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To the Neighbor I Saw While Feeling Socially Anxious at the Grocery Store

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Dear Neighbor,

I saw you at the grocery store the other day in the bread aisle. I wanted to make sure you didn’t see me, though I’m pretty sure you did. We briefly made eye contact. You may have shifted your grocery cart toward my direction, but I was looking away panicked that you might have picked up on my nervousness. But I’m not certain.

Before we had a chance to let the encounter go any further, I bolted and went to the personal care aisle. (It’s important to note I didn’t need actually need anything from the personal care aisle.) Based on my reaction you may be surprised to learn that I like you. In fact, you’re one of the few neighbors I feel comfortable around. We wave to each other from time to time, and we might stop and chit-chat as we walk our dogs. So you might be wondering why in the world I would avoid you at the grocery store?

It’s not my fault, but still entirely my fault at the same time. While I feel the courage to approach you and say the occasional “hello” at home, I was not prepared for that day we ran into each other in front of the sandwich bread. I have the ability to better prepare for social encounters when I’m on my own turf — I am able to anticipate who might “surprise” me with a casual conversation. I can then muster the courage to interact when I feel the time is right. I can even come up with a few topics of conversation in advance so I’m not caught off guard, stumbling over my words (or worse — contending with awkward silence).

But a random encounter places me out of my comfort zone. It’s unexpected. I don’t have time to prepare what to say. I’m nervous about my appearance, the way I might sound and ramble on. Heck, you might even judge me for the items that are in my grocery cart for all I know.

“I thought she was staying away from gluten? Didn’t she say she was a vegetarian? Oh my gosh, I can’t believe she’s got those cookies in her cart!”

So, you see, the risk of anxiety far outweighs the chances of saying “hello” to you out of the blue. It doesn’t mean I dislike you. In fact, when I see you around the neighborhood, I will likely ask you about your family and tell you how mine is doing in return.

But for now, please forgive my mad dash toward the body lotions and toothpastes. And whatever you do, please don’t try to follow me.


Your Socially Anxious Neighbor

Photo credit: VLG/Getty Images

Originally published: February 11, 2019
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