Friday, May 11, 2012

On social awkwardness (socwardness)

In reality - and this might be a shocker given all my quirks proudly displayed on this blog - I am a fairly socially adept person. No, really. My mom said so. (She did. Honestly.)

My mom is also socially adept, though, so it's okay. And you know how I know that she is right (and socially adept)? Because another socially adept person (me) said so. Word.

Huh. I got lost in one of my own digressions before even starting... But that set aside; digressions, parentheses, creative punctuation, giraffes and - hing yeah - the fact that someone found my blog the other day by searching for "ecard anti dance mom" (how'd THAT happen..?); all these things set aside, in real life I am a fairly normal, friendly, pleasant person with whom many people seem to enjoy a normal, friendly, pleasant conversation, be it of the "polite mingling"-variety or the more serious "what's the meaning of life?"-variety. I rock at small talk. I know how to hold a glass of wine in one hand, a canapé in the other, and somehow I still manage to find a free hand to shake hands (how many hands do I have? Party trick courtesy of the Norwegian foreign service, no doubt). I make friends easily, I have very few enemies (and then mostly carefully selected nemeses - everyone should have at least one), and when I choose to display it I can have a very winning smile. I am crisp (except when I try to use expressions like "crisp" that I clearly had to look up in Urban Dictionary before posting. And then I got stuck wondering why it's called "Urban Dictionary" and not "the Urban Dictionary", and then I started wondering if it was a Urban Dictionary thing to do to cut all "the's" and whether that won't get terribly confusing, and now I am trying so hard to be crisp or cool or whatever it's called these days that I long since punctured the above attempt at describing myself thus. Ah. Well, I was about to contradict myself anyway.)

Because.

Even though I'm mostly socially adept (sodept? Nah... I'm not crisp enough for that yet), I sometimes fail. And when I fail, I fail BIG time. Spectacularly. Think diving. Nine out of ten times I go in the water - not like a pro, but at least like an amateur that would like to consider his own diving skills appropriate for low-key competitions. Like the (or not "the") Annual Greendale Amateur Diving Championship (why, yes, Postman Pat might participate too, thankyouforasking). Only to find that the tenth time he goes in it's with a splash. A big one. An epic one. A gigantic belly flop which forever renders him (me? I got lost in my own metaphor) extremely aware that he is not only madly inferior to Postman Pat, but that he also has absolutely no business participating in any championships and that he preferable should never go near water ever again.

That's how awkward I can be on (the?) occasions that my social skills do fail.

Like today.

When they failed. Miserably so.

It all started well. I was on my way to work, not feeling terribly motivated by the fact that I had been forced to leave my warm, comfy bed to walk in grey, rainy-ish weather to go spend the day at the office where I will be teaching myself medieval history. Yeah. Motivation fail. Still, this isn't a huge derivation from normal mornings, so when I initiated this paragraph by saying "[i]t all started well" I wasn't lying. The above description is "well". It's not optimal, but "well". In the adverbial sense (--> better, best), not the "deep hole or shaft in the ground"-sense. Well.

I was interrupted in my somewhat gloomy well-ness, however, by a young lady.

Had I been a man, I presume this interruption would have been most welcome. The young lady in question was cute, friendly (crisp?), polite and when she spoke it was with an adorable accent. Charming, I'm sure.

I am not a man. I prefer that in any given conversation I am the cute, friendly (crisp?), polite one, even if my accent (when speaking Norwegian, at least) sadly is somewhat polished and boring (when speaking English, however, I probably have an accent so adorable bunnies fly out of my nose).

The young interruptive lady asked me for directions.

I hate directions.

Well (again in the above clarified sense of the word), I don't hate them. I find them difficult to take, and to give. Especially when we're talking about geographical directions. I have a terrible sense of direction. I managed to get lost in Washington, D.C. once (a city where the streets in one direction are numbered, and the streets in the other direction are alphabetized). I also managed to get lost in Skotterud, Eidskog, Norway once - a place so tiny you probably haven't even heard of it. That's right! That tiny! Once I got lost I followed a pidgeon for three blocks. I was still lost.

Thus, asking me for directions is not exactly your best strategy if you are the one who is lost. Asking me for directions when I am gloomy (if well), sleepy and probably slightly hormonal, is an even poorer strategy. The young lady of the charming accent did not know this, of course. (How could she? She did not know anything. Not even the way.)

I realize that the build-up here implies that I somehow exploded all over the poor girl and put her in tears on the first train back to Charmingaccentville. The build-up is misleading. Yes, I was gloomy, but no, I am not explode-all-over-stranger-prone. Besides, if you look back you'll realize that there also is a build-up to a detailed account of my social awkwardness. In fact, the build-up to that is much clearer, and forms a more coherent direction for this post. You only wanted the build-up to be for something more thrilling, like an explosion, because that would make for a more exciting tale! I'm sorry, but if you want exciting tales, you better go read someone else's blog.

So. There.

I did not explode. But I faced a terrible dilemma. Should I help this cute, friendly (I'm officially giving up crisp), polite and adorably accented young lady; or should I pretend to be a deaf, Chinese tourist genetically modified to look like a native, which would both explain why I could not hear, understand OR help her?

I chose the golden middle. I decided to "help" her.

In all fairness, the directions she asked were not complicated. She wanted to get to the University Campus. I believe I have mentioned this (several times) before, but for clarity's sake: I work at the university. On campus. I was headed for work. I was clearly going the same way as she was.

Now, a normal person - for instance me on most days - would say that to the young lady. "I work at the university, and I am going there now. Follow me, and I'll show you."

I didn't say that.

