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You can't have a society without having social interaction, and you can't have that without the kinds of faux pas that we all work ceaselessly to avoid yet will periodically dive into regardless as passersby gaze on in horror. A lifetime of level 99 awkwardness has given me special insight into such varsity-level cringe, and it's important to catalogue this stuff so one knows what to avoid (or at least so the awkward among us can pitifully revel in our shared incompetence) so here then are some of the more cataclysmic of social disasters ...

Awkward Silence

Best to ease into this with something common -- the traditional situation of two people who can't think of anything to say to one another specifically placed in a situation where they must. Why is it awkward? Because we want to be well-liked but at the same time we don't want to have to like everyone, and here the two collide in an elevator with whatshisname from sales. Human interaction is a spectrum, and at both ends are the ability to communicate wordlessly, and awkward silence is at the bad end because it's the rare time when we openly convey to someone that because they have nothing in common with you it'd be a relief if they were to just blink out of existence.

How to Avoid:

Always take the stairs -- literally and metaphorically. Take the road less traveled, where just being there is an automatic connection to anyone else you meet. Better stairs than stares.

The Non-Freudian Slip

This is the act of inadvertently saying something so grotesquely offensive that it seemingly HAS to be on purpose but actually isn't -- it's just a ghastly coincidence. Not that anyone will believe you ...

I did this in high school once. A kid, let's call him Harold, was talking about being afraid to walk home through the park because the city had been spraying a bunch of insecticide that day. Upon hearing this my brain reflexively called up my inner List of Stock Humor Situations and I selected one and remarked in response that yeah, with all those chemicals you'd probably end up growing an extra arm or something. Perfectly solid Humorous Response -- y'know, it's like how on The Simpsons the radiation makes fish grow three eyes -- so what's the problem? Oh, did I mention that Harold was notable for having been born with only one arm?

It wasn't intentional -- it was an autonomous reply absentmindedly being said to the exact, specific wrong person. In the same way that 3rd degree burns can be painless, I mercifully can't remember the immediate aftermath -- possibly because of the next thing on this list.

How to Avoid:

There's no help for people like us -- all you can do is shamble along the fringes of society, parlaying your idiocy into vaguely amusing articles on comedy websites in some futile lifelong attempt at penance.

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The Super, Super Delayed Action Realization

This is when you only realize the implications of a social situation at a comically distant point from which it occurred. For instance, in another hideously non-fictional example, you're alone at school with that girl you really like but who has a boyfriend already and you're ostensibly doing some theater role-playing exercises, giving each other fictional situations to play through, and as the afternoon wanes she gives you the scene "What would you say to try and win over a girl you like who's already seeing someone" and you're like, oh, well, and you give some five minute speech to a hypothetical girl with a boyfriend about how you'd feel in that situation, and after a huge pause she says "Is there anyone you feel that way about in real life ...?" and then cut to literally eight years later and it's a quiet Tuesday morning and you're randomly thinking back on that day and how your reply was "No, not really," even though you pretty much felt that way about her, you always just assumed she wasn't interested because otherwise she would have given you some kind of hint, and then and only then do you realize that you are in fact the stupidest person who has ever lived, ever, EVER. This is the super, super delayed action realization, and we who live it are the damned.

How to Avoid:

While it's hospitalization-level traumatizing to occasionally not realize that people are interested in you, it's still better than the opposite problem of erroneously assuming that everyone is hitting on you. Or simultaneously doing both in a way that ensures that your expectations perfectly never intersect with reality. Not that I'd know anything about that.

The Fatal Delay

Somebody at a social gathering says something that you want to riff on, and your hilarious response manoeuvres its way down from your rusted, creaking mental machinery. But just before it emerges into the light another person slips in with a remark, and through the magic of unfortunate timing your response now inadvertently seems like a hyper-offensive follow-up to what this new person has just said.

How to Avoid:

You can't. And even worse, your fate is the next entry on this list ...

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The Paralyzer

This is when you enter a social situation and what happens is so contrary to your expectations that your brain just BSODs, leaving you standing there not able to move or think (and probably mockingly youtubed just for good measure). This includes planning to say something and then failing, or saying what you'd planned but getting an unplanned reaction, or both, or saying something you hadn't planned on and then just leaving it out there even though you in no way meant it because 0x0000011D EVENT_TRACING_FATAL_ERROR.

How to Avoid:

Don't plan too far ahead, and ensure that you maintain a realistic self-image of how suave you are or aren't. And I would also suggest that as a society we adopt a 10-second grace period after something crazy is said wherein it is determined if the person actually intended it, or if they are so aghast by what they've accidentally come out with that they're unable to repeal it independently. "Did you mean to say that?" "Yes, Deborah, it was in fact my intention to hatefully suggest a range of farm equipment that you might insert into your anus because I impugn your right to exist." "OK, thank you very much for the clarification," etc.

Did I mean to say that arm remark, Harold? NO I FUCKING DID NOT, HAROLD!

The Pitchfork in the Road

I think there's an existing term for this but I can't remember so I thought of my own. (Bonus Entry #8: Publicly acting like you're the first person to think of something completely obvious.) Anyway, this is the horror of somehow managing to bungle yourself into a situation where there's no way to proceed that won't make the situation ten thousand times worse -- social disaster is the only direction forward. Say nothing and it's bad, say anything and it's bad, run screaming into the woods and it's still bad but at least you can't bother anyone else.

How to Avoid:

You can't, so just move into the woods preemptively. I'll see you there! (Don't talk to me though.)

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The Unintentional Asshole

This is when new information horribly colors what you've just said. You're happily badmouthing someone when it's revealed that the person you're talking to is their beloved relative/friend/ninja bodyguard. Or, more commonly, you find out that who you're badmouthing simply doesn't deserve it ...

You're ranting about how some celebrity is an unbearable scourge when you're told about the horiffic problems that they've somehow surmounted to become a celebrity. That Hey, Ash webseries sure is an unfunny piece of shit, I hope she gets eaten alive by- oh, wait. Man, Pamela Anderson sure is a vapid land monster, I hope she dies in a- oh, wait. Oh, wait. Oh, wait. OH, WAIT. Everyone I make fun of ends up having a backstory that makes me look like a complete asshole. I guess I'll just try and only make fun of people who have absolutely no problems whatsoever. Oh, wait ...

How to Avoid:

Just to be safe, don't badmouth anyone. Seriously, there's nothing to be lost here. There's no such thing as an unintentional asshole -- there are just assholes. Let's make fun of them. Oh, wait ...


You'll never go your entire life without experiencing at least one social situation where you end up frantically begging for death, so all you can do is be vigilant. And for fuck's sake try to be understanding when another awkward soul unintentionally enters a conversation like a train going over a log. Inside you can of course swell with self-satisfaction that it's not you for once. Just don't say it out loud. That would be socially disastrous ...

Winston Rowntree is also available in webcomic form. Like me on facebook too or i'll get you...

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