Email message from Mark: Jeff, are you planning on joining us this week?
My reply: Wednesday nights suck. Eli and I do a drum circle.
Or: Overbooked. Wednesday is my writers group.
Or: Sorry, parenting responsibilities. Susan’s taking a class. Gotta cook for the kids.
Or… Not this week, I have a work thing; Or… nope, early morning on Thursday.
Sometimes, I just don’t respond.
Lots of excuses. They’re all pretty good—once. Although I use them over and over. I’m not sure why Mark even asks. Wednesday nights do suck. In my town, everything happens on Wednesday. But the big thing, the thing I’m trying to avoid is Beer Runners. It’s seventy or more people on a good night. Go for a run, grab a beer (two?) at the designated bar du jour. In the summer it rocks. Lots of daylight, cooling down and chilling in the outdoor seating area.
It seems like a perfect match. I like running. I like runners. I like(d) beer (more on that, later). Why wouldn’t I join the Beer Runners? Why not prioritize an activity that lets me do something I like with people I like?
Socializing. It’s hard for me. Two or three people are usually fine, add any more and I’m flustered, tongue-tied, awkward. Historically, I’ve done my best socializing while drinking (a lot). Uninhibited, verbose, and by most accounts, rather funny. But I stopped drinking like that years ago. I reined in my drinking problem, and I misplaced my bar mojo at the same time. Now I’m a wall flower.
I never know what to say to people. Running banter works for a minute or two—pace, mileage, upcoming races—but then I’m stuck. I don’t know much about TV shows, or football, or current movies. My hobby is writing: ever try to have a conversation about writing?
The run itself is fine, I guess. A three-mile road loop. The idea is to keep it accessible for everyone. But my running is always off road, in the woods, on the trails. Going out for a road-run seems an abomination to me—unholy, impure. I know this is ridiculous. On my weekend long-runs, I often spend up to seven miles on the road. Going from one trail to the next. Yes, I’m a trail runner, but I live in America, the land of asphalt.
An endless litany of justifications: If only they ran trails, I’d be there. If they ran in the morning (Coffee Runners?); I stopped drinking in January; that’s a pretty good one—I have problems with alcohol. The real excuse, the one I don’t ever vocalize: gathering with people scares me. I don’t like feeling my oddness.
Two summers ago, I went to Beer Runners consistently for a couple of months. One memorable evening: I paced off a group of three women for just over a mile. When I started to stretch it out, one of them stuck, Subtlety, we challenging each other to sustain our aggressive pace. At the final turn, we silently agreed to blow it off. We turned our three miler into a five miler—at a 5K pace. Back at the bar, I sat with a small family I know while they ate dinner. The three of them did the run as a group. A perfect evening: a great workout; relaxing, comfortable conversation. That was my last Beer Run.
I haven’t gone back. I have plenty of valid reasons. People seem to accept them, everyone but Mark. He sees through me. When we run into to each other around town, he patiently engages me in conversation. It always ends the same way. Mark: unfailingly friendly; Me: weird. For some reason, I’m his project. He even gave me a Beer Runner bumper sticker through a mutual friend. Similar to how World Wildlife Fund still sends me return address labels even though I haven’t donated any money in six years. Mark’s even trying guilt.
He knows what’s good for me. The only way to overcome social anxiety is through socializing. I was on a roll a few years back. A weekly gathering: a nice group run and some chatting with like-minded folk at the bar afterwards. I wish I’d go back.