This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Dear Charlotte, which tells the winding story of the triumph and folly of forever trying to better yourself. This letter is from the chapter on "Dealing with Others".
Hi Charlotte. So I've been going to a lot of awkward campus parties lately. They all have this weird limbo vibe to them. Maybe it's because the parties are happening when school is not in session (during the summer) or maybe it's because I feel like an outsider living off-campus and having an ambiguous enrollment status. At these parties, I usually find myself nursing a red plastic cup of beer, peering at the other students, wondering if they're either too young (i.e. high school students at summer camp) or too blasé (i.e. graduate students living off campus) to be here. Or maybe I'm the one who doesn't belong.
At these parties I've become acutely aware of this weird social problem I have. I call it "lockjawism." I was chatting with Bella at one of these parties, going over the pros and cons about whether I should re-enroll at Stanford, and she just laughed at me and said, "You're thinking too much." This kind of statement gets on my nerves. It's as if I don't already know that I think too much. But I smiled through her comment, and in the process, I got this soreness in my jaw, like right below my ear. It made me want to turn away, get another beer, or possibly leave. But I pushed through it, trying to ignore the pain.
This happens to me all the time with Alice too. I can't seem to say anything that doesn't elicit a contradictory response. If I say, "The food was good," she replies in a snappy voice with something like, "Oh really, I didn't think so, I hated the cabbage wraps." I don't know what my problem is. Why should I care if people contradict or disagree with what I say. I'm a contrarian myself. Do I really have that much of a damn ego that I can't have a normal conversation?! But just like with Bella, I smiled through Alice's comments, trying not to think about the soreness in my jaw.
I just want to socialize unencumbered by anything. I want to say what I want, talk to whomever I want, and not have to dance around certain topics because I'm afraid of being contradicted. I know people are not trying to put me down by correcting me all the time. And so I should be able to talk freely to them.
On the other hand, I come home tired and physically sore after hanging around some people. I suspect that I need to sort of close my eyes and surrender to the lockjaw. Remember that last time, when I had trouble looking people in the eye? The way I solved it was to let myself avert my gaze whenever I felt like it. Maybe I just need to do that again. Maybe I just need to let the lockjaw make me shy from certain people. Maybe I should let certain things inhibit me, in order that I may diffuse them, rather than resisting them, making them stronger.
I'm just afraid that if I give in to that, then who can I talk to? If I'm going to shy away whenever someone contradicts me, what kind of insecure little twerp does that make me?1
1 I did eventually just give in to the lockjawism, inhibiting me from being around certain people. I've now retroactively accepted that I simply didn't enjoy certain people's company. And in doing so I did not, as I feared I would have, become a loner who has to avoid everybody because his face hurts too much.