Sometimes we wonder what other people say about us when we’re not listening. Behind our backs, so to speak. We wonder what they think about us, when and if they do think about us at all, and who they share those thoughts with. I know this isn’t just me, because society is in many ways built on this kind of question, many of us performing the way we do (and make no mistake–we are all performing) based on who is looking. And sometimes, we can make good guesses about what other people say.
As an adult I’ve become known for my likelihood to flake out of an engagement, especially of the social sort. And it is as frustrating for me as it is for people that I cancel on. (I know this, because in some sort of oxymoronic turn of life, I am deeply annoyed by flaky people, so I know how you guys feel when I cancel.)
Though the actual circumstances may vary, what usually happens is, essentially, that I become so anxious about one or more elements of the pending even that I decide I just can’t face it. Maybe I don’t know the way, or I have to drive through a particularly confusing part of the city. (Driving is a huge anxiety trigger for me. I hate driving, especially in this city full of potholes, one-way streets, minimal parking lots, and no left turns.) Maybe I’m going to see a lot of new people, or I’m going to be in an unfamiliar place. Maybe I can’t find anything to wear that doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable or unattractive. Maybe the event will require me to talk a lot, or maybe it’s going to take a long time. Maybe I’m just out of energy. Sometimes it’s several of those things combined.
At some point, I start to feel like it’d just be better if I didn’t go. But then, I have to notify the person that I’m standing up that I won’t be there after all. This makes me even more anxious. I start wondering if they’ll be mad at me for inconveniencing them or if they’ll feel as though I don’t want to be around them. I wonder about plausible excuses for cancelling.
If it’s a bad day, then I decide to cancel plans. If it’s a really bad day, then I might send an e-mail or text cancellation instead of calling. If I do call, I hope that the person I’m calling is busy so that I can leave a message instead of talking to them. (Phones also activate my anxiety. I have significant hearing loss in one ear, and I tend to mumble a bit, so phones cause more confusion for me than straight-forward text.) The closer to event-time that this happens, the worse I feel about the cancellation.
And then, after I cancel, I feel sad and worried. Undependable. Flaky. Lazy. Isolated.
Meanwhile, it is entirely possible that the person I’ve cancelled on is thankful for some extra time on that Netflix binge or that they’re so busy with other things they haven’t had time or inclination to really notice my absence. In fact, this is probably quite often the case–because if it’s true that we wonder what others think of us, it’s also true that they don’t think of us as often as we suppose they might.
We occupy larger parts of our own imaginations than those of others. The shadow of our own failings, much like the light of our successes, falls heavier over our own selves than others.