Suggestions for shy/anxious lurkers at meetups?
July 18, 2009 4:49 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find, order and purchase, by this evening, a T-shirt that says "Lurker" in big white letters? (Or would that be a bad idea?) Alternatively: please help me find ways to minimize or avoid social anxiety awkwardness at the PDX meetup.

Hi, I'm a Metafilter lurker. I've been hanging around since 2002 or so but I don't say much. (This is actually my second account; I said a couple of things under my first account but I had second thoughts about them so I retired that one.) I have some social anxiety issues which make gatherings full of strangers difficult for me, though I'm trying to work through them as best I can.

I went to a meetup here in Portland a couple of years ago (at Ground Kontrol, some of you may remember it) and I spent a couple of hours doing the 'restlessly-circling-the-room-looking-for-some-reason-not-to-leave-immediately' thing that those of you who are shy or socially awkward probably know very well. Ultimately I did talk briefly with a couple of nice folks and it wasn't altogether as painful as it might have been, though I did leave quite early. The most awkward moments of the evening, I found, were those few when I'd end up facing someone and they'd visibly run through this Mefi recognition checklist: do I know this guy's face? no... do I recognize his username? [cue squinting and frowning at name badge] no... is there someone more interesting I could be talking to? hmm, probably... and then they'd sort of move on. It got to where I wanted to interrupt folks to say "Look, honest, you don't know me, you've never seen me post or comment, it's okay, hi, how are you?"

Sure, I get the curiosity about who folks are on Metafilter, and there are a ton of y'all whose posts and comments I've loved reading over the years and would probably enjoy chatting with in person, so I totally get the scanning-nametags-hoping-to-run-into-languagehat thing. But it's awkward and a bit disheartening to feel like I'm letting folks down just by not having a recognizable username. (Even if it is, as you'll no doubt suggest, all in my head. All-in-one's-headness doesn't necessarily make it go away.)

So I'm debating how best to approach the meetup this time to minimize potential awkwardness. I kind of feel like a "Lurker" t-shirt might help - that way I can get that right out of the way, no one will expect to know me, right? (Given the short notice, maybe it'd be easier to find someone who could whip up a button or something?) Or maybe we should stake out and designate a Lurker's Corner or something, where we not-so-extrovertish lurkers can get our lurk on in the shallow end before venturing into the deeper waters where all the cool kids hang out?

I'd really like to feel more at ease and possibly make some friends among Portland Mefites, but I'm feeling some anxiety already and beginning to have second thoughts about going. Any thoughts or suggestions on ways to mitigate anxiety and have a great time at tonight's meetup would be most welcome.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape to Human Relations (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Did you see this metatalk thread?
posted by b33j at 4:54 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hey, its a nerd party, if someone is judging you for being a nerd, they are at the wrong party.

Social anxiety is self-reproducing, the more anxious you get, the more anxious it makes you, and anxiety, like most emotions, is often contagious. One thing that might help, seeing as this will be a gathering of nerds, is to shift your focus from your own awkwardness (which is a self defeating thing to dwell on given the self feeding awkwardness spiral phenomenon), and when you are noticing your own awkwardness, instead consider the awkwardness of others around you, and how to make them more comfortable. Making the person you are talking to feel less awkward is a surefire way to feel less awkward yourself.

Hope to see you at the meetup tonight, perhaps we can have an awkward exchange about this post.
posted by idiopath at 5:15 AM on July 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

Fellow lurker here, cheering at your bravery at going and wildl applauding the lurker tshirt* idea.

I've no idea where you can buy one by tonight but if you have a blank tshirt, an inkjet printer and a Staples or similar nearby you could go buy some iron-on transfer sheets and make your own in half an hour. Here's a video tutorial.

You aren't even restricted to white now, I've got some that work on dark, especially black cotton.

* Suggestion: create a Nike style logo for the word Lurker. Some font ideas ;-)
posted by ceri richard at 5:18 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've never been to a Portland meetup, but I've talked to dozens of people whose usernames I didn't recognize at Toronto meetups, and I never once thought about them as being uninteresting just because I didn't recognize their username. I don't think anyone else ever has, either -- meetups are generally a mix of old hats, newbies, lurkers and guests, and other than a bit of "Zomg! Mathowie!" or similar when a truly site-famous name shows up, no one cares much one way or the other which category you fit in.

