Theodor describes himself as a positive person. He likes helping out when people need it, and he always wants to be kind to people. But his main problem was “one-on-one” conversations, where he couldn’t keep a conversation going. “I think a lot about what to say, but I talk very little. Probably because of fear of taking the conversation away from what everyone else wants it to develop into,” he says.
During the program, he got more confident and began realizing that others don’t have a strict plan of in which direction they want the conversation to go. That is one thing that has helped him be more at ease and speak his mind.
Theodor on social challenges and how he has overcome them
Now, I have understood the profound meaning of me asking them questions and be more interested in their lives. That makes conversations go easier. But it’s still hard. Especially when I have been that one labeled “the silent one” in almost every setting. The last big challenge is to get other people interested in talking to me. It’s much easier now, but it still needs a bit of practicing.
“I never got any conversation going, and I felt that no one was interested in me”
This is what made Theodor decide to start improving his social skills
Over several years now (maybe five or so), I have seen how everyone around me at my age began hanging out with each other outside of school and in other settings than the classic “stay at a friends place from after school and until they eat dinner”-visits that children often do when they are young. I realized that everyone else went to the cinema, the mall, and when I went to high school, others began going to parties everywhere, while I was just sitting at home, doing my homework and not getting any invitations to any activity with anyone from my class when the school day was over.
Then came a school trip to Florence (I had art classes at high school) two years ago, and I saw even more how everyone had fun in other settings than in a classroom. The one difference between me and everyone else was that everyone else talked to each other, while I always just listened. So I understood that I needed to talk more, just in order to make more connections with people. The problem was that I didn’t know how to talk to people in other ways than just throwing out easy comments like “wonder when they are going to change that light bulb” or “that was a nice drawing”. I never got any conversation going, and I felt that no one was interested in me because they didn’t talk to me (and I guess that is true because I didn’t seem like a person that was very interested in any other people, unfortunately).
When I started at university last year, I already knew that I would need to make friends fast, because if not, everyone would start forming groups while I stood outside. The problem was that I wasn’t included, even though I walked around with them and went to every social event during that first ‘buddy week’. I decided that I needed better social skills because the way things always seemed to end was heartbreaking. I felt that no one I met wanted to include me, and I didn’t understand why. The only way to understand it and fix it is to gain access to their groups, and the only way to do that would be to improve my social skills.
“I didn’t understand that I had to do things by myself”
Why is it do you think that you didn’t really connect during that buddy week?
I think, I simply never asked people about their lives. I didn’t contact them to find out when they would be in the park or anything, I just showed up at the time the whole buddy group of students was supposed to. I didn’t understand that I had to do things by myself.
“I try to be the one who takes the first step, initiating a talk or sending a message”
Understanding of social concepts and how that affected his social interaction in “now and then” examples
My new knowledge has made me more active in social life. I make contact with people I see. Before, I could meet a group of people I knew at a place and be with them, expecting to be included simply because I was in their vicinity. Now, I understand that I need to take part in what they are talking about. I try to talk more with them, and I try to be the one who takes the first step, initiating a talk or sending a message, and ask them about where to meet, when, and so on.
“Now and then”
In the “buddy week”, we were going to a park to just hanging out. I thought that everyone was just showing up by themselves and that everyone would be sitting together and having fun. What happened was that I arrived early, alone, while most of the others arrived in groups of 2-6 people a bit later than me. At that point, I didn’t quite understand what I was doing wrong. Now, at a gathering about a week ago, I contacted other people before leaving my home. In that way, I knew when they would arrive, and I knew that this one guy could meet me a little earlier so that we found the way together.
I am talking to people. I still have some work to do with rebuilding an image of myself, so that everyone doesn’t think I am that quiet and uninterested guy. I do really like the fact that I am able to hold a conversation.
A recent situation where Theodor started talking to someone (where he wouldn’t before) and what happened
I was at this birthday party last weekend, and I had a slight fear that I would just sit by and listen to everyone else talking. What happened, though, when I started talking and asking questions to the one sitting next to me, was that I focused on him and asked further questions about what he said. I started drawing connections to my own life, and he seemed more interested in talking to me. More people joined, and we ended up discussing things that had happened that week and when the group conversation ended, I was able to continue talking to one of the others.
“The hardest thing is to really want to go to a social happening”
Theodor talks about his fears of improving socially
That has been the one thing I have been afraid of all the time since I started thinking about the fact that I need to improve. I don’t really feel that I am becoming someone that I don’t want to be, even though I am changing. The hardest thing is to really want to go to a social happening – I am still a bit afraid I am going to slip back into my old habit of just listening. I just have had this fear that I would make a fool of myself, that other people would think that I am weird and annoying for talking more, but that is a fear partly sticking in me from the time when that stopped me from talking at all.
Theodor’s advice to those who are just starting this journey
I would say that they should take notes from the course, have the notes with them in a little notebook. Check it regularly, repeat things, but the most important thing would be to say hello, ask questions, try not to think that they have less to say than anyone else. They should take it slow, and compliment themselves for the good things they did during a conversation. They should take small steps, but take them consistently (not thinking that you can skip it one time because you did well in another conversation earlier).
They should be patient, though. They should be really patient, and try to see the improvements instead of what went wrong.
That way, the days will come that they will never forget.