What Memes Mean: Attempting to Navigate #thatawkwardmomentwhen

The hashtag #thatawkwardmomentwhen has become a Twitter institution. The Tweet organizer in question is dedicated to the hallowed modern concept of the “awkward moment,” a tag for venting and celebrating the uncomfortable tensions between human beings attempting to interact. If you do a quick search on the hashtag, there’s evidently a lot of awkwardness to celebrate.

A few of my personal favorites:

#thatawkwardmomentwhen you say “Goodbye!” to someone but you both walk off in the same direction.

#thatawkwardmomentwhen a really nice lady is helping you, and you say, “Thank you, sir.”

#thatawkwardmomentwhen you don’t know if you should hug someone or not.

#thatawkwardmomentwhen you pull the push door even though it’s clearly signed.

#thatawkwardmomentwhen someone is doing the dishes, and you slowly put another dish in the sink.

We live in an age of awkward; it’s almost an epidemic. Blame things like social media or texting and the inherent passivity of these acts . . . blame a culture that fosters a later-stage adulthood in accordance with changing social norms surrounding education or marriage and family . . . blame helicopter parents who coddle kids and raise them disconnected from their peers in front of television screens. Blame one, blame ‘em all, blame something else. Whatever the tipping point, a heightened sense of awkwardness is present in our interactions. We seem obsessed with “awkward.”

My sister referred to it well in a conversation as “a terrible force that breeds immaturity,” our feelings of awkwardness being rooted in a self-sustaining cycle of unsupported conjecture and personal insecurity. These feelings seem to show up at all the points where self-awareness collides with real people in a real world, people whom we often have a hard time understanding. Our insecurity butts up against a funny look received or an ill-put phrase heard, and then our imaginations run wild with the infinite possibilities of how many ways the other person might not like us. (I’m starting to suspect that this snap of neuroses occurs for both you and me at the exactly same moment, though I have yet prove it. I mean, I could just ask you about it, but that’s… awkward.)

Briefly, how should a Christian respond to an age of awkward? To be fair and complete, sometimes awkwardness can be a good thing. Discomfort with people or situations can sometimes provide us with much-needed intuitive insight and aid us in decision-making (i.e., pay attention to the red flags). Sometimes. But the vast majority of the time, awkwardness becomes an excuse and a fetter.

We often avoid dealing with difficult situations with people, putting them off because it’s too awkward. The Christian is never given an excuse to not love others, and loving others well requires emotional bravery. But too often we let awkward kill our ability to care for others. Awkward then becomes a fetter. We fear not being thought well of by others, because we know that, deep down, we’re wanting. But we almost always fail to apply the concept to everyone else — we’re all wanting. The times we braved the waters of awkwardness and realized that everyone’s in the same boat were gloriously freeing moments, but we forget them so quickly and are back to being bound by an invisible chain of awkward.

So what can we do with awkward? We can Tweet about it, accept and laugh about it, then move forward into the foray of relationships with boldness, accepting a few dings and dents and rejoicing in the victories of intimate connection with others. There can be no community without passage through awkwardness, and real community is always worth it.

About Kirk Bozeman

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