Through exposure to to the socially-backward, I have developed a new theory:
Loneliness is a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle.
Allow me to explain. I work with a three guys who do not get much social interaction. Two strive for it, one shies away from it. All three of them seem uncomfortable in their situation, but because of who they are and how they react to things, their situation will never change.
Which makes sense. After all, that is a reason that the edict “The definition of insanity is performing the same task repeatedly, expecting a different result” IS, in fact, an edict.
One person, the most reserved of the three, seems tortured by social interaction. It’s almost as if he’s suffering from a degree of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from a torturous middle school experience. Because of this uncomfortableness reacting to social stimuli, he pulls away from it completely, turning his head before people can invite him in with a greeting or a smile. Definitely a good way to stay locked in one’s shell.
The second person is absolutely desperate for attention. Any attention he can get. To the point of making hypochondric displays, or talking to his computer monitor in hopes of luring an unsuspecting cubicle neighbor to fall into his erstwhile invitation to converse. In meetings, this tendency displays itself in the need to interject himself into the conversation by simply repeating and reaffirming the statements of the person who just spoke, usually in much lengthier terms. Of course, this desperation and constant attention-seeking just turns people off. The saddest case of the three, really. The thing that he wants most is the very thing he’s chasing away with digilence.
The third, most socially-acceptable person I’m not even sure recognizes his own social dischord. He interacts with people pretty regularly, but monopolizes the conversation, repeats the same jokes over and over, and does not know when the natural end of a conversation has passed. Therefore, he will keep talking and talking, not saying much interesting. So people smile and back away gently, and are careful not to encourage much conversation from that point forward. By desiring to be the MOST social person, the MOST well-liked, he ends up being one to avoid.
Of the three types profiled here, I guess I’d rather be the third, if I had to be one at all: blithely unaware of my own annoying self, perhaps even thinking that I was charming and very well-liked.
And, who knows? Maybe I even AM. I certainly hope not. But we are all subject to our own delusions; victim to the inability to truly view ourselves as other see us; stuck inside our own heads. So, who knows?
On a side note: It is intriguing to me that the three best examples that I have yet encountered are all males. I wonder if that’s a gender-related issue. I think girls learn to sink or swim socially pretty early on, due to the complexity of adolescent girl relationships. Maybe men are hobbled from the start, with the social emphasis being more on blatant competition than compatriatism. Maybe we need to give a big hand to the guys who are able to rise above this at all.
For my own part, I hope to help settle these guys into a normal rhythm of social interaction. Consider it an outreach program for social lepers. It’s good for the subjects, the community at large, and even my OWN soul.
Let’s just hope I have the patience and aptitude to do it.