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Welcome to Method & Whimsy, a storyteller’s exploration of creative processes, whimsy and personal expression 

 

In Praise of the Socially Awkward

In Praise of the Socially Awkward

There are many of us out there, and we have a secret code, well maybe not so secret, that helps us identify each other in crowds. Saying something wildly out of place, making jokes that don’t quite land or having one too many hors d’oeuvres on our plates. We may be eloquent, well-read and thoughtful, but often debilitatingly inarticulate when faced with the pressure of social interaction. 

You know who you are.

In school and college, being socially awkward (SA) gave me nightmares, and made me keep to myself a lot of the time. As I grew up, I made a tool kit of strategies —rehearsing conversations before hand, practising my reactions, having prompt cards of exit strategies ready so that I could vanish into a cloud of dust when required. Parties and group activities were always fertile grounds of public embarrassment. 

But as time has gone on by, I’ve started taking pride in being SA. It means I don’t fit, and no matter what anybody tells you, that’s a wonderful thing. I’ve developed a fast bond with my ineptness and have an affection for it—like having a weird pet, perhaps a snake or a far too many bunnies, and take pleasure in the idiosyncrasy of it all. It’s also lead to some great friendships in my life. 

Today I’ve spoken to 3 of my friends — beautiful, smart, funny — and like me, somewhere on the bumpy spectrum of socially awkwardness. Here’s a glimpse into what goes on in our minds.


Melissa Crompton - 27, Perth, Australia

 Mel is funny, studies psychology and braids her hair real pretty with much nonchalance. She wears blazers and cropped pants in wonderful combinations and isn’t afraid to tell stories involving poo.

Mel is funny, studies psychology and braids her hair real pretty with much nonchalance. She wears blazers and cropped pants in wonderful combinations and isn’t afraid to tell stories involving poo.

What’s your most vivid memory of your own social awkwardness? 

I was at a party, I was 14 or 15, a boy from the year above asked: "hows it going?". Boys didn't talk to me. I had boys who were friends, through school or swimming, and even then, they mostly spoke to me to tease me (most of it was good natured, some was not). 

Why was this boy talking to me? What did he want? Did he want to know the time? I checked his wrist, he had a watch. 

Did he want me to introduce him to one of my friends — one of the ones mingling with the other people at the party? Why was he talking to the one huddled in the corner? Had I not been moving enough? Had I been staring too much? Oh god, he thinks I'm a creep. He is going to ask me to leave. 

"Hello?"

Oh god, I still haven't said anything. How long has it been? What's an appropriate response? I want to sound friendly and non-creepy, but I don't want to invite more conversation. 

"Zzzzz'lll good. I'm going now. Bye." 

I could tell you plenty of other stories, but they all follow the same structure of panic. It wasn't just boys either. It was anyone who seemed cooler, smarter or more fun than me. Which to young Melissa, felt like everyone in the entire world. And to an extent, still does. The good news is, I'm more ok with it. 

Has your SA brought any special friendship/s in your life based on your common condition?

SA has actually helped me make some fantastic friends (you among them). Mutually felt panic when talking to strangers is a strong bonding agent. SA has even helped me make some very close Non-SA friends. You see, the positive side to SA is that if you don't vibe with someone, you'll find a reason to get out of the conversation pretty quick. But, if both parties see something they like, and are willing to persevere through the first few painful interactions, you've probably got a pretty special friendship on your hands.

What’s the best part of being SA? What advantages do you think it gives you?

Empathy, and perceptiveness. SA has a way of making you think about every little thing you and other people do, as well as the many different possible scenarios that could occur. After 27 years of this, you become pretty good at noticing how other people are feeling. And after 27 years of near constant anxiety, you can't help but care about how they are feeling. 

What’s the worst part about being SA?

Not believing in myself. Feeling isolated. Making myself smaller. 

If there’s one trait you’d trade away your SA for, what would it be and why?

Calmness. SA wreaks havoc on your nerves. And your stomach. And your butt. Unfortunate realities.


Orlaith Lenihan - 37, Perth, Australia

 Orlaith is a loyal friend, owns several jars of different kinds of tea and has recently sold her television set. She goes on regular camping trips into the Western Australian wilderness and can survive on boiled eggs for a number of days.

Orlaith is a loyal friend, owns several jars of different kinds of tea and has recently sold her television set. She goes on regular camping trips into the Western Australian wilderness and can survive on boiled eggs for a number of days.

What’s your most vivid memory of your own social awkwardness? 

I was 12 years old and spending a few weeks of my summer holidays at the Gaeltacht (an Irish language camp, it’s a rite of passage for many an Irish child). Participation in the end of camp play was mandatory and this meant on stage participation, therefore my usual default of painting props and offering encouragement was not possible. 

