Most days, I am okay with myself. By that I mean, I’m okay with being introverted, a little weird, but comfortable with my quiet, reflective personality. I used to stress all the time when people wouldn’t talk to me (is there something wrong with me? Why don’t they like me?) or worry if I appeared standoffish or snobby. But I learned that there’s nothing wrong… it’s just who I am. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at relating to people, just enough that sometimes I can even trick others into thinking I’m friendly and sociable. (Ha!)
But then… well… sometimes Introversion’s evil sidekicks Neurotic and Insecure show up, and I am back in high school again…
Today seemed like a good day for Chinese food. I have a writing project to edit, and in the middle of a fairly busy week some time away from the office to recharge was necessary. So I grabbed my notebook and drove down the street to my favorite little quick Chinese place for some chicken and broccoli, just me, a pen and paper, and my iPod. Eating alone isn’t so bad when I have a way to occupy my ears and hands.
The bad thing about this place is the small size, though every table is built for, like, six. It’s not uncommon to see one or two people at a big cushy booth, and right in the middle, there’s a row of tables pushed together to seat eight. Sometimes, there are empty seats everywhere, but nowhere to sit alone.
So, I saw a booth, mentally claimed it, and ordered my food, but a smart-dressed young lady grabbed it before I could finish paying. Shoot. Bewildered, I stood in the middle of the place, considering the virtues of sitting outside in Florida August.
“Do you need a seat?”
Long Table was occupied by two guys and six empty chairs. Every introvert cell in my body pushed my brain to say “no thanks,” but the small and well-trained sociable part made my mouth say, “Sure. Thanks.”
So I sat, at the end of the table with Friendly Hipster and Scruffy Texter. These are their names, because I never bothered to get the real names. Friendly Hipster even kindly picked up some soy sauce for me on a trip to the counter, but for the most part, I just ate my food and listened to them talk about where Scruffy Texter was going to take his girlfriend for dinner.
A billion things go through my already hyperactive mind in a situation like this. What is the proper “sitting with strangers unexpectedly” ettiquette? Politely accept, then let them have their space and conversation? Politely accept, and introduce myself? Converse, make small talk? Or should I have declined because they didn’t really expect some random confused girl to actually sit with them?
And so, as Neurotic and Insecure argued over “eating-with-strangers” etiquette, I scarfed down my chicken and broccoli, fiddled with my iPod, and retreated to my comfortable happy bubble. I didn’t write a word either.
Finally, as I scooted my chair back, wondering how to properly say thanks and excuse myself, Friendly Hipster smiled really big and said, “Hey, nice talking with you!”
Sarcasm? Yippee. Fortunately, I am fluent.
“You too! Thanks for the seat. Have a great day.”
There’s an idealistic part of me that really, truly wants to connect with people. An introverted personality (which is, I believe, a gift and not a problem that needs to be fixed) doesn’t mean I don’t like people. I don’t want to seem standoffish, and I believe with all my heart that gestures like these make a better world. All around us are people who are made in the same image, who are loved and unique and have stories.
I want to know those stories. And I want to make everyone I meet feel loved, honored, human. That’s how I feel when I’m invited to a stranger’s table, but I don’t know how to give it back.
So Friendly Hipster and Scruffy Texter: Thanks. Really. Perhaps someday, I’ll do the same for someone else. I’m bad at small talk, but maybe I’ll find a way to crack the ice, even learn their names, get a glimpse of the life that’s being written. Maybe I’ll share a paragraph of my story too.
But then again, you might have to talk to me first.
Have you ever unexpectedly eaten with strangers?