Well, that was awkward

Commentary by Pearl Lorentzen

In the non-fiction section of the library, a book grabbed my attention. It is called Awkward: The Science Behind Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That is Awesome by Ty Tashiro.

After I checked it out, I had a slightly awkward moment. I started reading the preface. I was five paragraphs shy of the end when the person I was waiting for arrived. I gave them a half nod, but kept reading until the end. Once finished, I was able to focus on a conversation.

It wasn’t really awkward as we are friends, and she knows that I get sucked into books. With someone else it might have been.

In Awkward, Tashiro talks about how some kids instinctively learn social norms, but others struggle. This struggle however doesn’t mean that they can’t eventually learn the rules of social engagement.

One of the reasons for this difference is that socially awkward people tend to see the world with a spotlight on different areas, says Tashiro. So a social interaction appears to be a series of disconnected actions, which are hard to understand and memorize. Socially intuitive people see it as a big picture, with cause and effect.

The ‘awesome’ part of this, according to Tashiro, is that socially awkward people’s spotlight vision means they can see details other people miss in their areas of interest. Many awkward people are ‘basically normal’ as in they do not have a diagnosable social issue, he adds.

One common area of struggle is with small talk.

This describes me very well. I can talk to anyone about anything as long as it is profound, deep, or at least one of us is passionate about it. Put me in a small talk situation and my brain shuts down. Especially, if I am tired. I have, more times that I care to admit, got into a ‘I’m fine, how are you’ loop, instead of moving onto the next small talk question.

I don’t have a lot of firm memories from my childhood, but I do remember struggling with social interactions. I have learned most social skills, but when I am tired I still struggle.

Over the last few years, I’ve been unpacking various aspects of my personality.

I am well aware that I am a very friendly and social person, but I am also innately introverted. By which I mean, I get energy from being alone. Extroverts get energy from being with people. For me, a really good conversation one-on-one or in a small group gives me energy as it is happening, but I crash and burn afterward. The only way to recharge is by being alone.

Crowds and small talk are a different kettle of fish. If I am rested and have something in mind to talk about, I’m fine in a medium- sized crowd. However, I still prefer to stand in a corner and watch for at least part of the time. I am almost never okay being in the middle of a large crowd such as at a large concert or a massive throng of people leaving a fireworks show in the city. For example, the Gord Bamford concert in Slave Lake that kicked off Riverboat Daze, had about 2,000 people in the MRC parking lot. That was a lot of people, so I stayed on the edges of the crowd.

I see no reason to change inherent preferences such as being on the outskirts of a crowd, but I also have learned a lot of social skills through the years. I have learned to give myself grace when I mess up in a social situation. I have come a long way, and I remind myself that everyone has socially awkward moments.

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