The other day when I was sitting on the bus, heading home from a long day of work and a short stint of shopping, I noticed something bright blue out of the corner of my eye. As I turned I could see it was a young woman – probably close to my age – in a hijab sipping her coffee. The bright blue material matched her outfit really well and a part of my felt like I wanted to compliment her.
As I was about to open my mouth to say something, there came a voice, very faint in the back of my mind, “Don’t do it. She might think there’s something wrong with you.”
“No, I think she would really like a compliment. Everybody likes compliments,” I retorted my own internal police but that didn’t stop them.
“What if you stumble your words like you usually do with strangers, huh? Maybe she will take your compliment in a wrong way. Think about her position. She’s sipping her tea and relaxing… then you break that peace by talking to her. Don’t do it… it isn’t worth this list I prepared to deter you.” At that point my brain – being the jerk that it is – listed off a hundred scenarios making me settle back down into my seat.
I was given a second chance to complete the Compliment Quest when I reached my stop. It turned out the young woman in the beautiful blue hijab was getting off at the same stop. We were standing beside each other at the door, perfect time for me to say something but instead my mind was running hundreds of things I should say… rewording the compliment, figuring out ways to not come across as weird, preparing come-backs if the girl got upset.
We got off the bus and I crossed the street by the time my brain was satisfied with what I was going to say to her… but the opportunity was miss. She crossed the street and I was left cursing myself for being afraid to say anything while being plagued with the worry that she had noticed me staring at her and being given all the thoughts she may have been thinking about me staring.
Looking back at it now, I feel stupid for even overthinking that situation. Who would get angry at a compliment? No one, that’s who! Yet my brain decided to work overtime like it was the Enigma Machine trying to decode Nazi bombing coordinates.
The problem is I’m an amiable person… which means I’m not only a friendly person but I hate conflicts of all kinds. That means if there is potential for conflict I avoid it or try to help others avoid it at all cost. This also means that my brain considers the possibility of everything being a conflict and tries to come up with solutions to solving these possible, unrealistic, nonexistent conflicts… which sucks!
This problem doesn’t just occur when I want to say anything nice to someone but also when someone says something nice to me. First, I stiffen up because now someone is giving me attention and I hate being centred out. This engages my brain who is reminding me of my unnatural stance and it tells me that the person I’m talking to thinks I’m
strange for reacting that way… which makes me try to be calm which only makes me act weirder. Second, I have no idea what I’m supposed to say when given a compliment – which I’m trying to find an answer for while trying to act natural while trying to avoid upsetting the person that complimented me. My brain starts asking itself questions like: do I say thank you? And before I get the chance to say thank you my words are choked out by my brain’s answer: Wouldn’t thank you be too basic? And these thoughts just continue on and on making a silence grow to an awkward length but I’m not paying attention to time because my brain is continuing it’s useless debate with itself. If I say no problem that would sound narcissistic or belittling to the person giving me the compliment. No reply would just be rude and smiling/nodding would just be weird. It is only after catching onto my complimenters body language do I realise I’ve made the situation awkward and from that point I spout out a very uncomfortable and not confident, ‘Thank you’. And if that’s just not cringe worthy enough I end it with a nervous laugh.
Be happy you aren’t in my brain. Be happy you don’t over analyse every social interaction you have with people. This is why introverts are tired after hanging out with a group and also why it takes something really important for them to leave the comfort of their home. Be glad you aren’t a socially awkward introvert… and if you are at least now you know you aren’t alone. 🙂