I believe that the only people who are completely comfortable with society are narcissists or sociopaths. After all, the easiest way to get through life with a feeling that your behavior is acceptable is not to care at all. On the other side of the spectrum are those who are too much; they can become paralyzed with fear when they are in situations where they are not sure what to do. How do you decide?
One guy that I know went to a wedding that had a 40s swing era theme. I was also there and had spent a couple of years practicing my swing dancing so I wasn’t particularly concerned about making an utter fool of myself. That was good, because there were some competition swing dancers among the guests – anyone who was going to get in a battle of egos was going to be crushed. When the music came up and everyone started lindyhopping their brains out, my friend proceeded to go out, with perfect aplomb, and do some weird mix of tango and lindyhop and god knows what else. I realized in an instant that he simply did not give a shit; for him “fun” was dancing not dancing the way he was expected to. I still wonder about that – was that a demonstration of sociopathic behavior, or was it extreme self-confidence? All the mean while, I was worrying about staying on the beat, not slamming into someone, not falling over – the basic stuff. I was not having fun at all; I was working hard.
I want to say I learned a lot from that experience, except really I came away with more questions than answers. Like: what is the purpose of doing this at all? Why do we want to ‘be good at’ things where ‘being good at’ the thing may not matter at all? Does the attendee of a party have a duty to conform with the expectations of the host? I know some people who have social anxiety that is so extreme that they would never be able to dance in public. This stuff is not hypothetical to them, at all – the potential ‘fun’ is dwarfed by the fear of the potential cost of failure. But what is ‘failure’ in the context of drunkenly dancing at a wedding?
All of that said, this is one of my favorite pieces of music, ever. It’s deliciously “meta-” and the performance is really good, but mostly it’s sweet, and fun, and interesting. And it’s actually a pretty dance-able waltz! When I used to waltz, my partner and I practiced to this one all the time. I hope you enjoy it: Waltz of the Wallflowers by Small Potatoes.
There are a variety of performances of this song on youtube but I think that the studio recording is the best. I’ve always wanted to see a couple of top-notch ballroom dancers do a rendering of it.
The subtitle of the song is “A Dysfunctional Duet” but wouldn’t someone who was truly dysfunctional not care what other people thought? I see social anxiety as a matter of caring too much; I’ve known people with social anxiety (I have a fair bit of it myself, which is why I was studying swing dance in the first place!) and it seems to me that often they are hyper-concerned with things that other people don’t worry about at all. One of the things I have noticed is that most people hardly notice the people around them, so worrying too much about what others think about you is wasted effort.
Her: “I hate this scar on my forehead. Do you think I’m ugly?”
Me: “No. I have this great big scar on my forehead, and two big lines of stitches on my chin. Do you think I’m ugly?”
Her: “It’s different because you’re a guy.”
Perhaps social anxiety is what makes civilization work.
I’m just glad this particular song has a happy ending.