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The Bump On The Log Guest

A number of years ago I ran across a most puzzling social situation that continues to leave me baffled to this day. I had recently become friends with a gregarious woman I met at work. Although we didn’t work for the same organization, we’d run into each other around the building, and after a number of fun interactions, we struck up a fast friendship.

It may have been a bit too fast, however, because I immediately started having reservations about this lady. She was laugh-out-loud hilarious, sure, one of the many things that attracted me to her, but she was also INTENSE. The first night we went out and did something outside of the office she was already making plans for the two of us to go on holiday together. I’m a real “slow to warm” type, so I was a little taken aback by her general intensity, but got over it and chalked it up to her being just that – generally intense. Around this time she began working for another organization in another building, and the move did our burgeoning friendship good – at a bit of an arm’s length, I really enjoyed her company.

We had seen each other for a couple of coffee dates and dinners when my annual autumn party rolled around, and so I added her to the guest list. I knew from having gone to restaurants with her that she was a VERY picky eater (just the basics, no seasonings, no, um, taste) and so I planned accordingly. I had a buffet set up with a giant dish of stew, garlic mashed potatoes, salad and crusty bread, as well as a drinks bar – serving both alcoholic and non-alcoholic libations – but in the kitchen, just for my new friend, I had squirreled away some “stew without the stew” (translation: just the beef from the stew), a bowl of plain greens and whatever else I could find that was plain, plain, plain.

My friend was the first to arrive. She came in, played with the fur kids for a bit and seemed in good spirits. I gave her the rundown on the menu and told her that if she’d prefer, I also had a secret stash of goodies for her in the kitchen. She said she was good. I offered her a drink. She said she was good. Water even? Nope, she was – yup, you guessed it – good.

Not too long after that all of the other guests arrived and we got down to the serious business of eating. Everyone, that is, but my friend. Because as everyone had arrived and done the greetings thing, she had thrown herself into a chair…and that’s where she remained. As people came in and I began making introductions, she remained seated. My other guests actually had to go up to her on her throne and bow down a bit to introduce themselves. When I called everybody to the table, she remained seated. “Hey,” I gently inquired on one of my passes by the chair,”Everything okay? Would you like something to eat? How about that drink now?” She said she didn’t want anything and stayed seated. My parents, who were in attendance, kept casting puzzled glances over at this seemingly sullen woman who just refused to engage with anyone. The other guests began picking up on the weirdness, too, when the two hour mark had passed and she had not ONCE left the confines of her chair.

I tried to get her to play nice with the other kids a number of times, but I eventually gave up and decided to let her be – and ultimately, let her be forever. We’re not friends any more. But for the rest of that night, until I drove her home after the very last pleasant guest had left (a ride during which she was warmly chatty,) she remained seated in that damn chair, barely saying a peep to anybody and eschewing all offers of food or drink. It was SO WEIRD. During one of the last occasions we saw each other, I asked her about that evening – had she had a good time? “Of course!”, she chirped.  “It was so nice meeting everybody.”   Truly some of the oddest social behavior I’ve ever seen. I still have no explanation for what happened that evening. 1023-12


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  • Bint October 26, 2012, 9:36 am

    “By the argument in the quotes, anyone who is uncomfortable in these situations should just stay home and therefore never learn to function in these situations and therefore always be uncomfortable in these situations, and so it goes around in circles.”

    @Martin: That’s not my argument and please don’t put words in my mouth. Nobody has said introverts or the socially anxious shouldn’t go out. I said the woman shouldn’t “turn up *and make everyone else uncomfortable*”. Which she did simply by not telling her hostess – on the massive assumption that she was indeed socially anxious – that she struggled a bit with crowds, for example.

    All the posters with social anxiety here have made it clear that they work to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. In other words, they do the first part but not the second. It’s the second here that made this woman rude. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops but the host was her friend. All she had to do was discreetly tell her so the hostess wouldn’t worry. This is just common courtesy.

    Sitting in an armchair refusing to speak to anyone at a party *you chose to go to* without any explanation is rude.

  • L.J. October 26, 2012, 10:48 am

    I think she had some sort of stomach/intestinal difficulty or accident and was terrified to move. It sounds like something out of a sitcom. Imagine one of the characters from Friends or Seinfeld stuck in a chair for an entire party, smiling and shaking their head when offered a different chair or food?

