Yesterday I ran into one of my girlfriend’s friends on the street. I didn’t see her, and if I had I would have done all I could to avoid her, but she spotted me and approached me. She said hi and gave me a hug and we asked each other how’s it going. We both said “good” and then I bent down and petted her dog, and then we said goodbye. Simple, harmless social situation, right? Wrong.
Between our “goods” and me bending down to pet her dog, there was a moment of silence. Lots of silence. In reality, it lasted no more than two or three seconds, but in the moment it felt much longer–and I started to panic. She looked away, as if she saw the panic on my face. Was she searching for an escape? Did the silence make her uncomfortable too? What did I do wrong?
The questions caused even more anxiety, deepening my panic, and my mind went blank–but why? Why did my mind go blank? Why did I start to panic? What’s so wrong with a little silence?
In those seconds, my heart raced, I felt tense, my body grew heavier and heavier. I could feel the dampness in my hands and the sweat dripping from my armpits down my side toward my waist. When I got home I stripped off my shirt, discarding the evidence (sweat) and curled up in bed. Such a simple social interaction went wrong, and it ruined my night.
But back to the issue: What’s so wrong with a little silence? I think silence between two people is very intimate. A lot of information is exchanged. I can’t hide behind my words or the other person’s words. I have to be there, in the present moment, with another–with someone I think is better than me. The intimacy causes me to panic, which causes me to put immense pressure on myself to break the silence, which causes anxiety.
Again, it comes back to being comfortable in my own skin. If I had been comfortable, I could have dealt with the silence without panicking: letting it pass naturally and then saying something else or just saying goodbye.