On Social Awkwardness (In the style of Alain de Botton)

Awkwardness. It’s both a blessing and a curse in arguably equal measures.

On the one hand, it’s a positive thing. Awkwardness can be tremendously amusing. It forms as the basis for some truly great comedy. Being awkward can be adorable and relating socially tricky situations to others can bring us closer because deep inside, we all think we’re a little awkward to some degree.

It’s become somewhat fashionable to be awkward. When once being strange, introverted or a little socially inept was a life debilitating quality of your teenage years, now it’s seen as charming and human, making you seem more real and approachable. Indeed, some people seem to thrive in awkward situations.

On the other hand, awkwardness can be a real hindrance in making the most of life’s varied offerings. It’s not merely being awkward which can sometimes be a bit much for people, stopping people from bonding or being understood, but in today’s sociality, it’s often the very fear of potential awkwardness that keeps us from maximising our potential.

A lot of us play out an upcoming social situation in our heads. Perhaps we’ve been invited to a party or a gathering with people we’re not so close to. We know inside that we really should go. Leaving the safety of the living room cushion fort and venturing into the bustle of a public place would be pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and nothing good comes without pain. We deliberate and envisage ourselves talking to people that we don’t really know. Small talk can be excruciating. You hope there’s booze. What if there’s no booze? Sober small talk with people you barely know! Good lord, no! Stay within the warm womb of the cushion fort.

The sad thing is that if we all adopted an honest, more child-like and slightly ballsier approach when throwing ourselves into these situations, we’ll inevitably get a lot more out of them. And the less we’d dread them in future.

Remember when you were a child, how easy it was to make friends. Introductions weren’t awkward, and situations weren’t painfully over-contemplated when we were young. We were honest and bold — “Hello, my name’s Kathryn. What’s yours and where are you from?” And the relationship would usually blossom from there. Starting from the beginning, openly and naively must surely be one effective way to befriend a relative stranger.

There might be several people with which you’re friends on Facebook, perhaps you’ve been to school, college or university together, but for whatever reason, you’re convinced that you’d get on like a house on fire should you bite the bullet and hang out. The premise of initial social awkwardness is undeniably one of the key factors holding you both back.

But how ridiculous! Why can’t we just start from where we left off? Tell me what you’ve actually been doing with yourself for the last six years? How’s your life? Who’s important to you? Let’s not presume that we already know these things, when in fact sadly, we probably don’t. Let’s start afresh and from the top. Maybe we’ll become great mates or maybe we won’t gel as well as we’d hoped — but hey, friends have differences and at least we can say we tried, bonded and gained a mutual understanding of each other.

By approaching each other this way, we can break the ice, learn something new, rekindle a new friendship and break down the awkward barriers that time and space have built between us all.

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