. I keep making up excuses, but in reality it’s the stress of trying to figure out who I need to pay for the session (tricky when I know I won’t recognize her from the last time), trying to make friends with the groups of girls who’ve known each other since they were babies, even composing the text message to the coach to confirm that there’s practice today. Today, I’m finally going to go, I tell myself throughout class.

At 1:50 I head out the doors of the classroom, and in the five minutes it takes to get to my dorm, I chicken out on skating. I’ll go skating next week, I say. I remind myself I need to finish a project that’s due in two weeks. I take a nap instead.

That night, I sit down to finally write the email I’ve been avoiding all week. It shouldn’t be a hard email: “Hi Ms. Smith*, I hope you’re doing well. Sunday works great for me. I’ll talk to you then.” But for some reason, even though I’m a writer, even though I’m just confirming a date, I re-write it and re-write it. Then I head to Netflix for a little bit. I plan out more stuff in my planner. 

Finally, I go back to the email, and I copy and paste the entire thing into a Facebook message to one of my best friends, the one who I don’t owe a reply to her text from earlier in the day. “Is this good?” I ask. She assures me that it is, in fact, fine, and that I can send it. She’s not surprised–I ask her this multiple times a week. She’s one of the four email reassurance editors I have on rotation. I go back to my Gmail, move the mouse over the ‘send’ button, squeeze my eyes shut, hold my breath, and…. finally press send. I open my eyes and breathe a sigh of relief, I have a night of respite before she replies and the cycle starts all over again.

Getting the email done, with all of my procrastinating in the middle, took all night, so I get ready for bed. I’m brushing my teeth when my phone buzzes. 

She’s replied already. It took her less than five minutes. I’ll deal with that tomorrow, I tell myself. I groan and collapse into bed. 

*All names have been changed.  

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