I’ll tell you a secret. Now, you can’t tell a living soul because I would be absolutely mortified if anyone ever found this out about me. Okay, good. Here it is. Sometimes I’m awkward. You know, socially. Sometimes I walk into a room and see three separate groups sitting in three separate areas. So I sit all the way on the other side of the room by myself, hoping one of the three groups reaches out to me and makes me feel warm and safe in their cocoon. Otherwise, I bury my head in the book I always have along so I don’t seem like a pathetic idiot (um, yeah) and count the minutes until I can get back up and exit the room. Usually, though, one of the groups reels me in and I feel loved. Yeah, that’s all it takes.
It’s not like I don’t feel comfortable in social situations. For the most part I do, but there’s this in-between area when I’m uncertain of what’s expected of me, times when I feel like Sheldon Cooper and I have no idea what others are trying to say or do, or what they want from ME. And I hate that, that uncertainty. I deal in absolutes so much of the time that when there’s ambiguity I freeze up. Why do I do that? I’m sure others are judging me too when I do this, shaking their heads and whispering about me behind my back. “Why can’t he just understand?” “What’s up with him?” “He seemed pretty cool before.”
Then I start thinking about this mysterious “before.” When was I actually cool? I know I project this cool aura, this water-running-off-a-duck’s-back brand of cool, at least most of the time, but when does the facade break down, allowing people to see the scared little boy I really still am. I remember high school and getting teased mercilessly, the other kids making fun of my afro, dropping little bits of paper onto my hair and watching it rain down when I stood up, shouting “dandruff!” and laughing. Oh, the laughing. And it’s not like I don’t laugh at others, but it’s different when the joke’s on me. Not so funny. Maybe I should think about that next time I’m laughing at others.
Sometimes I’m walking with someone and we run into someone else, and no matter how interesting the conversation was between the two of us, they start talking without me. I try to interject myself into the conversation again, but they have more history, more to discuss, more “insider” language that I’m not privy to, and so I fall behind accidentally on purpose, pretending I have pressing business elsewhere. That’s what I do when I don’t know what else to do. I’m suddenly busy, and so I’m not left out of the conversation. I opt out for completely different reasons.
And I don’t believe in awkward pauses either. I would rather just end whatever was happening then sit there and wait through an agonizing awkward pause. It’s why I’m so glad I don’t have any more first dates to go on, because those are the playground of the awkward pause. I sit there staring into her eyes, daring her to say something. JUST SAY SOMETHING. Because I have nothing to say, and the longer we sit there, sipping our waters and looking at our hands, the more I just want to leave. To just get up and walk out without explanation. But there have been a month of Sundays since I had to worry about a first date, so that’s a relief.
But I strive to have friends. It’s a constant process, made a little more difficult by the social awkwardness that I feel rises off of me in waves, like fog over a roiling sea. And the striving to have friends puts me squarely in those same situations I wish to avoid, but it can be worth it with the right people. You know the type, people who you can pause with but it’s cool, it’s not awkward. People who understand you without you having to ask them to understand. They’re rare, but when they show up on your radar you want to just squeeze them tightly and never let them go. But you don’t, because it’s social suicide, and you don’t want to do that. No, you don’t. And I definitely don’t. But I want to.
I want to do things that others take for granted, like talk on the phone for hours. But the phone never rings for me. And I want to drive to a karaoke bar and sing my lungs out with my friends as background singers. Or maybe even sing a duet or something like that. I want to walk into a room and just sit with one group over any of the others, to get swallowed up by the collective and let out a huge sigh because I DID IT. Because I did something that was exceedingly hard for me. And I know that day will come, that it has to come, because while I’m not as cool as I used to be, and not as cool as I come off sometimes, I am still cool enough to matter to other people. I have to believe that or what’s the use of striving, right?