Shakespeare and Other Attempts at Popularity

social anxietySometimes we go to great lengths to be loved.

I think of the song by Ben Rector, Wanna Be Loved: “. . . that’s why my heart beats when the telephone rings and why I try to say funny things, it’s why I’m singing this song, cause we just wanna be loved . . .”

I also think of high school. In high school, I was desperate to be loved by my peers – so desperate that I enrolled in the one class I thought would guarantee my popularity: Theater.

Stuffing a fake cigarette between my teeth, I leaned over the desk, trying to get a point across as passionately as a shy person dressed as a nun could. I thought about all the eyes that were on me. It was really only my classmates and teacher, but the auditorium might as well have been filled with the entire school, and I was intent on impressing each and every one of them.

Instead of the boring, timid girl who never talked to anybody, people would see the real me – the talkative, funny, confident me that only my family had the privilege of knowing. If this nun didn’t bring that part of me out of hiding, some other character surely would; I just had to find the right role.

I put on the guise of a housewife from Texas, a Shakespearean maiden, and Helen Keller’s teacher, Ann Sullivan, but offstage I was still the same awkward high school student.

I tell you this not to elicit pity, but to demonstrate some of the outlandish efforts humans make to be loved by others. Even though talking in front of others – even one-on-one – terrified me, I was willing to do lots of talking on stage if it would convince people to be my friend.

Fast forward ten years. I’m at a pool party with just the type of friends I’ve been after all this time – authentic friends, caring friends and friends with an appreciation for individuality in its many forms (even in the form of quietness). However, based on the way I was behaving at this party you’d think that I was surrounded by catty teenagers who only talk to you if you’re cool.

I swung my legs over the edge of the pool, pretending to be fascinated by the swishing of the water as I kicked it. Back and forth I swung my legs as my mind oscillated between appreciating the moment and entertaining negative thoughts.

Everybody had broken into groups of two, and I didn’t want to insert myself where I wasn’t welcome so my master plan – my usual plan – was to get people to come to me. Once in a while, this works, but most of the time, I become angry at people for not coming to my rescue.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Olivia and I were driving to the mountains. She knows my struggle with social anxiety and is always very encouraging. I told her about my pool party experience.

“But they’re such nice people,” she said.

They are nice. So nice in fact that I don’t need to pretend to be someone I’m not, and I don’t have to talk nearly as much as I think I do. More importantly, I don’t need to dress up as a cigarette-smoking nun to make them like me.

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