"Did you make a difference today?"
Under normal circumstances, a fit-looking older guy with a beaming white smile asking me this question might not even give me pause. Just some cheery, motivational type or maybe a street corner proselytizer hoping to lure me in. But this time is different because we are both drenched in sweat and naked, standing about two feet from each other.
Well, I at least have flip flops on.
"Uh, what?" I'm thrown off.
"Did you make a difference today?" We're in the locker room of the gym I use, because what else would a tableside-sitting, macchiato-sipping pseudo-internet-celebrity dilettante do with his mornings? I've just finished my work-out and I'm heading towards the shower, which is already the most awkward part of my day because I have a deep-seated hatred of my body and a bizarre phobia that I will somehow offend people by seeing them naked. It takes me several seconds longer than it should before I can stammer out a reply.
"Uh, yeah. I sure as hell tried."
"Good! Good! That's what it's all about! I feel a little sore, too!"
"Well, that's how you know it's working, right?"
"Yeah! Have a good one!" He flashes me another brilliant smile; his teeth are perfect. He throws on a shirt and I head off to take a shower. My first instinct was to write up a blog post about how weird this guy was, having the gall to talk to ME, a stranger. And that's when I realized that throwing a person under the bus for daring to be friendly is a pretty d*&k move.
How did it get to this point? When did greeting a stranger become behavior worthy of scorn? I know part of this is my own neuroses, but I also know I'm not the only one walking around in an increasingly-solitary bubble, judging anyone who dares intrude. I spend just as much time avoiding people as I do complaining that I haven't made any real friends since moving to Seattle. But, and I realize how fundamentally broken as a human being this makes me sound, it's really hard to make friends as an adult.
Which makes no sense because I'm a pretty approachable guy.
I'm friends with a lot of my co-workers because we spend most of every weekday together, but unless I'm forced into proximity with people for extended periods of time I have a hard time putting myself out there. But maybe it starts just that simply: maybe it's as easy as not judging a stranger for bothering to strike up a conversation with me. Maybe I can spend a little less time judging people and more time just saying hello occasionally.
I'd still prefer to not be naked while I do it, though.
Do you struggle with feeling socially awkward, too? What state of undress do you prefer to have your conversations in? Got any tips for making friends? Fire away in the comments! And maybe we can set up a mixer so everyone can get to know each other.