That Awkward Moment (that never happens online)

That awkward moment when you finally meet someone you’ve been wanting to meet for a while and you jump up to say hi, knock your chair over, awkwardly try to save the situation while ignoring your clinging, whining 4-year-old, then finally give up and erratically try to exit the conversation while covered in children, only to realize later that you had food stuck in your teeth the whole time. (Your front teeth…and I mean all of them.)

That moment seems to be happening to me with alarming frequency. It’s the rare occasion, these days, when I brave the world of IRL social interactions without coming away feeling certain that I’m wearing a hat of ass.

It’s been bugging me. Quite a bit, actually. A few months ago I was toying with this theory that I had developed some sort of social anxiety, but when we were in Texas I was just the same way I’ve always been. Social awkwardness was only encountered in the places where I expected it to be (read: strangers and authority figures), not lurking in every conversational nook and cranny.

Tonight on the way home, I was telling the Ogre that I just feel so stupid when I talk with my mouth. I am not one of those people who work out ideas by talking about them. The Ogre is like that…he has his best ideas in class, and then kicks himself for not recording them. But he also thinks when he talks. I mean, you can visibly see the wheels turn (a-ching-ly-slow-ly) in his brain as he says, “ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” and even though you sometimes wonder if maybe he’s forgotten where he is and what he’s talking about, or if he might be having a stroke, you know that when that eternal um finally draws to a close, brilliance will spew forth in its wake. The Ogre’s umming is like Zeus’s forehead cracking open: no one wants to have to witness that shit, and everyone’s looking at each other like “what the hell is happening? Should we call 911? Isn’t there a god in charge of dealing with this crap?” but then BAM! out comes Athena. And everyone is properly schooled.

Me, I want people to like me, and I want to like them. I enjoy people, and usually people enjoy me. So naturally, I’ve always considered myself a social person…certainly more social than my Athena-birthing-husband.

What I realized today, though, is that the total social awkwardness I’ve experienced lately is actually not an aberration. Thinking back over my life, I’ve pretty much always been excruciatingly enthusiastic in real-life conversations with new people. Not, like, in a sane and balanced way, though. Like in the kind of way where I will literally have a conversation with someone one day and agree with their position, and then I’ll have a conversation with someone else the next day and agree with the exact opposite position. But what’s awful is that I mean it. I’m not a deliberate social chameleon, but when people talk, I listen. Just not critically. I listen like an unwashed hippie at a Vietnam Protest rally: I don’t care who they are or what they stand for, I’m there, man. I get it. They are right on. Plus I have life experience that prove their position is the right one, and we are totally on the same page, and by the time the conversation is over I’m already mentally beading our BFF bracelets.

12 hours later, I’ll probably have forgotten the entire conversation, retaining only the vague sense that I really like that person. It isn’t until the fourth or fifth time I hang out with a person that I feel comfortable enough  to stop trying so hard to be agreeable. This is an acceptable (although certainly uncool) way to handle social interaction in high school and college. I think it’s probably an acceptable way to handle social interaction forever, if you’re a confirmed sanguine like me.

But the critical thinking I can’t manage in actual conversation I find quite easy in writing. I’ve said it before, but writing is the way I think. I don’t sit and ponder things…even when I try, I’m distracted by something else and knee-deep in a new thought or project before I even remember that I was supposed to be thinking of the first thing. Writing helps me keep track of myself. It allows me to order my thoughts, examine my conscience, and find balance. It’s through writing that I figure out what I actually do think about things…if I didn’t write, I’d just agree with the opinion of whomever had influenced me the most recently. It’s not that I’m a flake or that I don’t have my own ideas; it’s just that prewriting is the only way I can find the unruly end of the tangled thread of my thoughts, and writing is the only way to give it a good tug and straighten it all out.

The problem, though, is blogging. Honestly, blogging is so weird. People read what I write and say things like “you’re so funny!” and “wow, you are really thoughtful” and “you’re a librul feminazi who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant to make babies for the Pope while destroying my childhood memories” and I think, wait, what? Are they talking about me?

I didn’t know I was funny until I started blogging. The Ogre always said I make him laugh, but I just assumed that was because I say ridiculous things and trip a lot. I didn’t know I had the ability to think critically about current issues and form opinions that didn’t match up with the ones I had been spoon-fed until I started blogging. I didn’t know I was a kind of a liberal, kind of a feminist, and kind of a mysogynist, Thomas the Tank Engine-hating shill for the Pope until I started blogging.

That’s the cool part about blogging: self-discovery. The uncool part is when I meet people who have read my blog before they’ve met me, and I know they’re expecting complete, coherent sentences but what they get are knocked-over chairs and overly enthusiastic babbling.

And that, right there, is what I hate the most about the internet. It isn’t that it obscures who you are (though it can), or that you can put your best foot forward (though you can); it’s that it only shows half the picture. My best friend Meg can read this post without one iota of surprise because she knows me, and she knows that I knock chairs over in my rush to agree with everyone while my brain’s filter-after-the-fact is subconsciously assembling a counter-argument. She also knows that I can’t carry a tune, that I read while I blow-dry my hair, that I can’t cook Chinese food or keep the sink clean, and that I really do know every single word to Mmmbop and will prove it, even if no one else wants me to. But she had to suffer through cheery, sycophantic, agreeable Calah before she really met me.

The internet just cuts out the messy, everyday awkwardness of human life. I love that about it…I love being able to think twice, or at all, before commenting on someone’s facebook status update. It’s not like you have time to consider what you’re going to say when you’re in a five-minute convo with your neighbor on the street. You can’t type the words and then think, “huh, maybe that’s too trite? Or stupid? Or not even relevant to what she just said? How can I clever that up a bit?” In real life, you just have to open your mouth and hope sentences come out instead of Firefly quotes and if they don’t, you just keep going, wincing a little as you realize that after all these years, you’re still kind of a dunce.

  • jenny

    Oh my, I like this article ….

  • Josh

    “writing is the way I think”

    You’re in great company. Milosz, my favorite of favorites, said somewhere “I can’t think without a pen and paper.”

  • http://aftertheecstasythelaundry.wordpress.com/ Cynthia Schrage

    I feel both wildly happy and a little unnerved that I can totally relate to this article. I love it, though, anyway.

  • Aileen

    Oh! This is me! I thought there was something wrong with me. I can’t think fast on my feet in face to face meetings or confrontations. I prefer writing what I feel and taking my time thinking about what I want to say. Thank you, Calah.


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