I like people. Really, I do. But I’m an introvert. And that means I prefer dealing with people one on one. Or in small, intimate groups where the conversation can be inclusive and deep.

Sometimes people are surprised by this. “But you’re so good with people!” they’ll say. They’re right, I am good with people. The same way a lion tamer is good with big cats or a border collie is good with sheep. Like people are some foreign species I have to control.

Parties drive me crazy. I don’t know how to get beyond the meaningless discussion of ‘what are you up to these days?’ to the more interesting questions of ‘who are you, underneath your mask?’ and ‘what do you really care about?” Intellectually, I know that small talk is the social grease that smooths our way through awkward moments. I’m just lousy at it. I’ll panic at a silence and throw in an odd and inappropriate comment like, “did you know the Mafia used to rub garlic on their bullets to make their enemies bleed out faster?”

I read that somewhere. It’s an interesting tidbit. But maybe shouldn’t be one of the first things out of your mouth at a social gathering. Unless it’s a Mafia reunion.

I’m fine throwing a party because I have things to do. Someone to be. And I’m fine, more than fine really, being on stage in front of hundreds of people. Because that audience becomes one person to me and guess who’s in charge? Me! And I get the delicious thrill of sharing something truthful with them. It’s a source of joy.

But a cocktail party. Ack! I run screaming. I feel the need for a chair and a whip.

I have a ritual I go through before any social event. I’m dressed and ready to go….usually way too early. I’m killing time before I hop in the car and a little voice in my head says, “You don’t have to go.”

But I want to, I think. I like these people! It will be fun!

“But you could stay home and read. Or write that scene that’s been floating around in the back of your head. You could get dressed in something more comfortable and make pancakes.”

But I should go, I think. I should spend time with people I like. Get out of the house. Practice talking like an adult.

My mind keeps tempting me with all the other cool things I could do alone. Soak in a nice  hot bath. Organize my closet. Read the newspaper cover to cover. Start learning to speak Spanish. Play with the pups.

Sometimes my introvert wins and I call in sick. Other times I grit my teeth and go and….usually have a good time. Almost as good a time as I would have rolling on the floor with the pups.

I have some coping strategies when I remember to use them. Focusing on the breath helps. Turning into a reporter and interviewing other people is a good strategy to keep the conversation going. Alcohol was my social lubricant of choice when I was younger, but it’s not so fun anymore. It used to make me stupid and happy. Now, it just makes me stupid and morose. Not a good combination.

My fear is people will think I don’t like them, just because I have trouble dealing with them en masse. But I do like people.

Under the right circumstances.

A long time ago, I had the rare good fortune of sitting in a circle with people I believed I had nothing in common with and hearing them open their souls. A wise teacher named Joyce created a space for all of us to speak from a deep, tender place inside. It was a revelation. I was amazed by what I learned in that circle.

Amazed to see how narrow my view of other people can be. Amazed to discover that with enough safety, support and plenty of silence, every one of us becomes a teacher/storyteller/seer/actor/shaman of our own truth.

Amazed to learn that not only could I like people, I could freely accept and love the hell out of them when I saw their real selves. I could even accept and love myself! I learned that we all hid secret worlds inside us – like C.S.Lewis’s wardrobe. Underneath our everyday mask, behind our opinions and judgements of ourselves and others, each of us is a portal to an entire lifetime of true stories – tragic, slapstick, wise, mysterious.

This is the struggle. There’s a part of me that walks into a party looking for the door to the magic wardrobe and sees light social banter as a distraction from the real adventure, a screen to keep us from seeing the one thing we most long for in each other – our loving, messy, wild truth.

And there’s another part of me that thinks I am an officious ass who needs to get over herself and just have another glass of wine. And half the hors d’oervres table.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever get fully comfortable with this conundrum. So I’m doing the next best thing. Accepting the discomfort. Acknowledging my weirdness.

And if I cancel on your social event at the last minute, know this: I like you. Really.

But there’s someone inside you that I’m frigging crazy about.  And if you ever want to share that secret self with a fellow weirdo…call me. I am so there.