Mingling in New York City makes me yearn for the days when getting to know someone was fun and making connections with strangers was easy. It's as though the further I get from kindergarten, the harder it becomes to make friends.
Snack time always provided ample opportunities for the eager friend-maker. I would fearlessly march up to a prospective friend and, before long, conversation would easily flow—from what their mom packed them for snack to discoveries of many simple, but deeper, commonalities.
On the other hand, at happy hours or parties, I have come to anticipate conversation that consists of three questions and three answers. After the brief Q&A, it's just passive nods and furtive shuffles towards a conversation exit.
So why is happy hour so much more difficult than snack time? Perhaps that go-to opener, “What do you do for a living?” saps our minds of all its inquisitive vigor.
I believe our minds can suffer from a form of paralysis. This social stage fright deprives us of the tools we need to properly express interest in a new person or even an acquaintance.
We can also feel hampered by strict rules of etiquette. Getting too personal too fast is popularly considered the biggest cocktail faux pas, and yet the point of socializing is to make connections and either gain friendships or further them.
Disproportionate anxiety about trying to avoid “getting personal” can extinguish the opportunity to actually get to know the person.
It's natural to have a little social stage fright when meeting someone new, but perhaps more attention should be paid to avoiding the biggest etiquette faux pas of all: failure to express interest.