Insecurities Are Like Cockroaches

I often think about my Doc Martens. Pretty much everyone had a pair when I was at school, and although I didn’t wear mine to school, as most did, I would wear them on other occasions. I liked them and thought I looked pretty good in them. On this one evening I thought I looked pretty good in my jeans and a shirt of some description, with my Docs on, and indeed when I had finished my preparations at home some time before I had liked what I saw in my bedroom mirror. Far from perfect, but making the best of an indifferent hand, I might have thought, or there are plenty who won’t be looking as good as me, or something like that. I can’t remember, of course, as it was years ago, but the point is that everything seemed alright and I felt comfortable until I encountered the enemy, and then my confidence was gone and the feeling changed completely.

It was a school dance on this night, and I got off the train, the same train I travelled to school on every day, with a springier gait than usual. I spotted a boy from my class, a kid who was known to me, and not a cool kid by any means, in fact I would have been far cooler if we were to compile rankings of coolness of the time, but when I noticed he was talking to a girl – one of the girls who would be at the dance – I said hello quickly and hurried past. My personality had begun to crumble and I was most definitely not assured or confident or charismatic any more. He was cool. He was talking to a girl. And I wasn’t.

And I probably went off to find my mates and drink something with a bit of a zing in a park: it’s what we would often do before a dance. It was an excuse to drink, and it was dangerous to do it, as teachers would be supervising the event and drinking was certainly not allowed (or even legal), but for me it was also an opportunity to top up my level of manufactured bravado, in case a demonstration of courtliness or dancing fair were required later on. (It usually wasn’t. I think I invited something like three women – we called them women – to dance, and two said yes, and I actually spoke to one, in a real, and awkward, conversation in my whole high school dance career.)

Girls (or women) presented such a problem. They were not the only problem, but they were one of the largest stumbling blocks in my young and halting forays into adulthood. I dimly suspected at the time, and I now know it’s true, that with the exception of a few genuine studs, few of the classmates in my boys’ school were successful with girls they didn’t already know somehow. Mostly they had gone to primary school with them, or travelled home with them in the same train carriages, or knew a brother or other relative, or the families were close or they were neighbours. I had attended primary school on the other side of the city and lived in a suburb on the other side of the city and so I knew no-one and felt like I never would.

I thought there was something wrong with me. Not something serious – I made friends quite well and knew a lot of people, and my personality seemed capable of being liked – but like there was some small switch that never got flicked in my case. It seemed like I was missing out. I convinced myself it didn’t matter, and it really didn’t, as I got to know some girls a little bit to say hello to at parties, but there was still very clearly a something, and the nature of that something was unclear, but it was there, crouching darkly and exerting an influence on my life.

University took over from school and I studied a degree no-one else I knew was studying and soon the two or three people I knew from school were never around and I was completely on my own. This at least formalised the solitude which had been forced upon me by my circumstance – it wasn’t mostly solitude, it was being alone, and completely alone, and by the time a handful of school friends were again in my uni life I was set in my ways. School friends, as I had no others, had not made any friends at uni, not really tried to, and found it very difficult to relate to academics either, so they didn’t become substitute friends (which is what some students who don’t make friends easily do). I instead attended my lectures, endured my tutorials, hoping to avoid the necessity of talking to the group, and I wrote my essays and did rather well. Not very well, but rather well. (The students who did very well were constantly in the offices of academics asking them about the progress of their assignment, or talking to them after a lecture about the questions that had occurred to them over the preceding hour. I never did that. Perhaps I was somehow jealous of the students who had this relationship with the teachers, as I was theoretically more than intelligent enough to be in such a situation, but more powerful was the revulsion I felt at the prospect of being such a loser. And so I lost, by not becoming a loser, as my marks would surely have benefitted if I had been.)

Occasionally a girl in a tute would look at me and I would wonder if she was looking at me or if she just happened to be looking around the room and it was all a big, slightly uncomfortable, coincidence. On a couple of occasions a girl actually began talking to me – neither bad looking, from memory – and I sort of made my excuses and left.

It was an atavistic experience. The re-emergence of a powerful shyess, first noted by adults when I was little and hid behind my mum’s leg and wouldn’t talk to strangers. It was akin to being little again. A small child. When all around me were adults and teenagers playing at being adults. The realisation made me feel powerless and small and more alone than before. It didn’t help to know what going on, although the question now had some sort of logical answer.

University was different from school and, later, work for me, in that there was not a small group of people all seeing each other each and every day, experiencing the same things, growing together, with friendships emerging gradually and, in my case, without really trying. And so an allied realisation which came to me only when I had entered the workforce did help, and quite a lot at that: yes I was shy, but shy of everyone, and not especially shy of women. I know women and get on well with them. I have realised that I don’t discriminate when it comes to being awkward and quiet and fearful.

Published in: on May 24, 2012 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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