Why I feel anxious with the one next to me but I can talk like a pirate to someone across the room?

It seems my brain is wired to seek social bonds but also to protect myself from close contact.

Bond Wang
3 min readMay 17, 2024
Photo by Elena Theodoridou on Unsplash

“Can she see the gaps in my teeth?”

The elegant lady next to me glances my way. I panic internally.

“Am I rambling to the other tablemate?”

Why can’t I stop replaying the conversation earlier with the guy sitting across from me?

I am sitting at a table at a bustling conference. Try to maintain composure. My grin is natural, a perfect façade. Inside, I am being relentlessly attacked by waves of anxiety.

Until I suddenly spot a vaguely familiar figure all the way across the conference room. He sees me too. His face shows he might know me, but just as vaguely as I know him.

The social butterfly awakens instantly. I wave to him enthusiastically. I must be like a little dog just unleashed, almost tripping over my own excitement. He backs off a bit before waving back, looking slightly confused. What the hell do I care? I smile like a motivational speaker, stride across the sea of minglers, land by his side with ballooning triumph. Shake hands, exchange a bro hug, and talk like two pirates.

I picture people around us staring, thinking, “Whoa! Two social stars colliding headlong.”

As I return to my table, so does the strange pang of anxiety.

Coming back from a social event, I often find myself spending way too much time ruminating over the conversations that I had, how people looked at me, and how I talked to them. One of the biggest enigmas is how I can chat with someone across the room like a pirate but feel shy with my tablemates.

It seems my brain is wired to seek social bonds but also to protect myself from close contact. Sitting elbow-to-elbow with someone brings the potential for deeper engagement, from which anxiety stems. Interacting with someone in distance feels more controlled and less likely to lead to deep, vulnerable conversations. This awakens my most charming, confident self.

It’s the safety net of social networking. We get out of the door, get into a net then. The good news is these nets are virtual, otherwise a social event would burst long before people fill the room.

Studies suggest the number of those with social quirks is staggering. We get out to close the social distance, yet feel the prickly stings when engaging up close. It’s like we’re all hedgehogs in winter, huddling together for warmth until the pain of our spikes sets us apart again.

But hey, isn’t that what makes social times so wonderfully unpredictable and amusing?

Social experts suggest we embrace our quirks. After all, they are what makes us unique. Best advice ever, right? The easiest way to solve a problem is to make it a non-problem in the first place. But if you really want to tackle it, there are some strategies to try.

First, you don’t have to chat with everyone at your table. Just stick to the person next to you — this could lead to deeper conversations and reduce anxiety. Listening can also generate a strong sense of engagement. Find the talker in the group and become their best audience.

Bringing a friend or colleague who knows you well can be a game-changer. Their presence provides a comforting buffer, making it easier to interact with others.

Humor always helps, but remember, you are talking to strangers. A light-hearted joke may sound heavy to others.

The real key, though, is acceptance. This is who I am. Sure, the post-event anxiety will always come up. “Oh what did I say?” “Why she looked at me that way?” But the goal is to pull myself out of it during the social time. Let your quirks lead the way –just maybe not on weed!

After all, life’s too short to let a little social anxiety get in the way of meaningful connections. Embrace your quirks, and let them add some spice to your social time.



Bond Wang

Forget injuries, never forget kindness. Hey, I write about life, culture, and daydreams. Hope I open a window for you, as well as for myself.