One of the things I’ve always struggled with is eating meals in a social setting. For many people grabbing lunch or going out to a dinner with coworkers is a pleasant break from the work environment and conversations, a more neutral setting where everyone can relax and intermingle a bit. For me, eating meals in these settings exercises a set of my underdeveloped skills and generally makes me super stressed out. I’d rather be under a timer trying to solve a very challenging technical problem.
When it comes to the selection of a location to eat I always feel pretty handicapped only knowing a handful of locations to eat. I’m also a fairly picky eater but a very non-confrontational person which leads to this very strange evaluation I perform between suggesting I’m not comfortable with the food at a place and trying to identify the item I’m most likely able to appear to have eaten on a menu. In my work environment, when people go out for food it tends to upper scale restaurants which are less likely to serve some of the simpler staple dishes I can often bank on. Instead, the menu is filled with things I’ve never heard of and it’s awkward to start googling for items and ingredients to see what they might look like.
Unlike most people, I don’t enjoy particularly complicated dishes with intriguing tastes or complex flavors. There’s a relatively short list of things I’ll eat with no questions asked. Beyond that I evaluate how far a dish appears to deviate from something I’m familiar with. As an example, veal parmigiana is a short hop away from chicken parmigiana so it’s probably safe but veal marsala is a bit too many hops to be acceptable. Most people seem to read menus looking for the dish they think will be the most enjoyable or satisfy some taste / craving, for me I’m reading the menu trying to figure out what’s going to cause me the least trouble to eat.
Aside from the food itself, conversation is a key component of dining in social settings which is an area I’m very inexperienced with. Ramping up in college, young adults tend to eat meals with social acquaintances on a regular basis which provides a valuable opportunity to develop conversational skills. For various reasons I didn’t really do that in college, I can probably count on my fingers the number of meals I ate with friends during my last 3 years @ RPI (insufficient data on first 2 years). It usually didn’t bother me to be eating alone, but looking back I recognize I was missing out on an opportunity to develop some useful life skills.
At the table, this translates to awkward responses to questions that often don’t do a good job carrying conversation. “What do you do most weekends?” will get a one word answer “work”, when I should really expand on that to describe the different projects I’m working on… or pretend to have done something more exciting. I have to expend a lot of effort when I try to be social when it seems to come much more naturally for others, or at least it appears that way. Any social skills I do have tend to be thrown off balance by the food / menu evaluation stage; by the time I’ve concluded that process I’ve often built up enough anxiety or self-doubt that sitting silently is the best way to recharge my risk taking batteries.
I recognize it would be good to improve but the diversity of foods I eat and my social capabilities while doing so, but I’ve created an environment for myself which perpetuates the status quo. At some point I should probably work on improving this, but doing so in a low-risk fashion feels like a significant amount of effort, perhaps something to solve tomorrow.