I hate to say this, since it's probably going to hurt your feelings and possibly to cause you to rethink going, but if people didn't want to talk to you at the meetup, it's not because of your lack of participation here, it's because of your lack of participation there. If you're being all shy and socially awkward -- and believe me, I get that, as an introvert who is bad at meeting new people -- then that's more likely to be your problem than a username no one recognizes.

Having said the hurty-feelings part, it's quite possible, even probable that your perception of them as scanning for someone better to talk to is all in your head. You're ascribing motives to the behaviour of other people based on your own social anxiety, and not based on any knowledge of that person. Given the nerd makeup around here, there's at least a 50% chance that the people you perceive as scanning for a better conversation are just as anxious as you are, and are trying not to make too much freaky eye contact or something. So, if you do go, try to recognize that your thought patterns about yourself are probably a little fucked up, eh? And that no mefite I've ever met is as rude as the ones you describe here.

It may be easier to install yourself into some group conversations, rather than trying to talk to one person, one on one. Find a sub-group that's sitting around a table with a spare chair, and ask if it's free, then sit down and listen to the conversation a bit. (There'll probably be a round of introductions before the conversation resumes.) No worries about them desperately trying to escape you, since they can just keep talking to each other while you're there. When you have something to add to the conversation, add it. All of a sudden you'll be part of a conversation. Eventually, those people will get up and move around, and either a new group will form around you or you'll have to go find a new group, but please don't ascribe that to problems with you -- people at meetups do try to meet a lot of people.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:49 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I love the idea, and it would be a funny icebreaker. You'll get odd looks from non-Mefites. Office supply stores sell a product you print in your printer, and iron onto a shirt.

At meet-ups, there are lots of people who aren't Internet- or MeFi- famous, and who don't know anybody. Be friendly, introduce yourself, and you'll have fun.
posted by theora55 at 6:07 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

"The most awkward moments of the evening, I found, were those few when I'd end up facing someone and they'd visibly run through this Mefi recognition checklist: do I know this guy's face? no... do I recognize his username? [cue squinting and frowning at name badge] no... is there someone more interesting I could be talking to? hmm, probably... and then they'd sort of move on. It got to where I wanted to interrupt folks to say "Look, honest, you don't know me, you've never seen me post or comment, it's okay, hi, how are you?""

I've been and walked the dogs and had another thunk about this. Caveat: IANAExtrovert and despite gazing longingly at the London meetup details, would rather go in the garden and lick dog poo then brave a mefi meetup...

However, being a wallflower with a ready ear has its advantages - people talk to you. And I've reached an age where I now realise that most of the people there are just as nervous, some more so, than you. Honestly? They're far more worried about the impression they're making on you than vice versa.

Go make yourself a tshirt, put a smile on your face (knowing that you're wearing a great icebreaker) and have fun at the meetup!
posted by ceri richard at 7:05 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Shoot, most people who know me would be surprised to find out that I often feel this way. Outwardly, it seems like I don't at all mind chatting up complete strangers, but I truly feel like an awkward teenager at events like this [NOT TEENAGER-IST].

This is a nerd party where part of the whole deal is we are going to meet other people. I think pretty much all of us are going to be completely open to complete strangers chatting us up or joining a larger group conversation.

I'll be at the St. Paul meetup. If any MSP lurkers are looking to chat, I'm a Chinese dude with red glasses. I'm also working on a special shirt today.
posted by advicepig at 7:18 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing that there will be a lot of folks just like you at the meetup, so you won't be alone! I know the NYC meetup is going to be heavily populated with people who have either never been to a meetup before or who haven't come to one in a long time. Everyone gets a little nervous- I like the advice above about working to make other people feel comfortable, that goes a long way in making everybody feel great. Also? Have a drink. People generally feel a little better after they've had a drink.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Should you decide your really need this t-shirt, all you need is to write "Lurker" in white letters on a .jpg, upload it to sites like spreadshrt and order it online.

Who knows... if you sell enough you could even make a quick buck out of it !
posted by Baud at 8:16 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I make event-specific clothing all the time by taking a Sharpie to an old t-shirt. Works every time. Also, I agree with ThePinkSuperHero with the drinking. I'm hugely uncomfortable around large groups of people I've never met, but there's a palpable difference in my awkwardness and anxiety between 0 and 1 beers. Remember you're not there to judge people as MeFites, you're there to make new friends. Enjoy!
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

As someone who just made a few t-shirts with a team name for a local event, iron-on letters rock. In 20 minutes I had all four shirts done.

