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Dance, dance, fear of rejection!

| Tuesday, February 4, 2020

When I was in middle school, I went through a phase where I was extremely self-conscious about dancing in front of people. Afraid of looking like a fool, I’d fall into the trap of under-dancing, shifting my weight from side to side with my arms hanging straight but tense with nervous energy. Instead of busting a move, I looked like I was afraid of busting my bladder.

At one dance, though, I looked around the crepe-paper covered multipurpose room and realized the best dancers weren’t the ones subtly swaying their hips and looking “cool.” The best dancers were the ones having fun. The ones flailing their limbs with reckless abandon, the ones shimmying with ants in their pants. The best boogiers were the people who knew they looked dumb and leaned into it. Who couldn’t care less what other people thought because they knew they were having fun.

Last week, I was disturbed to discover propaganda has been spread about me. Much to my chagrin, word on the street is that I, Julianna Conley, am an unfriendly girl. As someone who once joined a robotics team for purely the social aspect, I was shocked.

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

Apparently, a friend of a friend had told my pal that I never wave when I see him roaming around campus. When I explained that I wanted to, but he never waved to me, she nodded. “I told him that. But he said that his not saying ‘hi’ back shouldn’t stop you from saying ‘hi’ anyways.”

Ignoring the hypocrisy lacing that comment, I contemplated on the greater information it was offering. All this time, I’d been passing him but assumed he had no idea who I was, and, even if he did, he felt no obligation to greet me, a mere acquaintance. In an act of admitted vanity, I tend to be overconfident in my memory and assume others couldn’t possibly remember meeting me, even if I remember them. One of my best friends and I always joke after meeting a new person: “How many times will we introduce ourselves to this one before we acknowledge we’ve met before?”

But this encounter made me realize something I’d never even considered. For the first time, it became clear to me that we’re all just scared little kids waiting for someone else to make the first move. We are all self-conscious middle schoolers shifting our weight from side to side, not realizing the best people, the classmates who yell your name across quads to say hello, who wave after meeting you once, who aren’t embarrassed to be the only person remembering talking at Domerfest — they’re all dancing their hearts out.

When my little sister was visiting last year, we were waiting for our food at Modern Market when I was tapped on my shoulder by a kinda-sorta-stranger.

“Sorry if this is weird, but I noticed you’re wearing a PE shirt and I was wondering if you were going to PE formal tonight?”

I explained that yes, I was, adding that I was fairly certain we’d met before at a mutual friend’s dorm event. The boy had to think about it for a few seconds before acknowledging he had a vague recollection. He, my sister and I all made polite conversation for a few minutes, and then our food came and he parted ways.

All in all, a regular conversation. No big deal, right? After he left, though, I realized neither my sister nor I were wearing Pasquerilla East gear. If he knew I was in PE, then, he remembered meeting me before, so why was he pretending he didn’t know who I was?

As I am apt to do with all remotely interesting encounters, I dissected the meeting with my pals at Sunday night dinner. When I reached the point in the story where it became clear this person was pretending not to remember me, one of my friends nodded sagely.

“Ah yes, the Game.” She explained the same thing had happened to her with a classmate. After the two of them had become friends, he’d explained that when you first meet someone, you have to pretend you don’t know them for at least the first four times after to ensure they don’t think you’re obsessed with them.

Another friend nodded. She’d once run into a notoriously standoffish classmate who’d admitted, “Everyone remembers everyone. We just choose who we acknowledge it to.”

Might I ask, why?

Have you ever been walking through South Quad, had an acquaintance wave at you and had your day ruined? Have you ever encountered a surprise greeting from the girl you Ubered back from O’Hare with and absolutely wretched with disgust? Or conversely, have you ever been ignored in the hall and thought, “Now that’s a person I want to spend my Friday night with?” 

I know I haven’t. I’ve been excited by the cool girls in my dorm who never avoid eye contact when I walk past them in DeBart. I’ve smiled to myself like a little kid when the boy from math class remembers my name and chats with me when I see him at a hockey game. Heck, I’m more likely to be flattered than creeped out if a new friend admits they stalked my Instagram.

For some reason, everyone is operating under the assumption that being interested in someone, even just platonically, is a sign of weakness, is embarrassing. But I dare you to remember how it feels on the receiving end. I challenge you to consider how good it feels to know your presence has been noticed, acknowledged, appreciated, in this great big world where it’s easy to feel small.

Tufts University psychology professor Sam Sommers researched the power of hello and found the biggest obstacle to college students making friends isn’t a lack of reciprocation. The biggest obstacle is fear, a preconceived notion that the other person isn’t interested. He says they think, “that ‘people like that’ aren’t interested in getting to know ‘people like me.’”

As you walk through campus tomorrow, I implore you to remember that the coolest person you know is scared too. That she also has a favorite color, an embarrassing memory from middle school, a weird movie she doesn’t like to admit she loves. I implore you to remember that as you shift your weight from side to side, you’re missing out on an opportunity to dance.

Julianna Conley loves cereal, her home state of California and the em dash. A sophomore in Pasquerilla East, if Julianna can’t be found picnicking on North Quad, she can be reached for comment at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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