The extremely nerve-wrecking attempt to socialize with a bunch of people I barely know

I regret it.

The dinner table is filled with stories being tossed around in a game of catch, and I have always failed to understand it– this game, its rules, what rules, who made those rules and why does it seem like I didn’t get the memo?

Though I wished we could just quietly sink our teeth into our assortment of dishes picked out from the buffet counter– skip the carbs and head for the things you know  you’ll love, like that salted egg squid– we can’t. Social conventions think silences are awkward, unless it’s in a form of a movie with a manic pixie dream girl lead, then it is charming as hell.

Semi-stranger X is accounting a story where she headed to a store to buy toothpaste but in that mundane second, surrounded by mundane minutes is an unexpected twist! She saw a man dashing out of the storefront with two packets of milk powder in his arms with the owner chasing after him, yelling in decibels only dogs discern– PENCURI! CHAK AHHHHH CHAK AHHHH.

We laugh. Semi-stranger Y butts in to say that she witnessed a similar incident, only that it was Milo instead. Semi-stranger Z almost immediately takes control of the conversation, exclaiming with fervour that how this has nothing to do with malice but of desperation, of poverty.

“But how you know lah? Maybe that feller just loves stealing things. I sometimes steal things one, you know. Not to say I poor also. I just like it leh,” says semi-stranger X.

“O-M-G me too”, adds semi-stranger Y.

They speak about their experiences, semi-stranger X, Y and Z, indulging each other with their comic-induced stories. I am half listening, half replaying reels in my head of the times stole things: that Starbucks mug, that bracelet from Cotton On which I ended up giving to someone else, that Pilot Shaker mechanical pencil from my school’s bookshop, and the most story-worthy of all, the time I managed to unlock my parent’s locker with my sister’s hairpin, to discover a wad of cash ready to be given out for Chinese New Year. I took only a piece of RM5 note, which meant the world to my 7 year old self. And to be honest, the satisfaction lies in unpicking the lock, which funnily, I learned from watching Bob The Builder.

OK, this is a story worth telling, me thinks.

I am mustering the courage to plunge into the uncomfortable act of verbal story-telling, of  relating someone else’s elaborate story to what I think, after thorough inspection and deliberation, is a compelling anecdote, one which will induce laughter, perhaps?

But what for though? Never mind. I need to seem like I’m participating.

“Eh, I also got thieving experiences”, I jumped in, and with an alarming immediacy I had not anticipated, a tinge of regret poked at my skin.

Everyone has their head turned to my direction, with semi-stranger Y half paying attention– it seems her chocolate mousse was more enticing than my Bob the Builder thief story. This game begins, I need to say things. I need to string words together to elicit the appropriate responses, because not only will the atmosphere fall flat, my ego will too. I need to be funny. I need to be entertaining. I need to begin my story.

So I did. But in my head, a thousand thoughts scurry here and there: What if I’m not funny? Why is she looking elsewhere? Is she not interested? Maybe I shouldn’t say this at all. Am I being tactful? How long has it been? Can I quickly just finish this story already? Do I look like I’m thinking too much?

Everything crumbles inside. I feel myself thinning and my heart pumps like Napoleon Dynamite’s hideous dance repertoire. I am running a marathon and the hurdles are plenty, comprising of me and me only, my insecurities, my thoughts.

They laugh.

“Ha ha ha Bob the Builder, Oh my god. That’s so funny, Gillian!”, says Semi-stranger Z.

“It’s Lillian.”

“Oh, shit sorry, Lillian. Don’t know why I kept thinking it’s Gillian.”

I feign indifference, hoping not to let slip my extreme exhaustion and disappointment. I just finished a race, which I’m sure the rules revolve around some form of social cue, and this indeterminate idea of confidence. But, I’d like to think I finished this race out of sheer desperation. And like most ends of races, I am relieved. Even if I’m Gillian, at least they got the second syllable part right. I am panting. And I think to myself, this is great, but remind me to never do this again.

Semi-stranger Y recounts her hoarder issues, and how Marie Kondo saved her life. I might have an interesting story there too, though. I should say something, right?

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2 thoughts on “The extremely nerve-wrecking attempt to socialize with a bunch of people I barely know

  1. Absolutely!
    It’s a species of those conversations that turn into this game of “trigger-and-tell”.
    Where when somebody is telling a story or saying something, and another person catches a “trigger” word and feel the need to immediately butt in with their story, and the next and the next.

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