  • just4kicks October 26, 2012, 11:31 am

    @Lisa : my MIL used to do the same thing when she was alive. Just sit there sullenly, staring at everyone making no effort to converse. Very uncomfortable. That is, until she got on in years and dementia started setting in, she would say WHATEVER was on her mind. “Why would that woman wear that hideous dress? She looks like a whale!!!” After one such scene, my DH commented, “Yeah…I liked it much better when she wouldn’t say anything at all.” And yes, I certainly do realize she was ill and couldn’t filter herself.

  • Shea October 26, 2012, 11:40 am

    While bipolar disorder is, theoretically, *possible*, the woman wasn’t showing common symptoms of the disorder. Bipolar disorder generally manifests with drastic mood swings, but over the space of days or weeks, not hours. Her behaviour is not analogous to assuming someone with chest pains on the left side may be having a heart attack, because her behaviour doesn’t much fit the definition of the disorder, except extremely broadly.

    And in any case, armchair diagnostics (which, yes, is what posters are doing when they suggest bipolar disorder) are frowned upon here.

  • Ellen October 26, 2012, 12:28 pm

    A party is not a paid entertainment to be consumed – the guests do have a social obligation to help the party “go”. To attend a social event and refuse any effort to participate – to the point of refusing to converse beyond monosyllables or leave your chair, even when all the other guests are *seated at a table on the other side of the room* is rude. Even if she had a phobia of eating in front of others, could she not at least take a drink, sit and talk with everyone? If she is less talkative in large groups, could she not join in and listen actively? A guest need not try to be “the life of the party” – indeed, some people try so hard they become overbearing – but a good guest does engage with other people and act as if they are enjoying themselves. If she had some kind of embarassing accident, (especially if she was afraid of damaging the furniture), she owed some kind of explanation to her hostess – indeed why not ask for help? I find it hard to believe you could be forward enough to plan a vacation together, and be in the favored position of “first in, last out” at a party, but not close enough to ask for a quiet word in your ear.
    Many pp’s have pointed out that this woman may have some kind of crippling emotional issue. Politeness is about behavior, not about moral judgement. Her behavior was indeed rude, whether or not she had a “good reason.”

  • Tracy October 26, 2012, 1:14 pm

    Bint, maybe she didn’t realize she was making anyone uncomfortable. I’m sure that’s the last thing someone with social anxiety would want to do.

  • Emmy October 26, 2012, 1:41 pm

    This woman sounds a bit like me. I don’t have social anxity disorder. I know people who actually have that, that’s not me. I’m not even really all that shy. I’ll walk up to a perfect stranger on the street and strike up a conversation. I can give presenations at work or sing kareoke at bars. One on one…you will never get me to shut up. People have tried and they have failed. A medium sized social gathering where I only know the host? I’m back in the corner watching everyone else. I don’t do well right away, it takes me a while to be come comfortable. With strangers, I don’t feel like I have impress them, they can love me or hate me, I don’t give rat’s rear end. At work I know what I’m doing, so I’m not worried. And one-on-one, those people already like me. But I feel akward around friends of my friends, because I want them to like me, and I’m not sure how to make sure they like me.

    I actually had a boss point out to me years ago at my first job, that at first he thought I was shy, which he found odd because I was so out going in our interview (one-on-one), but after a few days he realized I wasn’t shy, I was oberserving. I watch people, I watch their interactions, I figure out my place, and how my style will work in the group, and then I feel comfortable interacting. I also enjoy sitting back and watching people. It’s not crippling fear that keeps me in the corner, it’s the enjoyment of seeing how other interact and react to one another.

    I will say for me, knowing someone at a party (aside from the host who will be busy) makes me relax right away. I’ve noticed more of my friends tell me “Oh Jane, is coming, you remember Jane from that time you bailed us out of jail in Mexico?”, and then I’ll find Jane and Jane will be hanging out with Holly and Holly will introduce me to Mark and I’m so busy enjoying Jane, Holly, and Mark I forget to observe everyone else to figure out how to fit in. I already fit in with Jane.

