I am a strong introvert and, for a long time, social interaction was a major stress. For many years I was not sure of my capacity for friendship. Mostly I felt that people probably hung out with me because I was useful to them in some way. Either I could help them out with stuff, or that I was in convenient proximity.
Then in 2006 on an eight day retreat something shifted. I had a powerful prayer experience which convinced me that I was valued for who I am. It remains a watershed moment. There is a clear before and a clear after. It didn’t change the external reality, but I really did learn that I do have good friendships. Those friendships aren’t based on utility, but rather on real connection.
In a similar vein, I have always found casual conversations with strangers to be stressful. I don’t really want to engage with my neighbours, I don’t want to chat in the queue at the grocery store, and I really don’t want to talk to the person sitting next to me on an aeroplane. But all of those situations are fairly easily avoidable.
The real stress comes when I am in a social situation with acquaintances when conversation is expected. This also includes meeting people that I would like to develop a connection with, but I haven’t met yet (meeting up with people who I know through email or Facebook who have a common interest).
But in the last year there have been several occasions of meeting up, of connecting with strangers and acquaintances, and even the odd casual conversation which has been a great blessing. I am beginning to recognise that I can have those conversations. And, importantly, that those conversations can be tremendously enjoyable. Sometimes they lead somewhere, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the entire extent of the connection has been an enjoyable conversation in a short period of time.
I feel another interior shift. I think, perhaps, I am no longer fearful in the way that I have been in the past. I am much happier now to simply show up and let what happens happen. I have less fear of being judged.
I suspect this shift has its roots in the shift of 2006. I think it emerges precisely out of the lived experience of having good, solid, strong friendships. I know that there are people I can laugh with if I do have a disastrous interaction. I also know that some of the casual connections might grow into something more substantial but I have no grasping need for them to do so.
It is a wonderful place of freedom.