On the night of the play I waited anxiously backstage. When it came my time to perform, predictably, I froze in front of a hall full of my peers. The lines I had memorised just evaporated and after what felt like a silent eternity, I regained my faculties, turned on my heel and walked off the stage, absolutely mortified. 

I would like to say this behaviour was relegated to my childhood years, but unfortunately not, as I repeated the latter awkwardness at my best friend’s wedding a few years ago. I had to deliver a reading to the crowded church. The words didn’t evaporate this time, but my voice shook terribly. I sped through the reading in my attempt to make the ordeal end sooner, so I could be back sitting with my friends in the anonymous pews of the church. 

There is a definite pattern to these memories, I potentially do not like being the centre of attention or public speaking. I should probably do a Buzzfeed quiz to classify my social awkwardness further.

Has your social awkwardness brought any special friendship/s in your life based on your common condition?

Yes, most definitely!! I think in social situations the socially awkward can spot each other a mile off and we seek sanctuary in each others familiar weird eccentricities and alternative perspective of the world. I bonded with my friends from university due to our common social awkwardness and two decades on our friendship still goes strong.

What’s the best part of being SA? What advantages do you think it gives you?

There are so many advantages to being socially awkward. I think SAs are thoughtful listeners and observant creatures. The way this translates is, at the next social gathering the SA will remember your name and likely the conversation you had with them from several weeks or months ago.

For me the greatest advantage of being SA is that I am generally content in my own company (balanced with meaningful human engagement). I enjoy spending a certain amount of time on my own and this has afforded me great independence and a wonderful sense of freedom. I thoroughly enjoy solo travelling and it has never crossed my mind to not embark on an adventure for the want of a companion. Paradoxically solo travelling for the socially awkward is a very social experience, you meet lots of interesting and like-minded solo travellers.

 What’s the worst part about being SA?

The sweaty palmed anxiety that comes with pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

If there’s one trait you’d trade away your SA for, what would it be and why?

I was going to say I would trade sweaty palmed anxiety, but I have found that anxiety acts as my canary in the mine, letting me know when I need to more effectively manage or work on certain aspects of my social awkwardness. I am going to say that I wouldn’t trade a single trait, however I would likely have a very different answer right before my next public speaking engagement.

Deepti Sivakumar - 33, Atlanta, USA

 Deepti is petite, peculiar and still believes that she can learn to appreciate neat Whiskey someday. She’s always up for a good old game of make-believe and sometimes avoids you even though she loves you.

Deepti is petite, peculiar and still believes that she can learn to appreciate neat Whiskey someday. She’s always up for a good old game of make-believe and sometimes avoids you even though she loves you.

What’s your most vivid memory of your own social awkwardness?

If only I had ONE memory of social awkwardness. Just the fact that I’ve been dodging this interview for a week tells you how easy it is for me to talk out loud without choking on my foot. Social awkwardness is not my sole gift to this world. I battle multiple disorders simultaneously, it’s a boon and a curse really. Oftentimes my social awkwardness has me pretending to be an over-friendly person with no concept of personal space. One particularly odd experience was when I was being introduced to a new colleague, and something came over me and I was momentarily confused whether to shake hands or hug this new person. It happens. Meeting new people has that effect on me. So after an excruciating few seconds of openly (Read: Out loud, and not just in my head) holding on my hand, then taking it back and readying myself for a hug, I decided to throw the ultimate curveball. This new colleague of mine wanted to put me out of my misery and just come in for a hug. But just as she leaned in to hug me, I went back to my handshake and instead stuck my hand right in between her boobs. I have, since then, called this the “boobshake” incident. She did not see it coming, and most likely never recovered from that trauma. It’s a miracle that I’m still allowed to interact with other adults. On a side note, she and I never became friends.

 Has your social awkwardness brought any special friendship/s in your life based on your common condition?

My SA has found me some awesome, quirky, and equally awkward friends who have no filter, and laugh at inappropriate jokes and who always get caught in boobshake-like situations themselves. A co-worker and I have currently resorted to having a secret code to talk at work, and to signal to one another when to shut it down. We are 33 and 38 years old respectively.

What’s the best part of being SA? What advantages do you think it gives you?

Best part about being SA is the endless hours of standup entertainment I provide myself. I’m not entirely sure what advantages it gives me out in the real world, but it keep things very interesting in my head.

What’s the worst part about being SA?

I can never control how my social awkwardness is going to manifest in a given situation. Sometimes, I’m pretending to be an extrovert and just getting away with saying silly things (and people think I’m being funny, when really I’ve lost control of my mouth and brain). But sometimes, in a large crowd of strangers (let’s say a conference, trade show, or a dreaded networking event), a crippling anxiety takes over, and I have to hide in the bathroom for a few minutes because I need to be alone. Networking is my nemesis.

If there’s one trait you’d trade away your SA for, what would it be and why?

I’ve learned to live with my SA, and I quite like myself, but if I could be better at working a crowd, that’s something I would probably trade my SA for. 

 


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