After all, it would be a good five to seven minutes before we reached campus. I would have to make polite conversation with this person for five to seven minutes. Or, if failing to make conversation, I would have to tolerate five to seven minutes walking next to a stranger without speaking at all.

This is where my brain on most days would have jumped to wine-glass-and-canapé-mode and handled the situation by asking her unimportant questions like "so, what are you doing at the university?" or "did you catch the last episode of Mad Men?" (the latter would be stupid, though, because I'm two seasons behind. No spoilers!).

Today, however, the only thing my brain could do was set of a red warning lamp, saying "DANGER, DANGER, UNWANTED SOCIAL INTERACTION  MIGHT OCCUR!!!"

I smiled awkwardly. Then I pointed in the general direction she (and I) should be headed, saying something about keeping straight ahead over the hill, and then she'd see it (which might or might not be true. I had never checked). And then I left.

That's right. We were going to the same place, but instead of telling her so, I went another way.

My way was the right way. Hers was... not wrong, per se. But slightly less right.

Happy that I had solved the awkward situation in such a speedy manner, I continued walking my regular route. I had sent her a few blocks east of me. (Due to my aforementioned poor sense of direction I have no idea if it actually is east, but it serves to bring clarity to the narrative, so I'm keeping it [and not, Digression's forbid, checking it. That would be - reasearch. Dude!].) My theory was that she would walk (in accordance with my vague pointing) about two blocks north (again, for the sake of the narrative), and then turn west. If she had done do, at an appropriate speed, I would have been able to walk my two blocks north sufficiently far west of her (and then turning further west) to avoiding seeing her, ever, again.

My theory, not unlike my social skills, failed.

As I was about to turn west (the whole east-west-north-thingie is confusing me. I'm sorry if it was helping you, but I am inventing a new direction for the sake of un-confusing myself. Deal with it.) - as I was about to turn uppity, whom other did I see but the young lady with an adorable accent and issues with picking the right type of people to give her dictections. Whom other? A famous sports journalist, that's who(m). But the right thereafter I saw the young lady too.

At this, my social skills performed one small effort before crumbling into dust. They waved at the young lady. Oh, Digressions, I was beackoning her closer. My hand in some evil conspiracy with my terminal social skills were trying to help the poor girl.

By then it must have been rather obvious to her that I was, indeed, going the same direction as she. Still, I was the only person about (the sport journalist having disappeared by then), and she was still lost (due to the fact that the last person she'd asked for directions only had replied with vague finger pointing...). So she ran to me (again, had I been a man, this might have been a rather welcome situation. I am still not a man).

"Soooo," I said, stretching the oooo in an attempt to come up with an excuse as to why I had been reluctant to actually offer helpful help. "What part of campus are you going to? You see, there is an upper part, and then a lower part..."

By offering this information, I really hoped she would read between the lines and hear what I wanted her to hear:

"I would have offered to walk you there, naturally, but since you failed to specify where on campus you were going, I could only assume that you were going somewhere else than me. Which makes my reaction not socially awkward, but rather rational and understandable."

"I'm going to the library," she said.

"Ah." ("Darn, right in the middle, then. Yeah, well, I'm still going to a completely different part of campus than you, and it still makes sense to me, at least, why I didn't show you the way. Even if my office is located in the building right next to the library...")

We walked. In the dreaded silence. I tried a few "uhm, yeah, well, it's not easy knowing the way if you don't know the way, hum-di-dum" but by then the effort was pretty futile. She knew I'd been trying to get out of walking with her, and thus she wasn't up to making the situation any easier on me.

At the earliest possible moment I went for the finger-pointing strategy again ("It's that big black building you see far, far behind all those other buildings over there...") and she speeded up to avoid further embarassment on both our parts. Just to make sure to stick to my "story" (you know, the one I hoped she'd read between the lines), I took a detour and walked for a while in the opposite direction from where I was going. I hoped to never see her again.

I saw her again two blocks later.

I had deliberately been walking the wrong direction, sloooooowly, to make absolutely sure that she would have passed the intersection between my detour path and the uppity-headed path. But no. She passed it at the exact time I was headed there.

In total mortification, now, I snuck back, hid (literally HID) behind the biology building, wondering how long I could stand there before she'd find me. Or before someone else might find me terribly weird.

In the end I decided that neither would be very long. So I walked - again in the opposite direction from where I actually was going - to the Physics building cafeteria. Where I decided to spend a few extra minutes buying a salad (for lunch), and a cup of coffee (for immediately).

As I swiped my card I remembered that I was running low on funds. So low, in fact, that my purchase got denied. I had to humiliate myself and ask the lunch lady to charge only the coffee. Fortunately, I had (just) enough for the that. Which I needed (immediately). And then I put the salad back.

Basically, by then my social awkwardness (yes, at least, as crisp as crisp gets: socwardness) had made me wish I could just sink into a well (of the "deep hole or shaft in the ground"-sense) that would magically appear before me. No such thing happened.

Karma. I guess.







3 comments:

Jan Morrison said...

I just wrote something and the dumb blogger gave me this message - The following errors were found:
Input error: Memcache value is null for FormRestoration

Who knew about memcache values? Not me.
I said that I totally grok what happened and wished for you and all of us to be able to just say 'hey - going that way but can't talk this morning.' In Buddhism we call what happened to you the protector principle. It is the phenomenal world's way of not so gently telling us to wake up! Like if I get mad at someone and kick my chair and in doing so break my toe. grrrr.
I love your humour!

Cold As Heaven said...

The physics building isn't a bad choice >:)

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

*falls over* I love you, Mari. I probably would have given directions, then stopped to buy something so she'd get far enough ahead (and I had a ready excuse to have not led her there--as I'd needed something)

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