Layer a plain t-shirt, letters, scrap paper (parchment or brown paper recommended) and an iron, in that order. Here in CT Michael's was the place to go (over Joann's) but I don't know about your West Coast chains.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:13 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Self Feeding Awkwardness Spiral" would make a great imaginary band name.

Whoever's on duty can delete this now. It just needed to be said..
posted by JaredSeth at 9:18 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

The "Lurker" shirt is a great idea! I love plain old iron-on letters for things like that; you can find them at any craft or fabric store.
posted by girlstyle at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was at the Ground Kontrol meetup and I got a little bit of that same feeling. It was both a great place for a meetup and yet not such a great place for actually meeting up- plenty of entertainment, but the whole room was sectioned off into small spaces by the various games, and if I remember right it was kind of dark and noisy. I think tonight's venue will be better for casual group conversation.

I'm pretty socially awkward, but (no offense to portland mefites, anyway, I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about the person who was sitting next to you) many of the people I've met at these things are also awkward non-extroverts. So maybe when you felt like you were being dismissed, they actually assumed you were dismissing them.

I think the shirt's a great idea. Can't go wrong with black sharpie on a white shirt! Plus, you can modify it throughout the night to update your status if you bring your sharpie with you.
posted by Secretariat at 10:55 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have no idea if this helps or not, but I would totally talk to somebody wearing a lurker shirt. Great idea!
posted by Space Kitty at 11:08 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't help you on the lurker t-shirt thing, but as for the social anxiety, idiopath is right: this is a nerd party. It'll be chock full of introverts coping with social awkwardness to varying degrees.

I went to my first meetup three months after joining MeFi, and nobody recognized my username. I had to force myself to go, and I was so nervous that I left after an hour and a half. But I am so glad I went. Hopefully you'll feel the same after tonight's meetup.

I'll be at the Portland meetup tonight, and I've met idiopath (albeit briefly) at a previous meetup, so I'll gladly participate in the aforementioned awkward exchange about this post. If I see you hovering around the periphery, I promise I will come and introduce myself and talk to you...and likewise, if you see me, please feel free to come up and introduce yourself to me. We can share our best tips about coping with social anxiety. Geek camaraderie is a wonderful thing!
posted by velvet winter at 11:14 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This thread makes me break out in the sweats. I, too, will be going to my first meetup today, after only being a member for seven months or so and not posting all that very much at all. I love your shirt idea! Also, I agree with ThePinkSuperhero and Jon_Eviland will be having at least one beer just to get myself past freaking out about having to interact with nearly complete strangers. After that, who knows what fun and shenanigans may be had? If you don't go, you'll never find out, and it sure beats sitting at home and staring at the computer. if I can just continue to tell myself that until it's time to leave!
posted by miratime at 11:30 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Custom T-shirts: many photocopy/print shops do T-shirt printing, just phone around from the yellow pages, make a graphic and voila.
posted by Billegible at 11:43 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Joann's carries iron-on letters for sure. Michael's or other craft stores probably as well. I think the shirt idea is funny - and I understand the username thing (mine is quite lame as you see), as well as the hugging-a-wall-in-a-roomful-of-strangers feeling. My experience at (admittedly smaller) meetups has never been like that, though. If you're on the fence, you should definitely go - these are your peeps, after all.

If you want to be funny and you have the guts for it, you should tell people you printed out a copy of this thread and then proceed to show it to them.

I might be at tonight's PDX meeting, depending on my ride from SEA
posted by O9scar at 11:57 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was nervous as heck at my first meetup and still get a little edgy beforehand or right when I get there if I know I'm likely one of the first people to show. And I totally love the Portland crew and look forward to every meetup, but there's still usually that quiet first half hour when we're all totally unlubricated still and just doing the awkward conversation thing, and every time I feel a little anxious about that but every time we're laughing pretty hard and feeling fine in no time flat.

T-shirt idea is great. Conversation pieces are great in general, and giving your awkward fellow travelers an excuse to engage is always a good plan.

As much as I appreciate the easy leg-up I get for recognizability (knowing people will start conversations with me because Oh Hey It's cortex, Hi! is a huge boon to my awkward ass, and I'm not knocking it), folks who are saying that it doesn't matter really who is who are dead-on; most folks at meetups aren't super active on site, they're just happy mefi nerds who feel like meeting other happy mefi nerds in general.

