February 07, 2009

I think we should reclaim awkwardness, everybody.

(Warning: I'm about to speak in a whole bunch of "we" generalities. Mostly when I'm saying "We do this" or "We feel this way," I'm almost exclusively saying that because I do this, and I feel this way. Maybe you guys are a bunch of suave men-about-town with firm handshakes and there's no room in your peaceful, powerful brain for the faintest whiff of self-doubt. But I'm a mouth-breathing goon who feels completely satisfied with less than one percent of the social interactions he has, no matter how perfectly fine they may be in reality, and maybe you are too. I think a lot of people feel the way I'm about to describe, even ostensibly attractive and successful people. If you don't, awesome. I'm jealous.)

We are very quick to dismiss this or that social situation as having been "awkward." We avoid people we only sort of know if we see them at a party because we're worried about having an awkward conversation. These aren't even people we actively dislike for any reason, these are just people who are merely acquaintances, who we're fairly certain are gonna say that way, and we want to avoid any interaction with them because we're sure it's going to stay in that awkward, small-talky, we-don't-need-or-want-anything-from-one-another kind of place. We avoid people we legitimately think are okay just because we haven't seen them in a while and we think our catch-up conversation will be filled with one too many pauses and won't be fun for anyone.

We're also afraid of people we actively admire, whose approval we want, or just people we think are cool and would like to be better friends with, and we're obviously deathly afraid of people we'd like to kiss on the mouth. We know there's no way to close the disparity of desired and desiring without interacting with that person (and I don't even mean "desired" in the sex sense in most cases, although obviously I mean it in that sense about people we wanna kiss) but we are certain that that person, in their infinite coolness, will smell the desperation about us, in our even talking to them, and then, even worse than not knowing that we exist, they will now know that we exist and think we are retarded.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are so media'd the fuck up that we don't know how to have a honest-to-goodness look-each-other-in-the-face conversation anymore, but I also think that's kind of a big fat lazy excuse for the number of times we flee to our circle of known friends and sigh, "Well THAT was awkward." And I don't think that all this awkwardness, and sort of predetermining that things are going to be awkward before we even engage in them, or avoiding them altogether because we're convinced of that, is going to go away just by deciding it ought to. We are the weird, craven, neurotic wretches we are. We're gonna feel awkward a lot. We just are.

So what I'm proposing is, rather than punishing ourselves later in our thoughts for engaging in interactions that felt awkward, rather than walking away going "You idiot! Why did you say that/why didn't you say that/why did you say anything?" I think we should go, "Yay!" We should throw ourselves a little party in our heads.

Here's why: Awkwardness means we're trying. And I don't mean "trying" like half-heartedly trying, I mean like, we're really trying. We're putting something on the line. And even though in a better-socialized, classier world, what we're putting on the line probably wouldn't be all that impressive (we're not, y'know, charging across a beach that's being raked by Nazi machine-gun fire, we're mostly just putting one to two minutes of our time out there to try and talk to somebody), we're still venturing something. And once we get used to the feeling of venturing little inconsequential bits of ourselves, we can start venturing larger and larger bits until we're all big bold people who are great at living their own lives without apology.

Maybe we end up saying "hi" to a lot more people we probably wouldn't have talked to otherwise, and maybe we end up with a whole lot more friends and more-than-friends than we would've otherwise. Maybe we don't. But either way, we are definitely going to keep ending up in situations where, for one reason or another, we feel uncomfortable. So we might as well start patting ourselves on the back for showing the (admittedly very tiny) courage to end up in those situations in the first place.

I am sitting here proposing this, and I'm like, you know what? I probably don't have the balls to talk to a lot of people I am, for a multitude of reasons, scared to talk to. In all likelihood I'll just continue with my current ratio of nine people whom I think I should talk to, don't, and then regret not talking to, to every one person I think I should talk to, end up psyching myself up enough to talk to, and then regret talking to because it was awkward. So I need to clarify that I'm not saying we should actively push ourselves to do things completely outside our normal range of behavior. That would be the socialization equivalent of a crash diet: you might do it for a week through sheer force of will but then retreat into your normal patterns out of the exhaustion of forcing yourself to be out on the ledge that long, and then hate yourself for being a quitter. What I'm saying is, just keep feeling awkward. I'm saying, recognize how awkward you feel, and go: "Good. This means I'm trying."

And maybe we train ourselves to like it. Maybe we start recognizing it as a sign that we're on the right track. Maybe not. Maybe it's just awkward. But it would be an honorable thing to try and train ourselves to feel, because right now I think, by and large, we're trained by the world to think "God, I'm being such a nerd," when really what we're being is enthusiastic and human.

So do you guys feel like taking back awkwardness? Do you feel like we ought to wear it as a badge of low-stakes everyday courage? Because I think it sounds like fun.

Posted by DC at February 7, 2009 01:18 AM
Comments

Testing

Posted by: dc

Get out of my head!

I might actually try what you're proposing.

Thanks, DC. Now I don't feel so alone in my awkwardness.

Posted by: Sasha

I like this a lot.

I've had the same thing on my mind lately, and I'm starting to feel like the answer is just to embrace regretting what you've done instead of what you didn't do. Talk to the person you're scared of, expect it to go horribly, and choose to make a mess and then deal with it instead of sheepishly hiding. Probably more often than not, the mess won't happen and you'll be glad you took the chance. I hope.

Posted by: Hal

YES this is wise. i wish i'd talked to you more yesterday. i kinda tried to but i felt awkward coz i hadnt seen you in aaages. next time.

Posted by: jenny d

YES this is wise. i wish i'd talked to you more yesterday. i kinda tried to but i felt awkward coz i hadnt seen you in aaages. next time.

Posted by: jenny d

that's rather surprising to hear from you, you've always struck me as effortlessly social. but yeah, count me among the 'we.' let's do this

Posted by: Storie

I really wish I could get up the courage to follow your advice. But I'm pretty sure it's impossible.
But it's good to know I'm not the only one feeling awkward. Not that I didn't already really know that, but it's good to see it written somewhere. Proof!

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