We had a small celebration at our house recently and while I acted the host for much of it, through and through I felt uncomfortable. Though I’ve known most of those in attendance for years, I knew them all through the improvisation group I quit earlier this year. Largely I didn’t know what they thought about me, or what they felt, or even what they had heard. They were over at my wife’s request, and everyone else seemed to have a good time, which I was pleased to see, for her sake.

At one point I was slightly apart from the group, lightly contributing to the conversation but not actually fully engaged, feeling like to do so would be to intrude somehow, to insert myself where I wasn’t needed. Someone I used to be very familiar with patted the couch next to her and said “what, do you not like me any more?” Taking the invitation, I sat down next to her and became more active in the conversation.

I wasn’t prepared to tell her, certainly not in front of everyone, that I didn’t want to presume that me sitting next to her would have been okay in the first place, and that I feel incredibly unsure of my place in most social situations these days, particularly around women. I don’t want to be the cause of anyone feeling uncomfortable, and I certainly don’t want to embody the stereotype of the boundary-ignoring alpha male that I fear I have been in the past. In truth, I wasn’t afraid to sit next to her, I was afraid that the assumption that I could sit next to her was wrong.

I’ve been asked a few times lately what I do for fun, or at least outside of work. “Write,” I say, because really that’s my most common non-work activity these days. Writing has become my social and creative outlet, and even as infrequently as I share my words, it’s still “safer” for me than actually going outside and interacting with other people. And in the interest of being completely honest, I lament and worry that it’s probably the best for everyone else, too.