But if it's any use in further getting you out of your head on the "nobody cares who I am", you'll notice that I favorited the first comment you every made, when you made it, because I thought the username/topic thing was one of the most awesome things I'd seen that whole month.
posted by cortex at 12:49 PM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi all - thanks for the suggestions and the encouraging words. Sadly I have neither an iron nor a printer, so those ideas (while appreciated) are pretty much out. And while there's a certain attraction to the homemade Sharpie-d t-shirt idea, I kind of feel like that would bring a bit more attention than I'd be comfortable with. I probably should have just planned farther ahead on the whole t-shirt thing. Next time, then.

But it's helpful to have confirmation that I'm not alone in the awkwardness at least. b33j, thanks for linking the Metatalk thread, I thought I had seen a thread like that somewhere but it wasn't turning up on my search, there's a lot of great stuff in there.

Now of course I have a slightly different problem - before it was mostly anxiety about not knowing anyone, and now there's some anxiety about the possibility of "Oh, hey, you're the awkward AskMe guy". (I know, I spend way too much time overthinking things, it's what I do.) Anyway I'll do my best to show up and not freak out too terribly much, and maybe I'll see some of you there. (I'll probably be the one nursing a beer and relying heavily on his Blackberry-shaped crutch to avoid making accidental eye contact.)

And heya cortex, yes I did notice that favorite. The username was your idea, actually, one of your throwaway lines that I found oddly hilarious and couldn't resist adopting, so thanks for that. :)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 3:02 PM on July 18, 2009

see if you can find a t-shirt with a plate of beans on it : )
posted by Jon_Evil at 3:27 PM on July 18, 2009

If yyou want to find me at the meetup - we're visiting from San Francisco - you won't have to talk if you don't want to. I will be happy to tell you all about our terrific drive-around-Oregon tour we just completed, and how United lost (then found) my bag!
posted by rtha at 4:00 PM on July 18, 2009

"Oh, hey, you're the awkward AskMe guy".

Oh, honey, we're all the awkward AskMe guy. Honestly, have you seen some of the stuff we ask each other? You've found your people.
posted by Elsa at 10:48 PM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Explaining how I was hoping Two unicycles and some duct tape would show up to some guy at the meetup who I didn't realize was in fact Two unicycles and some duct tape was probably my favorite part of the meetup. That was seriously some pretty great stuff, especially how he was all "yeah, I think that guy was pretty freaked out about it" and I was all like "omg totally" and he was all "yeah lol".

This is totally not an answer, but I declare tenth anniversary admin fiat, so don't bother flagging. It's a one-time thing, do not try this at home.

posted by cortex at 12:53 AM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to close out the thread in case anyone wonders:

Yes, I went, and the world did not end, and I had a lovely time. Met a bunch of charming folks who made me feel welcome immediately. And yes, there were some awkward pauses, and a couple of periods of standing around trying to look interested in Twitter on my Blackberry because I was in between conversations, etc, but everyone was super friendly and hospitable and it all worked out just fine. I hope to attend the next Portland meetup, especially now that I've met some of the locals and my comfort zone has been extended a bit.

To anyone who finds this thread on a search through AskMe because they are feeling anxious about a meetup - well, posting this helped me a lot (though I guess if everyone who feels anxious posted in the green every time, things would get unmanageable quickly, and btw thanks Jessamyn, Cortex et al for your patience with a weird thread that might have belonged more in the gray than the green). I think a better approach might have been what some of the Portland folks did this time - plan a small pre-meetup meeting somewhere, just a handful of people, even if just to carpool or something, because then you've already got a couple of folks you know by the time you hit the main meetup. If I had planned my day better I'd have totally done that.

Thanks again to everyone for your comments and encouragement here and for being so welcoming today.

On preview:

cortex: Explaining how I was hoping Two unicycles and some duct tape would show up to some guy at the meetup who I didn't realize was in fact Two unicycles and some duct tape was probably my favorite part of the meetup. That was seriously some pretty great stuff, especially how he was all "yeah, I think that guy was pretty freaked out about it" and I was all like "omg totally" and he was all "yeah lol".

Oh man. Yeah that was some pretty awesome timing, I had *just* walked in and I couldn't have asked for a better conversational opening, really, so thanks a ton for that.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 1:08 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yay! I've been wondering if you got there - thanks for following up!
posted by ceri richard at 3:35 PM on July 19, 2009

> see if you can find a t-shirt with a plate of beans on it

Yeah, about that.
posted by ostranenie at 2:01 PM on July 20, 2009

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