At the funeral reception for one of his cousins, Jonathan overheard a conversation about the deceased person, Ron. A sister asked the acquaintance when he last conversed with the person. The acquaintance stated that he and Ron discussed his vacation to Tuscon, Arizona. At the mention of the city, the sister burst into tears. She said she lives in Tuscon. She felt hurt that her brother hadn’t bothered to stop by for a visit. The awkwardness of the moment was palpable. If there’s one basic social faux pas one wishes to avoid, it’s causing more tears at a funeral.
Hearing about this inadvertant mistake caused me to feel sorry about the sister and the family friend. There was no graceful way to back out of the painful situation. All anyone could do in such a scenario would be to sincerely apologize and allow the sister to cry.
I can feel incredibly awkward at times. When that happens, I feel like that clumsy, gay, red-haired 13-year-old I once was. I had little self-esteem because of the teasing from some of my classmates. Aside from not fitting in, I still felt passionate about certain topics in school. I did my best to participate in class discussions during lectures. Sometimes kids accused me of trying to become the teacher’s pet, even though that was the last thing I wanted to become. I eventually realized that nothing I could do or say would convince others to cut me some slack. I was my own person with quirks and attributes that my schoolmates didn’t like–so be it.
Despite the positive self-talk, I rarely felt at ease in my own skin because I was never part of the “regular-kids” clique. There was that backdrop of being shy and awkward even when interacting with my friends group. My best friend Duane said he often felt the same way but he was able to channel the feelings into caring for his disabled brother. Duane said that he resigned himself into the fact that some people are just cruel and meanspirited.
The adolescent angst subsided considerably after beginning college. In fact, I can only recall maybe one or two awkward situations that I caused during those college years. This is probably because everyone was more focused upon studies and preparation for the adult world. At least it seemed that, as a whole, the student body was more open-minded and empathetic than the world at large. Any perceived failings and shortcomings were not condemned. There were more meaningful interactions among ourselves. That said, there was still a residual feeling that I was a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. I had to make a conscious effort to go beyond that mindset.
A major takeaway from my awkward youth is that I pick up on when others feel shy and awkward. I try to reassure them when they extend beyond their comfort zones. Nowadays, this usually happens at large parties or social gatherings of strangers. Sometimes admitting one’s own awkwardness makes for a good ice-breaker. Two awkward people engaging in conversation about awkwardness creates an instant bond.
All things considered, it’s helpful to remember that everyone has experienced awkward situations. Unless the incidents were major, other people won’t remember them. Others are busy regretting their own mistakes and awkward happenings. Life is too short to spend ruminating about past mistakes. We can utilize our awkwardness as a guru that points us in the direction of wisdom.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor, designer, and television personality, Carson Kressley. “I wasn’t always this confident. Growing up as the awkward gay kid in a small town in Pennsylvania, you’re constantly told, ‘Don’t be yourself, don’t be proud of who you are.'”
Many of the ‘regular kids’ had those same worries about not fitting in, it’s hard for a kid to see that it’s not just them.
If only we knew that then, the teen years would have been less harsh.
I think college, for some small town kids, is a huge relief of not swimming in an ecosystem of small minds. Not all who go to college are open-minded and not all who don’t seek higher Ed are small-minded… but it’s a real phenomenon. Excited for my oldest to experience the opportunity of “finding their tribe” in the fall!
College is often a time of liberation for many students. At least it was for me.
Yes, I’ve been meditating lately on how everyone is being made to feel that they’re always standing on the brink of (gasp) awkwardness, which will condemn them in the eyes of others. It is those with the courage to go beyond these fearsome constrictions toward genuine wholehearted interaction who are brave enough to endure the stigma of awkwardness when it arises.
Oftentimes, it simply requires that a person will embrace their awkward human traits.
It’s an inside job! 👌
I accompanied a friend to a dinner party recently. They all knew each other well, and I was the outsider. I tried to break the barrier in conversation, but felt quickly dismissed as they rapidly returned to familiar group themes which by appearance seemed to exclude or limit my participation. They were all nice people. I don’t think they really intended to exclude me, but were practising a group rule-book that they had historically constructed together. Luckily the food was excellent and the wine plentiful. Although rather distant from the topics discussed, I developed a close relationship with a bottle of Merlot which was very agreeable.
Yes, being the the “third wheel” at social events can feel awkward.