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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Social Bubbles: How do you pop them?

(As a heads up, yes, you’ll need to be logged in to get the full story, but no you don’t need the full story to get the gist.)

Forgive me while I fumble my way through this.  This is something that has been on my mind lately, and I can’t seem to figure it out, so I sort of hope writing about it will help me comb through the thoughts and put them into place.  Comments are very much appreciated, though, as I’d love the perspective of others on this one.

Whether we love it or hate it, we all must interact within social groups at points in our life.  Sometimes it’s at school or work, sometimes it’s hobby or interest related, and sometimes it’s purely for the sake of socializing, like hanging out with friends or whatever.  Some of us are really, really good with these interactions.  Some of us?  Not so much.  I definitely fall into the “not so much” category.  While in the past the biggest frustration for me has been the feeling of “disconnect” and the burden of loneliness, now the most frustrating part is that I can’t impart any great wisdom to my kids.  It kills me to see Sebastian so completely alone, without friends, without a clique, without a “safe bubble” where he can just be himself.  (At least, as much as any teenager can be?) 

Nor can I guide my kids through interacting outside of a safety bubble of friends.  Life doesn’t just let us interact with only those people who adore and love us.  We are pushed out of our bubble occasionally (or sometimes not-so-occasionally) and even if it doesn’t come naturally to us, or even if we’re not especially good at it, we need to be able to at least get by.  Obviously, once we’re “in” we’ve either found a way to fit in comfortably, or the group has found a way to mold itself around the weirdness that we bring, but what about the other situations?  Whose responsibility is it to clear a path to social interaction? 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize this is impossible to answer with any simple, sweeping answer, because every group is different and every individual is different.  I know personality types help facilitate these sorts of transitions.  Some people, like my oldest son, have no trouble jumping right in and making a go of it.  I can plop him down in the middle of any old ant hill and within a few minutes he’s working right along side the other ants without much of a hiccup.  Sure, he may still look like a grasshopper, he may truly have the heart of a grasshopper, but he’s able to fake it well enough that the ants don’t panic and consequently flee or attack.  In no time, he’s gained their acceptance, even if they all acknowledge and respect the fact that he isn’t (or perhaps doesn’t want to be) a permanent fixture.  OK, grasshopper may not be the best comparison, but he’s not precisely a chameleon, either.  He still retains much of who he is when he’s thrown into an unknown mix of people, he just knows how to meld who he is with who he’s with more easily than most people.

So what about people who don’t possess that particular skill set?  What do we do?  Well, we rely on someone else to help usher us in.  When I lived in Livermore, I had no problem “fitting in” - not because I fit in, but because I had Christy Harder who bridged any gaps she saw with anyone she saw.  She was (and as far as I could tell always had been) extremely popular - not because she was head of some exclusive clique, but because she worked hard to include everyone.  That isn’t to say she liked everyone, but she did send out a very welcoming vibe and made efforts to talk to people and let them know that her door was open anytime.  Christy had a natural charisma and knew how to be persistent without being creepy.  Christy also convinced those around her to try things we probably wouldn’t have even considered - not because it was our great passion, but because her enthusiasm was contagious.  Someone once recently said to me, “Most of the time I don’t really have much interest in what you’re talking about, I just love how passionate you are when you’re talking about it.”  That was precisely how we felt about Christy.

Sadly, not everyone has their own “Christy”.  I certainly didn’t when we moved here.  Not everyone is as comfortable in new groups or situations as Devon seems to be.  Clearly, not everyone has skills or comfort level to just walk right into a group and work the crowd.  So what do we do? 

This is a question I have wrestled with for so long that I am exhausted just thinking about it.  For that matter, I just deleted six paragraphs of rehashing stuff I’ve already written on the subject.  However, I absolutely must revisit this in order to come up with a solution - not for myself, but for my kids, especially Sebastian.  I want him to have what I didn’t.  I want him to have skills or courage or self esteem or enthusiasm or whatever the magic trick is to be able to make himself comfortable wherever he goes.  I want him to be able to at least “make due” even if he doesn’t “make friends” everywhere he goes.  And heck, I do want him to make friends, even if he, like me, is selective in who those friends are.

Where do I start?  How do I go about learning this so I can teach him?  Or where do I send Sebastian so he can learn these skills?

Posted by Liberty on 09/30 at 11:01 PM
Posted under: See-Through

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