Overthinking basic social interactions

Feb. 13, 2018, 1:00 a.m.
Overthinking basic social interactions
Courtesy of Unsplash

Growing up means that you have fewer excuses to avoid various social situations. As a socially awkward person, this means I constantly find myself overthinking a multitude of simple social interactions. Is it just me, or is this whole “communicating with people” thing kind of stressful?

Emailing teachers

How casual is too casual? How formal is too formal? What should I do when “hi” seems too informal, but “hello” sounds forced, and “dear” is just way too formal? Do I have any comma splices? Do they care if I have any comma splices? It’s only two sentences, how bad could it be? Does it matter if I end the email saying “Let me know. Thanks.” or “I look forward to hearing back from you.” Does that period make the sentence sound too abrupt or monotone? But no other forms of punctuation are appropriate, so I guess I’ll have to leave it like that. Why is there no style guide for emailing teachers? Where are the instructions? I NEED GUIDANCE.

Internship follow-ups

So you said you’d get back to me Friday, but now it’s Monday, and I haven’t heard anything. Is it too pushy to email and ask what happened? Is it too soon to ask? Maybe you were going to give me the position, but now that you read my pushy email you don’t want to hire me anymore. At the same time, I can’t live with the uncertainty. Maybe I can send telepathic waves motivating you to email me first.

Introducing yourself to the class

“Okay everybody, to start off class, let’s go around the room and say a little bit about ourselves!” Seriously? How much is a little bit? What kind of information do you want? My favorite food? My resume? Just so everyone knows I’ve thought these phrases over in my head instead of listening to all of your introductions, and I have calculated how to make my description sound ad lib and casual with just the right amount of pausing to make it seem like I’m thinking of it on the spot.

Saying “hi” to acquaintances (In two parts because this can get super complicated)

There are just so many factors to consider which will alter my response.

Part 1: First, I decide if I actually have to acknowledge you. It’s not that I don’t like you, it’s just that trivial interactions with others are stressful, and I prefer to do the bare minimum.

Did we make eye contact? How well do we really know each other? Are you a Level 1 Acquaintance (mutual friend) or a Level 3 (had a class together and several conversations together)? Are you down to do the thing where I notice you, but look away when I see you looking at me, and then you pretend like you didn’t see me, so neither of us have to deal with the stress of acknowledging the other in an interaction? Is it crowded? Will you even hear me if I say “hi”? Will I be left looking like a weirdo who says “hi” to people who don’t know her? Can I easily avoid eye contact?

Part 2: If I do decide to say “hi,” there is a whole separate list of concerns that follow.

Am I riding a bike? Do I have to do the awkward smile thing because I’m not coordinated enough to wave? Does my smile look fake? Do you think I hate you now? Are we in a hallway? If I say “hi” now will it be too early before we cross paths and then we will have to continue awkwardly walk towards each other in silence? Is it too late to say “hi” now? Did you really just say “hi” after I already passed you? I thought we agreed to do the half-smile thing! Now I have to either turn around (so much effort) or keep walking and risk you thinking I’m rude.

Ordering food

Especially when your parents tell you to order something that’s not on the menu saying, “they’ll know what you mean.” No Dad, they really won’t.

Making doctor’s appointments

Um, no, I don’t know my healthcare provider. Would you mind holding while I call my parents real quick?


Contact Phoebe Quinton at pquinton ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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