I grew up a kid nervous to say “here” during attendance and even more nervous to inevitably be asked to correct the teacher’s pronunciation of my last name. While I’ve grown into myself in the past almost 3 decades, like most human beings, I still, at times, can be hyper aware of how I am behaving in public.
Am I making awkward small talk at this party? Can people tell that I’m sweating through this shirt? I wonder if I’m laughing too loud. While the answer to the latter is always a resounding yes, the logical explanation to the others—and most other questions of insecurity—is: nobody is paying as much attention to you as you think.
That is, unless you cause an absolute racket in a busy coffee shop where a dozen people are quietly working on their computers and reading books. Some months ago, my partner and I sat down to wait for our lattes. We put our water cups and bakery items on the table and took in the serene setting of highly focused people. Then, he knocked over a full glass of water.
We grabbed some towels, apologized to the barista, and put the cup in the “used dishes” container. Shortly after, skipping home through the park, I said something about how funny it was that the water had spilled and how we were so lucky it wasn’t our fancy coffee and tea drinks. I finished this unsolicited analysis of the ordeal by saying, “and it’s crazy that nobody had even noticed when the water spilt!”
That’s when he stopped walking and looked at me incredulously. Apparently, everyone had noticed. It was a loud plastic cup hitting a concrete floor. Of course everybody had noticed and of course everybody had looked.
But I have played this memory over and over again in my head and I so sincerely promise that I can’t find a single set of eyes on us. Because in that moment? As the cup was pinging around on the floor? I was laser focused on my partner. In that moment, everything else faded and all I saw was him. All I cared about was finding a solution and making sure he didn’t feel an ounce of insecurity that comes from breaking a social norm or spilling a full cup of water at a coffee shop.
Every day, it seems, I am uncovering something new about what it means to fall in love. If The Smile Project had a slightly different origin story, perhaps on that day, I would have written that Love is not getting hung up on social anxieties… even if you’re the one that has introduced chaos into a space. Or Love is only seeing one person in a crowded room… even when everyone else is staring at you.
Or maybe, I’d have written that love is like knocking over a cup of water. Initially, life-disrupting, loud, and messy. And a second after the fall, all-encompassing.