Tuesday, August 12, 2008

hello, stranger

(I am actually writing a post on internet norms and bullying, which originally began as a post on academic boycotting, but am still thinking, writing, and waiting for another blogger to get back to me.)

I don't think I have ever really blogged about relationships or dating--at least not in the past two years, when I started being read by more than 20 people. I tend to not want to, as this is a personal enough blog with my ceaseless navel gazing, and I never want to get someone else's business tangled up in my blog, least of all my significant other. While I might say that "we went here and had this travel experience" or "this non-intimate conversation made me think of this economic theory and how wrong it is" or something like that, I rarely if ever post intimate thoughts or particulars. My feelings are my own, and my intended's. My abstracted musings on the philosophy of love are yours, though. Part of that is having layers of privacy, and another is prudence. But I have no problem, really, with academic thought exercises about this subject. And really, this all goes back to social theory and Goffman, so it really is academic.

I much like this post by Otto von Bisquick, recounting his experiences in a Starbucks, and making eye contact with a woman and almost deciding to sit next to her. Almost. I feel for him, man. It's tough managing social interactions, particularly in our atomized, anonymous society without familiar local networks and communities. You really are approaching strangers nowadays in a coffee shop, even if they wear the same college sweatshirt. It's hard enough managing our Goffmanian frontstage to people we know, much less strangers. This is why I don't deal well with strangers. Almost everyone I've met through this blog commented or emailed me first; I rarely contact others first.

That's not to say I don't enjoy such exchanges. They are awesome, and my blog friend are wonderful. But it's hard enough to do online, much less in person, and so I feel Otto's pain. I rarely talk to people in public, except maybe women with children or sweet old ladies or cab drivers. I might compliment a shopkeeper on her necklace, or get into a conversation about a book with the guy who sells me my $5.99 copy of Jeannette Winterson. But I don't usually get up from my chair at a coffee shop and talk to someone else. Hell, I don't even make eye contact. I usually avoid eye contact, and am actually reading or working. The times I do look up and see someone, I avert my eyes quickly.

Then I complain that no one ever says hi to me in a coffee shop. I actually don't want them to, and my attentions would not be compelled by another man these days anyway, but I sort of do just to know what that's like. It astounds me that it even happens. Have you ever approached someone in a coffee shop or bookstore? What do you say? "What are you reading" and "That's interesting" and "Tell me more about this" and "Is that what you want to do after you graduate" or "What other books do you like"? I suppose the girl/guy in question has to be reading, or doing something interesting so that you have a conversational entry point. But what if they're just sitting there? What if there are ten empty tables? Do you just sit next to him/her anyway and start talking? I realize now the efforts I go to in order to avoid social interaction: bring a book, and my iPod, avoid looking at people. I am a bad example of a socially conditioned and socialized person.

Of course, I am highly idiosyncratic and abnormally shy-to-the-verge-of-being-twitchy with strangers of the male gender, and so do not listen to me, dudes and girl dudes. I encourage Otto to approach the next girl he makes eye contact with! In reading his post, I was overcome with sympathy, grateful that I was not the social misfit he might have encountered, and immediately reminded of these posts on male assertiveness and this post on regret, all by Amber. Go out there, dudes of both genders! No regrets!

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