It stands to reason, that everyone has felt awkward at some point in their life. For some people, these are only small situational blips—often turned hilarious cocktail party stories after the awkwardness has past. For other, this feeling of awkwardness can seem like a never-end, daily occurrence. No one has ever told me that I’m an awkward person. (Occasionally I get called weird but so far never awkward.) In fact, I’ve actually been frequently described as someone who does well in awkward situations. If I’m good with an awkward situation, I can only account for it through my extensive years of practice. I’ve lived in an almost perpetual state of self-aware awkwardness since I was about 12 years old. That was about the time I started recognizing everything I could possible feel weird and ashamed about.
I feel like it must have started around that moment when you start forming crushes on other students and gossiping about it. One of my friends ask who I had a crush on, and when I answered she laughed at me and responded that I “wasn’t pretty enough” and “too weird” to date someone like that. Awkward! This was immediately followed by her telling everyone (including the guy) so laughing at how naively silly my choice of crush was could be enjoyed as a group activity. More Awkward! As an adult, I would recognize this as caddy bulling but as a young child I took the logical response of trusting my peers’ opinion. I mean, why would they lie to me? I must have been wrong in my assessment of myself. All this time I thought I was a funny, smart, and cute kid, and it turned out I was really just ugly and weird. (If I was telling you this story in person, I’d end it with a look on my face that illustrated my understanding of how misguided that assessment is. Can you picture it? It involves an all-known eyebrow raise.) This was pretty much the moment I became well aquatinted with this feeling we call: awkward.
The story itself really isn’t that important. It’s not even that unique and this self-conscience induced awkwardness would have probably come about regardless. The important part is how my perception of myself shifted, altering how I’d interact with new people going forward. I suddenly felt very awkward about almost everything: how I spoke (I have a learning disability that makes it very difficult to hear the difference between vowel sounds and will occasionally mispronounce words), how I sat, what type of books I liked to read, my taste in music and tv, my sense of humor (it’s quite dark and not for everyone), and my habit of sometimes laugh uncontrollably when I remember a stupid joke, etc. The list of things I felt awkward about became even longer the older I got… seriously, it’s a pretty long, unnecessarily critical list. But while my list of things I felt awkward about grew and grew, so did my methods for dealing with it.
All too aware that I was an ungraceful, awkward human which whom no one would want to be friends with (<- that’s what us in the writing business call hyperbole), I coped by using the very common technique of hiding my insecurities and awkward habits by pretending to be cool and confident. Love a music artist that other people hate? No worries. No one will catch on that you listen to them in secret if you play along with bashing their work. (For me this was Kenny G—I just love that smooth alto saxophone). Whatever hobbies, foods, likes, dislikes, etc. would make me easily relatable, those would be my things (at least on the outside). And I could change it for whatever group of people I was with, all in the name of being agreeable and likable. But there’s a problem with this method. First of all, it’s difficult to develop solid, lasting friendships when you make it inherently difficult for people to get to know you. (Go figure.) Further more, it’s not a very sustainable way to live, at least for me. It get’s a little tiring and when taken to an extreme, it’s easy to start to feel like you’re losing yourself a little bit. So I stopped.
And when I stopped being concerned about not being weird—or generically likable—I let myself be awkward on the outside and a f̶u̶n̶n̶y̶ (not remotely surprising) thing happened—I stopped feeling awkward on the inside. I felt like I could just breath and everything would be ok. Life became a little more fun. I ended up with really good, quality friendships with people I genuinely like. And learned a life lesson I could have used as a 12-year-old: Everyone’s a little awkward (and weird)! I know, I know… I got really after-school special right there. But while I was wasting energy on being “likable,” this seemly obvious life fact just slipped my notice. Now days, I lean into. I make weird faces that match what I’m actually feeling. I sometimes sing things instead of just state them when I’m uncomfortable. I laugh at the fact that no matter how much I try, I can never figure out what to do with my arm while cuddling with someone and my arm will uncomfortable fall asleep. I unapologetically stand up for Kenny G (the Christmas album is where it’s at!) And I handle legitimately awkward situation like a freaking pro:
Next time you find yourself in an awkward situation (legitimate or otherwise), do what I do: shrug it off. Or do what I actually do, make funny noises until the situation becomes more funny than awkward. Everyone is an awkward person when you’re an awkward person, too.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.