If I had to give my ability to form meaningful relationships with other human beings a grade, I think I’d give myself an NI for Needs Improvement. I’ve got a solid group of friends, a long term girlfriend, positive relationships with family members and neither of my cats have attempted to tunnel out of the house to escape me yet. All of those truths have elevated me above the pitiable U for Unsatisfactory level, however, I clearly don’t deserve an S for Satisfactory, either. I’m just far too socially awkward and stunted for any teacher, no matter how lenient, to put that S on my report card.
Consider this social phenomenon I’ve been observing over the last, maybe two years of my life. It’s something I can only imagine is not a common occurrence in the lives of most.
I go to the gym most mornings (Disclaimer: I’m not a hero). While at the gym, I approach no one. I put on a pair of headphones, listen to my music or a podcast, go about my routine and leave. I’ve followed this exact blueprint across three separate gyms over the course of nearly a decade. I ask no questions, I make no conversation, I do nothing beyond a friendly nod and smile at whoever happens to be manning the front desk.
I’m not a dick. If someone talks to me or approaches me, I will absolutely give them the time of day. I’ve even made one or two friends this way during my time spent getting all jacked up and shredded and so forth. I don’t mind talking to people, it’s just not the reason I’m there.
In addition to the friends, I’ve also made a rather large collection of … undefinables. This is where my social defect is on full display. Allow me to explain.
I know a guy at the gym. I know he’s unemployed. I know what job he used to have. I know his wife is pregnant. I know it’s a daughter. I know when she’s due. I know what his wife’s name is. I know he hates ab day. I know what kinds of onesies he’s planning on buying her – the daughter, not the wife. Counter to that, he knows what I do, where I work, where I grew up, that I hurt my wrist playing softball a few months ago, and he knows I struggled to get an MRI scheduled for said wrist.
Guess what we don’t know about each other? Our names. I know intimate details about his personal life and the same goes for him, but we’ve never actually said “Hi, I’m blank.” We just started on page two of the “How to Make Friends” pamphlet.
Now sure, I guess you could say “That doesn’t make you weird, it makes you both weird” and that may be true. However, this isn’t the first time I found myself in this kind of situation. It’s actually sort of common for me, which is why I assume it’s mostly my problem not his.
There were two older gentlemen who also attend said gym (Editor’s note: Maybe I need to stop going to the gym. My life would be much less confusing). I say were because one of them moved to Florida to be closer to his son. I know he has another son who goes to school in North Carolina, I know what kind of car he drives in Florida, I know he’s been having health problems, I know when he’s supposed to have surgery, I know the results of the surgeries he’s had once they’re completed. I knew a good deal about him before he left, but the rest of it I learned from the other old guy, who still comes to the gym. Now, let’s talk about this second old guy. I know how old he is, I know that he gets to drive his granddaughter to school some days, I know he’s Muslim and that he parks his car in the lot facing towards Mecca and prays in there in the morning, I know he picks up odd janitorial jobs on the side and I know where.
What do they know about me? Well, to the first old guy, my name was simply “Guy.” To the other one, the one that’s still around, I’m “Young Fella.” I knew their names, but only because I heard other people at the gym refer to them by them. We talked most mornings, became sort of close and yet again we skipped the whole “I’m so and so” part.
I could go one with these examples, but I think I’ll stop here. The point has been made: I’m a weirdo with a tenuous grasp at best on what it takes to function as a productive member of human society.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll walk into the gym and introduce myself to all of the undefinables who populate my morning. Go up to the guy with the pregnant wife and say “Hi, I’m Colin.” Find the second old guy and do the same. Hell, maybe I’ll drive down to Florida and properly introduce myself to that other old guy as well.
You know what? Maybe I’ll even make friends with Dad Who Hates Closed Doors. I’ll tell him my name, he can tell me his. I’ll ask why he hates closed doors. He’ll get a faraway look in his eyes, mumble something about Charlie and tell me I wouldn’t understand because I wasn’t there. It’ll be great. I’ll build bridges. Maybe I’ll raise my grade up to that coveted S because let’s face it an O for Outstanding is definitely never going to be within my grasp.
Or I’ll show up at the gym tomorrow, share some life stories with people whose names I don’t now and will never know and just lie in wait until a more socially-complete person calls them by their name so I can make a note of it.
That seems like a safe bet.