    I will say, I get them I’m an odd ball. I try not to stick myself in a corner too much, though my extrovert friends never seem to get I’m usually happy right there in my corner, now that I’m aware I do it. I try to socialize, or at the very least find the host and ask how I can help them out. OP’s friend might not be aware her behavior is odd, maybe no one has ever said “Dude, sitting in a chair while everyone else mingles around you, that’s weird”, someone should. Not OP, because as she states they’re no longer friends, but hopefully some friend will.

    I will say, I’ve never sat and expected people to come and introduce themselves to me. In fact that would make me uncomfortable, and I’d jump right in to the socializing. And I don’t get refusing food/drink. I have a friend that does that all time even if she’s hungry/thirsty, drives me batty. I come a family that will just give you food and drink regardless of if you are hungry or thirsty. If you refuse, you’re checked over for a fever, because obviously you are ill.

  • Elizabeth October 26, 2012, 1:55 pm

    My brother’s girlfriend has acted similarly. She is loud and outgoing in small groups but mix in some new introductions and she physically clings and becomes silent and sulky. Her social ineptness has affected her professional career siginficantly. But she’s 50 years old and overly self-confident; she has zero level of awareness that her behavior in a group, particularly with people she’s not met before, is inappropriate. She comes across as overly self-important and condescending.

  • Eric Scheirer Stott October 26, 2012, 2:02 pm

    So- she didn’t hurt anyone, but since she wasn’t the kind of dinner guest you want in a crowd you’re dumping her? Just write off that dinner as a failed experiment & consider doing a 1 on 1 lunch. It could be that she has trouble interacting with strangers- or maybe it just wasn’t the right night.

  • Rebecca October 26, 2012, 4:17 pm

    @Shea: I realize that armchair diagnostics are frowned upon here (and rightly so; not even a trained professional can make a diagnosis from a story on the internet of one instance of odd behaviour), but I didn’t realize that the mere mention of the disorder as one of the many possible explanations would be considered an attempt at diagnosis. Am I to understand that it’s unacceptable to even mention medical conditions except in the context of someone who is known to have been diagnosed?

    We also don’t know for sure that she suffers from social anxiety. Or that she’s shy, introverted, or had stomach problems that evening (if the latter, she still could have at least thanked the hostess for her offer of food, as in “thanks but I’m not feeling up to eating at the moment. If you don’t mind, I’ll just sit over here while others go ahead and eat.”)

    What I’m saying is that EVERYTHING anyone has said here is pure speculation, as it is with any of the other stories that are posted to e-hell. I’m not sure why it’s so awful of me to speculate on that particular thing, when other speculations are allowed. Her behaviour just reminded me of someone I know who definitely DOES suffer from this unmentionable disorder, but I would never dream of saying, “Oh it must be that.”

    By the way, there is nowhere in the story to indicate that her behaviour changed within hours. It could have been months since the OP had last seen her, and months until she saw her again. We don’t know.

  • NicoleK October 28, 2012, 7:03 am

    She sounds shy. I am shy, and tend to overcompensate by talking too much. Or I worry that I’m talking too much and then get too quiet.

  • Tricia October 29, 2012, 11:06 am

    I have to say that I really don’t think a huge faux paus was committed here. Some folks are socially awkward. They arrive at a party and want to find the first chair available and hold onto it like an anchor for the evening because that makes them feel comfortable and safe. For extraverts like me, this is a completely foriegn concept (I’m always the life of the party – making the rounds, getting everyone mingling), but everyone is different. I am an event planner and throw huge events for clients as well as at my house and I’ve learned that you cannot force a guest to grow a different personality or become a different person just because it goes with the theme of your party. A great example of this is a wedding I planned for a fun couple that happened to be part of a conservative Baptist congregation. Most of the guests at the wedding were from this church. I couldn’t convince them to forego the band and dance floor – which they were spending almost their entire budget on – and spend more on food. The result? A band that played for 4 hours without a SINGLE guest dancing and everyone complaining about the sucky food. Baptists EAT, not dance. Know your audience and don’t be surprised if they don’t all of the sudden become dance freaks and be the life of a dance party. It just isn’t who they are.

    While your guests behaviour was certainly disappointing, I don’t think you can really hold it against her.

