I Hate Meeting People In Person For The First Time

Once upon a time, a customer service rep asked for my phone number at the end of a call. Now, I avoid phone calls like the plague.
Publish date:
November 5, 2013
mental illness, mental health, meeting people, social anxiety, people from the internet

I used to really like talking on the phone. Like, a LOT. Like, thousands and thousands of cell phone minutes were used every month because I had people to talk to; we talked for hours. I talked on the phone in the car and in the middle of the grocery store. I talked on the phone when I woke up and when I went to sleep.

When I called customer service lines, the customer service folks loved talking to me. I used to talk on the phone to a dude that I met via a call to set up internet in my new apartment at the time -- he asked for my number at the end of the call. (Mindspring was a really FRIENDLY company, okay?) I used to talk to people who called with a wrong number.

Part of this is because dudes seem to like my phone voice. Another part of this is because I was, for a long time, constitutionally incapable of being "rude" -- which meant I came across as friendly and interested and engaged even if I really just wanted my effing internet set up, for fuck's sake.

But the years progressed, as they tend to do, and I spent less and less time on the phone. I told myself it was because, oh, hey, texting is obviously superior. But I finally had to admit, when I started actively avoiding making phone calls to customer service lines, that I had somehow turned into one of those people who hate talking on the phone.

Here's the thing about mental health issues: they don't, like, generally get better or easier as you age. In fact, they often get worse, especially if you are ignoring them. And my complete 180 when it comes to the telephone is a dramatic illustration of how I ignored my increasing levels of social anxiety in the hopes that I was just having a bad day. Every day. For a couple of years.

The other night, a friend and I had a Google hangout. (I still don't know what the right verbs are for that.) We hang out in person every year at Wiscon. I've known her since the Livejournal days. But that "incoming video hangout" message still sent my anxiety through the roof. It's like the phone anxiety I'm familiar with but it's magnified by the "in-person" feel. And it's weird because, while I've felt nervous before social engagements before, this is a super specific anxiety related to meeting/talking to people I know from the internet.

Earlier this year, while I was in Madison for Wiscon, I got to hang out with Tynan. He's superb, by the way. He sent me flowers. I was so anxious beforehand that I almost regretted wanting to hang out in the first place, which is the MOST ABSURD THING EVER. But it's a thing now -- I'm irrationally afraid that I have convinced people I'm kind of fun when, in reality, I'm a weird and awkward loser.

On November 16th, a fatty I know from the Internet is coming to interview me for a documentary. I am PETRIFIED. Not because of the on-camera thing -- I kind of love being filmed. I don't know why. No, I'm worried that she's going to get here and sit in my mismatched living room and be uncomfortable and unhappy in my presence.

Maybe it's a fear of failure? Maybe it's a fear that I have somehow fooled people into thinking I'm competent and kind of fun? Like, is this really just a weird form of Imposter Syndrome that only crops up in social situations? That only crops up in social situations with people I know but have never met in person? WTF, self?

Basically, I hate everything about this anxiety. Thus far my strategy for dealing with it is to freak completely out before I meet the Internet Person in question and then overdress so there's no doubt they'll think I'm ridiculous and pathetic. OK, mostly people don't think I'm pathetic -- though they do think I overdress. But inherent in this fail!strategy is one thing I want to keep doing: meeting people despite my freakouts.

Which is why I am simultaneously totally stoked and totally sick to my stomach about hanging with Claire and Natalie next week. I promise not to be too weird, guys!

As I think about it, I suspect this rise of social anxiety in my life is also down to generally elevated stress levels. I'm pretty Type A, y'all, and I have been winding myself up tighter and tighter over some work things and some life things. I'm functioning at low levels of Def Con: Freakout already; introduce me to a new socially stressful situation and I have no emotional cope leftover to deal with it.

Stress is always the problem, isn't it?

Some of my best friends are people I met online. But there are other folks who probably think I'm standoffish and cold because I haven't picked up the phone and called them in a while.

How do you deal with social anxiety? Is this a thing that even makes sense to you or are you totally chill when it comes to meeting folks? What new and horrible manifestations of anxiety do I have to look forward to, do you think?

Marianne is totally not anxious on Twitter: @TheRotund.