The 4 Most Awkward Group Dynamics
The dynamics of speaking to people one-on-one versus in a group -- friends, family, strangers, a flock of weirdly attentive geese, etc. -- are vastly different. There are a lot of moving parts, lots of personalities and attention spans to appease, and lots of chances to feel like you're falling down a pit of social hell if you fail to spark interest or get caught in one of many horrid traps lying within them. What traps? Well, how about ...
Clinging to the One Person Paying Attention
Retaining the attention of a group of people can be like herding sheep -- you'll have them all moving single file in one direction, but then one heads over to a delicious patch of green grass off to the side and half of the others follow, a quarter of the group stops to hump each other, and the other quarter are fleeing to Mexico on a pontoon plane. If the subject you're discussing isn't up to snuff, you're going to lose them all, your feelings be damned.
"My friends are dicks."
A couple veer off to the side because that riveting story about how your Tupperware seems to be disappearing reminded some other members of the group of a much more interesting story about their incredible post-laundry sock-retention rate. So they split off, and all others quickly follow suit -- except for one. This one person is the speaker's lifeline. This person is the tiny outcropping of rock they cling to as they try not to slide down a mountainside and fall off a cliff.
As the group members mentally check out of the conversation, the speaker's eyes will dart from one person to another, looking for someone still paying attention. For a fleeting moment, they were the conversation rock star, sexually punishing everyone's brain-groupies. Now they've been demoted to playing strip mall grand openings and corporate pow-wows, hoping a tiny fraction of the attention they held just moments ago will return.
"Hello, Sherbury Outlet Mall! Are you ready for SAVINGS?!"
In some cases, you can even see a process of elimination occur. As their social panic attack grows, they shift their focus to someone new as each previous person stops caring, then another and another, all in the hope that someone will stop making them feel like a loser. It's painful to watch -- almost as painful as ...
Being the Only Remaining Member of a Former Group Conversation
There's a lot of pressure in being the only person left standing in what was once a group conversation. Everyone split off for a reason -- the topic sucked and the speaker did nothing to make it worth sticking around. The remaining listener is reasonable for preventing the speaker from adding everyone's name to the "People to Kill" list that hangs from their fridge.
The sole listener is a noble yet unenviable position. Losing an entire group's attention -- especially friends -- can cripple a person's social confidence. The lone listener is taking a bullet for the good of the group. No one wants to be bummed out by the puppy-dog eyes of the person who saw their buddies abandon their words one by one. The listener doesn't want to be rude like everyone who fled the conversation, but they can't begrudge them either. The listener probably wanted to bail on that verbal train wreck too, but was too late. It's a conversational version of trying to not be the last person to yell "Not it!"
Being the lone listener is made worse if you start picking up bits of the spin-off conversations. Regardless of the topics going on over there, it's a whole world of joy and wonderment that the listener is socially obligated to ignore. They want to have a verbal party with the wild frat down the street, but they're stuck getting lectured by someone who realistically should have been rendered brain dead from their own boredom minutes ago.
The grass is always greener on the side with beer pong and date rape.
Sometimes the group dynamic will naturally splinter off into small pockets of conversations without a speaker and listener being left alone to wither in silent agony. There can still be severe awkwardness within this amicable split, like when you're ...
The Only Person Who Has Yet to Join a Spin-Off Conversation
If you want a tiny taste of what it must be like to be a free agent that no team wants, get involved in a group conversation that organically splits off into smaller conversations, none of which include you. It's a strange occurrence. You saw the conversations splitting off, yet for no particular reason you didn't act, maybe figuring someone would naturally include you by opening their stance in a way that would allow you to naturally join in. Everyone has split off from the conversational empire and formed their own nations, but now you're an island hoping someone will bother to at least make you a commonwealth, open some whorehouses, and start an illicit drug empire on you.
Land nourished by the blood spilled in drug wars.
You're now left to decide which team of talkers you want to align yourself with. This part can be fun. It can make you feel powerful. I imagine it's what a vastly wealthy person feels like when they clap their hands and a team of servants brings them an exquisite assortment of pies to choose from for dessert. You can be overly picky for the hell of it. That luxurious feeling ends once the decision has been made and you're faced with finding a way into the conversation.
"Rodrigo, one more round then drown yourself in the servant drowning pool."
You can go about it by casually sliding into someone else's conversation and hoping they don't notice you hover in like a ghost longing to be among the living once more. Or, you can take the route that I've taken once or twice: Be a pathetic idiot and stand just outside of the conversation you've selected and hope someone notices you're there.
But none of it comes close to generating the same heightened level of panic as ...
Overhearing Your Name in Another Conversation
Your brain loves to fill in blanks, and usually with the most vile, self-destructive shit it can conjure. Give the brain a moment where it isn't sure if someone in another conversation is talking about it, and it will fill the void with the assumption that it's being called a repugnant scumbag.
Pictured: a huge dick.
First to arrive is the need to figure out the myriad ways you could have wronged the person who mentioned you. Maybe you pushed their mom into a pit of snakes and their way of dealing with it is talking about you behind your back? Maybe you threw their dog in a river and you're only just remembering it now? They could just be referencing an experience they shared with you, but that's too logical for the socially self-conscious brain to process.
In these moments, my brain will never assume the people talking about me are using me as an example of a really cool dude who recycles and never eats with his elbows on the table. It's never: "Blah, blah, blah, and he has the calf strength of four lions."
Or one jacked hamster.
That's the curse of finding social interaction difficult. Ultimately, no one's going to give even the tiniest morsel of a shit what you do or how you do it, or even that you did it at all. Yet, whenever something like anything I've mentioned occurs, the crew members that control my brain will place their hats over their hearts and sing the national anthem -- they've lost hope. Might as well go down with pride.
Luis is in an isolation chamber, cut off from all human contact. In the meantime, drop him a line on Twitter and Tumblr.