Dorothy Heller

A writer, blogger, mother, medical interpreter, bookaholic, grandmother, shower singer, translator, tea-aholic and an aspiring songwriter. Still writing her novel and wants to write at least one good song.

Random Mingling Disorder and the Mature Single

Are you uncomfortable in large groups and not at your best when mingling with the herd? Do you feel invisible, or don’t know what to say when approaching complete strangers? You don’t feel up to making a splash in a school full of fish? Does the prospect of random mingling make you want to stay home and watch PBS?

Clubs, dances, cocktail parties, most Single events, and many Meetups are trials for the sufferers of RMD. Online dating seem like a relief–at least you’re meeting two by two, a time-tested method corroborated by Noah’s Ark–and you know you have something to talk about—the business of dating and whether it will lead to romance.

If you prefer to network online rather than on foot, you may be a victim of RMD—Random Mingling Disorder. This syndrome has only recently been identified (on October 13, 2014 to be exact, and L.I.L. plans to copyright it). RMD’s many sufferers face criticism and lack of understanding on the part of those not similarly afflicted. “Mingling poorly shows others that you’re either unsure of yourself or so egotistical that you can’t listen to others,” sternly says Business Etiquette for Dummies.

But even English literature’s prime romantic hero, Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen had trouble with small talk. It’s been suggested that our hero Darcy was autistic—or at least a little Aspergerish. We know better–Darcy wasn’t too proud–not even when Colin Firth played him in the famous film scene, impossibly hot and totally wet. He was a victim of undiagnosed Random Mingling Disorder.

I’m actually not autistic, according to DSM guidelines . The jargon changes daily. I think this makes me a heteronormative something or other. Or is that just about sex? I’m not even a true introvert. / But here I am–a mature single–and I still don’t know how to work a room. When I do manage to speak to someone, I don’t know to move on—the mingling part. I naively assume they actually want an answer to the question they’ve asked me–a sure sign of Random Mingling Disorder.

I stand in awe and amazement of the experts, who I have seen scope out the scene in seconds—especially at singles events– and move in on their targets with the efficiency of a hungry lioness separating a lagging gazelle from the flock.

I went to a cultural event with an acquaintance who targeted her prospect with the efficiency of a heat-seeking missile. He finally began talking about his girlfriend, who he upgraded to fiancée as the conversation continued, after which he actually went to get her to act as his bodyguard.

But me? I went to a nice musical get-together last night, full of unexceptional middle-aged people. The host did what seems to be a very simple thing—he went around and introduced himself to everyone. I, however, became tongue-tied.

I did get a tall man to check out the refreshment table to see if there was cheese or chocolate. I thought it was a good ice-breaker (and honest). He proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the evening. It’s probably just as well, because he was wearing clogs with saggy, wooly socks and an intricately knotted multi-colored scarf.

Even at dinner parties, there are people who effortlessly command the floor. I open my mouth to make a comment and by the time sound emerges, three other people have captured the conversational ball and moved it on down the playing field. Knowing when and how to interject without actually interrupting requires the skills and timing of a soccer forward, and my athletic skills peaked at badminton.

RMD leaves you feeling like you’ve spent the evening with the mark of Cain on your forehead or a large blob of spinach smack in the middle of your front teeth. I always have to check myself when I get home from one of these events to make sure that I wasn’t wearing my bra wrapped around my ears. After all, how hard is it just to be natural, friendly, and yourself in undefined groups of people? Hard.

Here’s what Random Mingling Disorder did to my life. I attended an an event for marketing, advertising and public relations agencies as a freelance writer so I could randomly mingle in order to network, and find assignments that would translate into paying the rent. The room seemed to be full of clumps of people happily chattering away at each other with their backs towards me. They all seemed to be at least two feet taller than me (not actually much of an exaggeration). I felt invisible. I vowed that I would force myself to speak to at least one other human being before I fled the scene. I marched over to the one person in the room who happened to be sitting down. That person ended up becoming my ex-husband a quarter of a century later.

If you are also a victim of the ravages of RMD, seek treatment and support. Or come look for me. Especially if you’re Mr. Darcy.

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