I'm not antisocial, I'm just anti-crowds.

My girlfriend and I hadn't been together for three months yet when we planned to go to the New Year's Eve party in her home town. Effingham, Illinois isn't all that big, but it does have a convention center adjacent to the Ramada hotel near the highway, and there's enough middle class adults in the area to make the party worthwhile every year.

The band wasn't scheduled to start until after dinner, and the room was plenty crowded and busy, with every table filled. You had to watch what you were doing when you pulled your chair back to get in and out of your seat, to make sure you didn't jostle someone behind you. I was sitting down next to my date and her parents, while people all around me got up, sat down, got food from the buffet, talked, and talked, and talked.

I've been to parties before, of course. And when they were full of people I knew, I'd be okay. I could move around, find a conversation to join, talk and laugh and eventually move on to another group of people. I like that sort of thing.

But this party, I didn't know anybody, aside from the six or eight faces at my own table -- and I wasn't talking to any of them at the moment. It was hard, with all the jabber going on around me. And as my own dinner gradually disappeared, along with my ability to focus on it, the noise around me got louder and louder, and louder.... I tried to think of anything to talk about with my date. Anything. Dear God, I need something to block out the noise!

But I just couldn't do it. And finally I just had to get up and leave the room. She left with me, out of the dining room and far from the madding crowd to the lobby of the hotel, which was occupied by no one besides a couple of desk clerks and a few guests quietly moving in and out. It was peaceful again, quiet again. Sane again. I sat down on the stairs and held my head between my hands, my date joining me at my side. I was embarassed to find I was actually holding back tears.

I did my best to explain what had been wrong in there, how I just couldn't deal with the crowds of people I didn't know and noise of conversations I couldn't join. Without something else to tune into, I couldn't tune everyone else out. It was like being dropped into the ocean in the middle of a storm, with unpredictable waves of noise and people battering me from every side. My ability to even think clearly was being gradually drowned. I felt like I had to escape, or die.

Eventually I calmed down, and we rejoined the party just as the band was starting up. I was able to listen to the music, enjoy the beat, and dance around the room with my girlfriend the way we so often loved to do. The fox trots and swing tunes they played for the first half-hour or so were like a lifesaver for my sanity. We danced as much as we could, able to focus on nothing more than the music and each other. It felt like heaven.

I still have to leave a crowded room every once in a while, but my girlfriend who is now my wife no longer needs to wonder why. It's a relief that I no longer feel like I have to endure the chaos for her sake.