    Also, I would like to stand up for her a little on the picky eater bit. I myself am a very picky eater but at the same time a social person. I also happen to be a bit of a germaphobe, so I rarely participate in a pot luck situation. I will often attend these events (pot lucks, parties, cocktail hours, etc) and not consume any food. Also, because I’m not a drinker, I will not drink either. Sometimes, for the sake of appearance and grace (and mostly to get people off my back), I will put a little bit of food on my plate and move it around on my plate, to appear that I am eating). The times that I do not get a plate and consume food, I often find that people are puzzled by this and constantly ask me if I need anything to eat or drink. I don’t take offense, because I know they are being a good host/hostess. However, if your guest declines food or drink, you should honor and accept this and do not take personal offense to it. They might have food allergies. They might be a picky eater. They might have germ issues. They just might not feel like eating. Let it go and move on. The worst thing EVER as a picky eater is to have people try to shove something down your throat that you do not wish to have.

  • claire October 30, 2012, 1:42 am

    I think that people like you are very ungracious and find your attitude very arrogant. The whole problem here is that the guest made no effort at all and thus created this “woe with me” scenario which only served to make her host concerned. I think that she was attention seeking and she got what she wanted; attention.

  • Margaret October 30, 2012, 6:43 am

    Claire: What was ungracious about Tricia’s post? Plan a party that your guests will enjoy? Mingle and socialize? Try to participate? I don’t get it.

  • Tricia October 30, 2012, 9:35 am

    Claire –

    Arrogant? I wouldn’t call my thoughts arrogant at all. In fact, I would call my views tolerant. I was trying to say that everyone is different and that we should be tolerant of those that don’t do exactly what we expect. This woman appears to have a hard time socializing and has issues with food. My point was that not every guest at every event is going to act exactly like the host/hostess wishes. In this case, the hostess wanted her guest to be more social and to consume the food she had prepared. While I agree that the guest could have made a bit more of an effort than she did, I don’t believe that she was doing much more than just being herself. From the post it didn’t appear that the guest had a “woe is me” attitude. She wasn’t telling everyone a sob story and trying to get people to feel sorry for her. She was enjoying the party in her own way – which included staying in her seat and not consuming the food that the hostess had prepared.

    A few years ago I attended a “Sing-a-long” event at a movie theater. It was an 80’s sing-a-long, so a bunch of my girlfriends got together to dress up, 80’s style, and attend the event together. There was a girl that attended with us that I didn’t know very well – just as an aquaintance. At the event, most of our group was dancing around, singing, laughing and being very, very silly. About halfway through the event, I noticed that the girl I didn’t know very well was sitting on the end of the row. She was not singing. She was not standing. She was not dancing. I became concerned that maybe she did not feel well or was having a bad time. When I went to the restroom I stopped to ask if she was ok and she smiled and said she was fine. I continued to be concerned about her throughout the rest of the event. In fact, I was so concerned about her that I didn’t really enjoy the second half of the event. Afterwards, I asked one of my friends about her. She knew her very well and so I thought she would know if everything was ok. I felt bad that this girl had not had fun that evening with us. My friend just said, “Oh, no. She had a great time. She wants to go the next sing-a-long too”. I was flabbergasted. How could this girl say that she had been having fun when CLEARLY she hadn’t been?? I said to my friend that I thought her friend wasn’t being truthful with her for some reason, that I had noticed her throughout the event and she was most certainly not having fun. My friend looked at me and said, “Tricia, just because she was not dancing, singing and jumping around does not mean that she did not have fun. Not everyone is as outgoing and silly as you are. She had fun in her own way.”

    That was a very good lesson for me. One I have taken with me into event planning. As I got to know this young woman more and more, I realized that my friend had been right. She was more reserved. She kept coming to events and had a great time – but in HER way, not my way.

    All of this is to say, at the end of this story the hostess asked her guest if she had enjoyed herself. The guest said she had and had enjoyed getting to know everyone. I think it’s very possible she was being genuine. She HAD enjoyed herself – just not in the way that the hostess wanted her to. Just not the way that the hostess has fun. Fun looks different for everyone.

  • Tracy October 30, 2012, 1:10 pm

    Claire, where are you getting the guest’s “woe is me” attitude? As far as I can tell, she sat quietly in her chair, politely refused offers of food and drink, and was pleasant and talkative on the drive home. Yes, it was not exactly polite to refuse to join the guests at the table, but it doesn’t sound like she whined, or insisted someone sit with her, or huffed and puffed about how rude everyone else was.