For the past 32 years, I have been socially awkward. These are my stories.
I often don’t hear what people say. This is a problem as it often kills whatever momentum a conversation has. For example, someone tells a great story or joke, and I somehow don’t hear the crucial first part which provides the context. Then, instead of listening to the rest of the story and catching up, I’m berating myself for not asking for the first sentence to be repeated when it was said. Now I don’t know what they’re talking about. And instead of looking intrigued by the story, I look worried. Which is making them worried. Shit, this isn’t going to end well. The story teller finishes the joke/story and it’s my cue to respond , ‘Um…………………… Sorry….. what?’. ‘What do you mean what?’ ‘I didn’t hear what you said.’ ‘What do you mean, which bit?’ ‘A bit of the start, and the end bit. And some of the middle. Well I heard it, but I was sidetracked with my own thoughts’. If this is a stranger at a party or social gathering, right there, that interaction is now awkward. Because of me.
If I hear the whole story, but only miss the end, sometimes that’s worse. Here, let me explain. If I can clearly hear all of what is being said, and I’m actually listening, then I’ll be genuinely engrossed, which in turn encourages the story teller and builds momentum. As the story teller continues with their story, they gradually master their rhythm and tone, all building toward the great finale of the story. And, for whatever reason, I miss it. ‘Oh wait, what was it?’ ‘What was what?’ ‘What was the joke bit?’ ‘What do you mean? You don’t think it’s funny?’ ‘No, I mean yes, it’s funny, I just didn’t hear what you said.’ ‘Which part?’ ‘The joke bit’. ‘Sigh. Its gone now mate. I’m not saying it again.’ ‘Oh, sorry’.
The worst is when I don’t hear a simple, ‘Hi, how are you going?’, and I have to say ‘Wait, what did you say?’. They say, ‘What?’. I say ‘I didn’t hear what you said’. ‘Um, I said hi’. ‘Oh, sorry. Hi.’ no interaction will ever go well if it starts like that. And I think to myself ‘Dammit! I should have just said hi and not asked any questions. It sounded like he was saying something else though’. Then I lament the fact that I am the only person who could find a reason to apologise to a stranger before I’ve even said hello.
If I’m conversing with a bunch of tall people, it can be difficult to integrate, thus creating social awkwardness. Sometimes I get knocked out of the group altogether. Like the time when a tall guy stepped on me. I don’t mean he stepped on my foot or anything like that, he stepped on my whole body, head and all. I actually got stuck on the base of his shoe. For 4 days. It meant I missed 4 days at work, but no-one noticed. I came in on the friday looking all flat, and they said, ‘Oh yeah, right, I forgot about you. What happened?’ ‘Got stuck under a tall guys shoe.’ ‘Cool.’
I never remember people names. That’s why my girlfriends name is Adrienne. Of all the personal traits that create social awkwardness, this is the one I’m working hardest to improve on. It’s ok to ask for a reminder of someone’s name once, but you can’t do it twice. At work, at any one time, there will be at least 5 people, with whom I’m regularly conversing, who’s name I don’t know. So I have to ask a person who’s name I don’t know, for another persons name I don’t know. And so on. There is a time limit on how long you can go without knowing someone’s name before it becomes downright offensive. I am always flirting with that limit. Like if you’ve been having regular verbal interaction with someone at work, and it gets to the 3 week mark, and you aint got a clue what the hell their name is. There’s no way back from that. You can’t ask anyone, because they’ve all seen that you’ve been talking to this person for the past month, and now even they will even be offended.
My face doesn’t help either. Sometimes, I yield a very dark disposition. It’s not that I’m pissed off or unhappy, it’s just the way it naturally settles. It looks like a dark cloud. Deathly. People often say that when they look at me they see death. It makes people uncomfortable. I have to explain it to them, it’s just how it looks, it came like that, you should see my baby photos, they emit pure hate. I’m actually really happy. It doesn’t make them feel anymore comfortable. It makes them feel awkward. Socially awkward. Like a dark, dark cloud is in the room. So I’ve started smiling all the time. When I get briefed at work, I smile. I smile on the train. I smile in the mens room. I’m like a bad Getty image or ad, I just smile.