Old Habits

Most weekends, I head out with friends to a bar or a dance club. I go because I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s a chance to be social, a chance to meet new people and a chance to be reminded of things that are easy to forget between the week-day rush of work and the lull of time at home.

One thing that I’ve been reminded of more than a few times lately is that I was never properly socialized to really interact out on the dance floor.

Back in high school, when a lot of people were getting their groove on, I was still smarting from a crush gone bad from the previous three years. Dances brought with them a lot of bad memories. More importantly, I had more than secured my position as a social outcast among many of my peers. After a couple of snubs, I reserved myself to enjoying what I could by myself.

So, I never learned to dance, let alone dance with someone else. I was uncomfortable with my body in just about every way possible. I had convinced myself that everyone else must be equally uncomfortable with me.

In later years, that old habit of just being on my own would prove one of the hardest to break. I still find myself falling back into it.

Especially out on the dance floor.

For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve actively and passively studied how people interact with one another in numerous situations. When I’m out I can pick out a guy who’s interested in a certain girl at 20 paces. I can just as easily pick out a girl who’s trying to get a guy’s attention.

Except, of course, if that guy is me.

If it’s me, I’m blind and dumb until well after the fact. And, if by some miracle, a moment of clarity happens and I do realize it, I have no automatic reaction to rely on. Instead, I have to run through everything I know about interaction in my head and then pick the proper course of action.

Invariably, this misses that key moment when a move could be made.

Luckily, I’m not all that interested in making moves in the traditional sense. It still bothers me that I miss chances to meet new people, though. It bothers me even more that it’s a habit I haven’t been able to break.

We all have patterns we follow. As we grow, some of those patterns change on their own. Other patterns don’t change unless we recognize them and work to change them. Both parts of that can be terribly difficult.

A few weeks ago, while I was out at a local venue, bopping around to the music, a lovely young lady repeatedly moved back and forth through the space I was occupying. The first few times, I didn’t think anything of it at all. The next few times, I noticed that she kept glancing at me not just as she went by, but at other times when she was a short distance away.

Eventually, she was there in front of me, moving in a similar pattern to the sad excuse for “dancing” that I usual perpetrate upon the world. We smiled at one another. Laughed at the ridiculousness of what I was doing. Then she started in with some small talk.

And that’s where it all kind of fell apart.

See, aside from the lag time in realizing that someone may actually be interested in dancing with me there’s another part to that old habit of mine: I just don’t relate well to people I don’t know well in a dance-floor setting. Part of it is because it’s very difficult to hear some people with the music thump-thump-thumping along. Part of it is because I don’t know if they can hear me. And the bulk of it is just a plain old lack of experience back when my patterns were being formed.

She threw out some words with a sly grin. I answered them quickly and kind of dryly (because my brain was still thinking they were actual questions that needed answers and wanted those answers to be heard). There was an awkward pause or three. And she excused herself, never to bee seen again.

It wasn’t until much later that I fully realized just how much I had blown her off.

What would the correct response have been?

Well, for starters, I probably should have introduced myself at some point. That’s another thing I often forget to do. It comes from a lot of years when it didn’t make a difference who I was (at first because no one cared in a negative way–they didn’t really want much to do with me–then because no one cared in a positive way–they knew we’d run into one another again soon anyway).

Right there I sabotaged my chance to make a new friend.

Whether you’re looking for some “fun” or you’re “just” looking to meet new people, making some interaction habit–and breaking out of old habits that isolate you–is a major thing.

I’m getting better. Through looking back on interactions like the one above, I see where my shortcomings are. Through watching others go through similar motions, I see how it’s normally done. And, finally, thought putting myself back in similar situations (no matter how awkward I feel in them), I begin to break the old habit, little by little.

Since one of the key steps in fully realizing a grown up crush is making that leap from fantasy to reality–actually getting to know the object of your crush as a person–there’s no getting around some amount of social interaction.

To do that, some of us have a lot more bad habits to overcome than others.

But if we work at it, we can change for the better.

And our lives will be better for it.

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