Friday, February 10, 2012

A Socially Awkward Person's Guide to Social Graces

A Socially Awkward Person's Guide to Social Graces

Note: This is not a Guide to Social Graces FOR socially awkward people. This is a Guide To Social Graces BY a socially awkward person. I think you will find that there is a difference.

 Take a look at this photo. See that girl standing all the way to the right just far enough away from everyone else to look really conspicuous? Yes, that's me. I distinctly remember thinking. "OK, this is close enough to not look weird." I was wrong. This, as you may have gleaned from the text on the page, is my u-11 soccer team. This was the state premier team that I would play with for the next 7 years. I got along fine with everyone. I even once went to a pool party at someones house. I could just never quite get the hang of transitioning from teammate to friend. 

I would like to think that I got more comfortable with my teammates over the years but the truth is that on this team, and in life in general, I spent and still spend a little too much time standing a little too far away from the crowd not knowing exactly how to precede. The real problem is that I don't mind this as much as I should. I find that distance gives me clarity. When I become overwhelmed by the social dynamic of a group I often find that I end up doing strange things that I can't quite account for later on like dating a phish fan or waltzing around the dorm yelling through an empty paper towel roll.

I am a special kind of awkward that can either go the silent, hiding in a corner trying to decided whether or not to talk to anyone route or the other direction to straight up in your face obnoxious nonsense. Why am I sharing this information? Because I want to give you advice on how to handle your shit in public, of course! As a wise man in a strange headdress once said "Your steak ain't no hipper than my porkchop" and likewise my thoughts on social behavior are just as valid as anyone elses. Here are some key categories of basic human interaction and z(my thoughts on them) that I think you might find useful.

1. Compassion

At job interviews if the interviewer asks me what my greatest weakness is, I usually say that I  am sometimes lacking in compassion in the workplace. One time when I was working in reservations someone called looking into lodging options and somehow she got on the topic of how she had recently beat cancer. Intellectually I understand that cancer survival stories are something that I should have an emotional reaction to; and when it's someone I know I certainly do. When it's a stranger on the phone, however, I'm not really sure how I'm supposed to respond. I could have said "Oh congratulations, that's wonderful!". But some people would respond to something like that by saying "Well, I'm not out of the woods yet and I did lose my breast." THEN what do I say? Sorry? I could say "Oh what a relief that must be." But that seems like a really obvious, stupid thing to say. The truth is that if I don't know you I have no idea how you're expecting me to respond and I have a hard time bringing myself to say what I think a normal person should say just because its the appropriate thing to do. I just know that whatever it is is going to sound weirdly ingenuine. In most cases the person is just a chatty Cathy who has to share every detail, good or bad, with everyone he or she encounters (yes men can be chatty Cathy's too). My feeling is that dealing with things like cancer, death, being divorced or dumped, a particularly unpleasant waxing incident, or general post-modern malaise are what friends and family are for. Why do you want to run around bumming out every  person that you come into contact with? If I want to be upset about things that have nothing to do with me then I will take a moment to think about Africa or go look at missing dog posters (these always leave me with a dull sense of things not being right in the world for at least 24 hours). I'm not saying that I have no capacity to empathize with strangers' hardships. I just think unless a person really needs my help with their problems then they are kind of being a dick for unloading their woes onto an unsuspecting stranger. I guess the problem isn't that I have no compassion. It's that I have just the wrong amount where I find other people's problems upsetting in a way that I don't really know how to handle. I know that I have some unique dysfunctions but to assume that the unseen person on the other end of the phone, or even the the person you just met on the street, is well-adjusted enough to process your shit is a dysfunction of it's own.

2.Maintaining Healthy Friendships

I am terrible at keeping in touch. I don't drive, which doesn't help, but I am also a social ninja who prefers to exit a situation swiftly without paying heed to the expected or appropriate levels of emotional gravity. These situations can range from 20 minutes at a party to a day at work to a 4 year run at an institution of higher learning.  When you don't say goodbye to someone formally and then don't see them for over 3 years chances are you won't be as close as you once were. I don't think I offend people with the way I handle myself because I do eventually see these people and it's always very congenial, but it is something I am going to try not to do next time I get a new job or go back to school or go to a 20s themed dinner party. No matter how many fibers in my body are screaming at me to get the hell out as quickly as possible, I will stay and make sure whatever friends I might have there know that I appreciate them. That's the goal. Don't be a weirdo and be polite to my friends. This is really advice for myself but you're welcome to take it as well if you happen to be burdened with whatever kind of crazy I have.

3. Sweet, Sweet, Hatred.

I don't think that there is anything wrong with an openly hateful relationship. I am not talking about a love/hate thing with the occasional mean spirited teasing or flirting. I am talking the "I do not respect anything that you are about and you don't respect anything that I am about and It gives me pleasure to see you in trouble so please just fuck off and die already" kind of hateful relationship. Everyone needs a good nemesis and the fact that I haven't had one for a while is something that I sorely regret. I have hated people and people have hated me (I assume) but it is considered childish for two adults to acknowledge their mutual loathing and agree to either stay out of each other's way or have a little fun destroying each other whenever they get the chance. Elementary school was based almost entirely on these kinds of relationships. Boys vs. girls. Best friends vs. Ex-best friends. Me vs. Everyone who thought they might be better at soccer than I was. In middle school I was really busy and if I had any enemies I wasn't aware of them, but in High School there was this one kid who felt the need to tell everyone that I was a "freak". I didn't have a problem with the title  but why did this kid feel the need to try to get everyone else to see me in a negative light? It pissed me off to no end and I loved every second of it. There is really nothing better than having a really good reason to hate someone. I still don't quite understand what his really good reason for hating me was but I have decided not to ask too many questions. Seeing his side would have ruined everything.

The flip side of this is that if you are a kid who is being bullied and you adopt this style of conduct then you would never be bullied again! You would just have a lot of nemesi. Unless it's physical bullying that you can't respond to because you're tiny and/or a pacifist. Then you should probably find an adult.

4. Romantic Relationships

Just don't be  a dumbass, don't mistake sex or attention for personal validation and you should be OK (eventually...probably).

5. "Sluts!"
(Note: Sluts is a term that I use for both men and women. It's just too complicated to do otherwise.) Unless something really horrible and unexpected is going on in a lady's pants, sex is probably going to be a more or less positive experience for any guy. Women on the other hand have a whole world of potential violation, discomfort, and general dissatisfaction to consider in every potential mate. Therefor, statements such as "god that guy has no standards. He will sleep with anything." or "why do women pretend that they don't like sex?" are really, really stupid. A guy who sleeps with anyone is no different than a guy who only sleeps with pretty girls. It is all the same amount slutty. Girls do not pretend not to like sex. They just don't like bad sex and their chances of getting that if they're ho-ing around are much, much higher than for a guy. Men don't need a particularly compelling reason to be slutty and you can assume that most slutty women HAVE a pretty good reason or else they probably wouldn't be doing it... because that shit must be just terrible like 80% of the time, right? Now, I do have an issue with philandering because companionship is important and it just doesn't work without trust and its not fair to your partner to put them in danger with your icky habits and blah blah blah but if if a person is unattached and they want to sleep around then that is their business. Wrap it up and don't get into any hot tubs with me, but by all means, carry on. In other words, leave the sluts alone and don't feel bad if you are one.

6. Balancing the Public and Private

The Internet makes it easy to dump all of your emotions into the public sphere. Don't do it all the time! You need to sometimes sit quietly and think about things and not tell anyone about it! Try it!

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