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Social Anxiety

Miriam Klein Adelman

What happens at my weekly Shabbos Tehillim group? As long as we’re reciting Tehillim, I’m fine, but once the chitchat begins, I’m out of there

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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RATHER BE Maybe, like me, they hate chitchat and, unless we’re talking meaningfully, they’d really prefer to be home reading a book

My brother is hosting a Shabbos bris for his first grandson. The Friday night meal is called for 7 p.m. At 7:40, I walk in with my nine-year-old daughter, Mindy. We’re among the first guests to arrive.

I go over to my sister-in-law, kiss her cheek, and say mazel tov. She introduces me to her mechuteneste. Of course, we met at the wedding last year but, as the other proud bubby points out, at the time she didn’t have the head to remember names and faces. She’s happy to now spend Shabbos with our family and get to know us.

I smile and nod, trying to come up with something interesting to add. I can’t think of anything, so I just keep smiling until my lips feel frozen into a snowman’s grin. (All I need is a pipe!) Thankfully, just then the mechuteneste’s grandchild careens through the door, and as she looks up, I grab the chance to slip away. I don’t speak to her again the entire Shabbos.

I look around for someone I feel comfortable speaking to. So far, only my sister-in-law’s family has arrived. I’ve known them for 24 years, meeting up at every simchah my brother makes; they are darling. Yet I have never sustained more than a one-minute conversation with any of them. I try to blend into the wallpaper. There is none! Meanwhile, my daughter runs off to play with cousins so I don’t even have her as a buffer.

It’s 8:15 before my first sister shows up. The gregarious one. She nods in my direction. Then my sister-in-law’s sister comes running over to her. “Toby, I love that necklace.” They’re off.

Is it me? You should be more friendly, I berate myself. Maybe nobody likes you, Miriam, an inner voice whispers in my ear. They don’t want to talk to you

Sister number two enters soon after, trailed by two clingy children. We can’t do more than exchange hellos before they start pestering her.

With an apologetic look, she turns to deal with them. By this time, most guests have arrived, and I mill with the crowd as we find our places. Sister number two is sitting flanked by a child on either side, and sister number one is still chatting with sister-in-law’s sister, so they take two seats together. It’s okay. I sit next to one of my sweet married nieces. We talk about our no-wheat diet for a minute before she gets up to find her two-year-old. 

I concentrate on my food. While I chew my salmon thoughtfully, I think, Hey, I can be the friendly one. Glancing around at the other guests staring at their plates or gazing into space, I know I’m not the only uncomfortable one at this event. I laugh to myself. I was just discussing my 12-year-old son’s social anxiety with his teacher on the phone last night, wondering if I should get him treatment. Now look at us middle-aged folk, playing with our forks and glancing at our watches.

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