Six degrees of separation

I’m about to embark on round two of my Japanese client visits. The busy time of the year in my job coincides with the harvest time of certain agricultural products and so before Christmas and after Christmas are the two times of the year when we host many groups of visitors. In the quieter times are when we travel to see our clients overseas and all of this means that there is a lot of too-ing and fro-ing throughout the year.

People often comment that I’m lucky that I get to do so much travelling in my job and lots of wining and dining at the company expense. I suppose if I was a normal person, that would be true, but I spend a lot of my time staring at my diary and calculating how many free days I have until the next ‘social occasion’ or thinking about ways I can get out yet another awkward dinner (death/birth/wedding in the family?) When I’m on a trip I have an hourly countdown until I can go home and feel free. There is nothing quite as sweet as walking in the door of my apartment after spending a day or several days with clients and/or colleages. I find all this required social stuff exhausting and if I had a choice, I’d rather travel and dine using my own money than have to do it all with people I do not feel completely comfortable with.

I sometimes wonder how my levels of anxiety about this kind of stuff compare with other people. I have a feeling that it’s not normal to spend the night before a day-trip with clients in a cold sweat dreading the small talk I’m going to have to make in the car, but I’m also not that bad that I need to curl up in a dark room with a blanket or drink myself into oblivion beforehand. Most people actually say that they have no idea that I’m not comfortable with all of that social stuff and that I always seem reasonably relaxed and can be the life of the party. I guess I’m just good at putting on a normal face when I’m really dying down inside.

I kind of feel like I can’t really say I have social anxiety unless I’m left shaking in a corner at the mere thought of a social interaction.  And on that point I also tend to see that people who are introverts or who have social anxiety always tend to say that they are not comfortable with larger groups and much prefer a one-on-one or small group situation. I’m actually the opposite. I would much prefer to have a group of people around me because it takes the pressure off me needed to lead the conversation and I can just chill and absorb the discussion and whatnot without needing to actively participate. The fewer the people, the more pressure I feel.

Many of my clients I have been interacting with for over five years and it’s almost a daily interaction thing, whether it be by phone or email. They are people I know quite a lot about and have met their families etc. They are by no means strangers and generally nice people, but I still don’t feel comfortable around them and I still have a gut-churning feeling whenever I need to play host or visit them.

I’d say there are a total of six people in the world that I have reached the level of absolute comfort with and three of them are my mum, sister and grandmother. The other three are my best friend from high school, my ex husband and of course, M. These are the six people in the world that I wouldn’t clean my house for, who I don’t have to think about what to talk about when we’re together and who I can be myself with. It’s a very select and elite group and it takes years before you can possibly be invited to join.

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