As I've no doubt mentioned in previous posts, I'm a social phobic. Part of what that means in practice is that when I'm out in public, I stay very much aware of my surroundings so that I can maintain control over my interactions (or lack thereof) with other people. In short, I always have an escape route. But this being an imperfect world, I'm not always the one in charge, so sometimes I just have to buck up, leave my carefully constructed comfort zone and let the chips fall where they may. This happened most recently on Wednesday night at the Protocol. ~ Let me back up. The Protocol is a restaurant, and I was there taking photos at a fundraiser for the agency where I work. The room was full to capacity with people, which despite my personal horror is a great problem for a fundraising event, and because of the way the seating arrangements played out I was placed at a table with seven strangers. I was tempted to leave, but that meant missing out on filet mignon with au jus and asparagus (not gonna happen), so I steeled myself, sat down, mumbled a hello to the women sitting on either side of me, and busied myself pretending to check my camera settings. ~ Let me back up again. I know how that sounds. I know I'm the one starting things out on the wrong foot by refusing to participate in even the most basic conversation. I know it's rude to bury my head in my camera instead of socializing with the people I'm about to dine with. And I know my discomfort makes them uncomfortable as well. But I bury my head anyway. ~ Well, the lady seated to my left was having none of that. It started innocently enough - a request for my help in putting her coat over the back of her chair - but she was a talker, and there was a real risk of me having to converse with her all evening. For what seemed like the millionth time that evening, I resigned myself to my fate and started nodding as she told me about her grandchildren. ~ I soon discovered I had underestimated my foe. When I stopped simply nodding and actually began to listen, I realized she was an interesting conversationalist, and, slowly at first but with increasing enthusiasm, I began to respond and converse back. Oh, she had a few tricks up her sleeve but I saw through them right away. Still, I was was charmed that she thought enough of me to try them... talking softly in a crowded room so I'd have to lean in and really concentrate to hear; showing me the amazingly well-designed holiday card her daughter had sent that she carried around in her purse, that sort of thing, but none of those little tricks would have worked if she hadn't also been so determined early on to keep the conversation going by sheer force of will. She shared the story of how she had found out about the event - she'd stopped into TGIF for a bite to eat and a break from her Christmas shopping, but all the tables were full, except for one large round booth with some space free at one end. She asked the women already seated if she could join them, and though they were just about to leave by the time their little party broke up they'd made plans to attend our event together. ~ That ability to make connections, effortlessly, with other people is something so foreign to me I can't even have a reaction to it. It's just beyond my comprehension. But by the time dessert was served, as I complimented her on a lovely, unusual ring she was wearing, I was shocked to discover that I wasn't just making idle chat to pass the time. I was genuinely enjoying talking to her over our dinner, and if she'd asked me to attend a fundraising event in a couple of weeks, well, I probably wouldn't have said yes but then again maybe I would have. ~ I've known a few people like her before... social beings who get along with anyone, anywhere, no matter the situation. I've even been friends with a couple of them, which is a wonderful thing although it can be deflating when they shine their light on everyone instead of just you. But I'm taking this experience as more than just a pleasant night out. I'm taking it as inspiration to venture out of my comfort zone more often, to listen, to contribute, to connect with people in an honest way instead of just nodding my head and waiting for them to turn their attention elsewhere. It might not be amazing and it certainly won't be effortless, but maybe next time I'll be the one who refuses to let the conversation trail off.