5 Situations That Are Secretly Terrifying for Awkward People
Months ago, I wrote about terrible situations for the socially awkward man, a column that was as fun to write as it was uncomfortable to live. I thought the five entries in that first article would be all that I'd have to say on the subject but, fortunately, being generally awkward in life means you're constantly doing research. One day I'll write a whole book on awkwardness, and it'll be terrible, but until then, please enjoy these new additions.
Getting Fitted for a Suit/Tuxedo
I don't wear or own a whole lot of suits. This is, in part, because my job doesn't require me to ever look presentable, (and until they start making suits in stained t-shirt form, they won't really fit into my personal style). Mostly though, I don't wear suits because getting measured and fitted for one is an absolute nightmare for the socially awkward man. I recently had to purchase a suit for a pretty elaborate heist I'm planning, and the experience fell somewhere between Having Surgery Performed on my Eyeball and Emergency-Pooping in the Woods on the Side of the Jersey Turnpike in Front of My Friends on the Spectrum of Things I'd Prefer Never Doing Again.
Getting fitted for a suit has all of the standard awkward hallmarks of having a stranger's hands all over you, (see: Getting a Massage, Getting a Haircut, Receiving Personal, Hands-On Instruction in Yoga), combined with the added humiliation of not being treated like a human. I've heard horror stories from other guys who've told me that, while being measured for a suit, there was a lot of unwelcome "ball-handling" committed by the tailor. That wasn't the case with me, but that doesn't mean my experience wasn't still terrible. All it meant was that I received swift embarrassment in unique and surprising ways, (and that the tailor missed out on the most magical and life-changing ball-handling of his career).
"No words. They should have... sent...a poet."
Going to a tailor means being surrounded on three sides by giant, well-lit mirrors, and on one side by a tailor who just sees you as another mannequin, a series of limbs for him to coldly and wordlessly stroke and poke at. He'll pinch your waist, glide his hands up and down your legs, and take complete control over your limp arms and you just have to stand there and not freak out, because there are other people waiting to get measured and they have nothing to do but watch you. As the socially awkward man-- because of the lights, and the touching, and all of the eyes-- you will get impossibly sweaty almost immediately, and the tailor will know. And you'll know he knows, and he'll think it's a horrible magic trick you're doing on purpose, because no one who gets that sweaty that quickly should have survived in nature, evolutionarily speaking.
At my fitting, in addition to the tailor, Julio, there was another attendant, a woman who (I hope?) worked at the suit store that liked watching. She didn't like something Julio was doing, and instead of communicating it with words, she grabbed the front of my pants, right at the button, because I am, again, a mannequin. I know she grabbed the button of my pants I told my penis, and I know this is going to be hard for you to believe, but that does not mean she wants to have sex with us. I know. I know, man, it's crazy. She said "pleats," pinched the front of my pants and then just shook them several times. Just tugged and shook, up and down-- my genitals flopping loosely with total abandon-- said "pleats" a few more times and asked Julio if he saw what she was talking about. "Do you see, Julio? ::shake flop shake, shake flop shake:: Do you see what I'm looking at?"
"You don't have to answer her, Julio."
It occurs to me that I might have just gone to the shittiest tailor in Los Angeles.
Following the Wrong Sport
Following sports is an important tool in the arsenal of the socially awkward man. If you're left alone with a guy you've never met before-- maybe you're waiting in line for a movie ticket, or maybe you're killing time while your respective girlfriends are in the bathroom-- the ability to talk casually about sports makes everything instantly easier. Neither of you needs to be charming or interesting or funny, you can just trade sports opinions and statistics until it's time to walk away from each other. This also works for video games and video game systems. Maybe you don't follow sports, but the guy you're hanging around with or your taxi driver happens to have the same new Call of Duty game that you have, so you can easily pass the next ten minutes without a moment of awkward silence. Sports, video games, sports video games- these are all good "Common Ground Topics" the socially awkward man should familiarize himself with. I don't know what subjects fall under the category of "Common Ground Topics" for women, (Smelling nice? Women's Tennis? My calf muscles?), but I'm sure plenty exist. (Military technology?)
"On the count of three, name your favorite WWII-era tank. 1. 2. 3. Panzer IV! OMG New best friend!"
A problem will arise if you're trapped with someone and you just happen to follow the sport/video game or body lotion/Williams sister that he or she doesn't follow. I watch football and basketball, but absolutely no baseball, because there's a lot of standing around involved and I have the attention span of table salt. So if I have to interact with someone who only follows baseball, or someone who is more up-to-date on their video gaming, (which is to say, anyone who has purchased a video game system after Sega CD), or literally anyone during the World Cup, then I'm doomed. If I try to talk about football and they want to talk about baseball, there's nothing useful either of us can do to find common ground. We can either stare at each other in silence or staunchly refuse to change our chosen topics.
Me: "The Giants are off to a rough start this year."
Guy: "The San Francisco Giants?"
Me: "No, New York. Football."
Guy: "Oh, I'm not a football guy; I thought you meant San Francisco, baseball. I was gonna say, they're doing alright. And I'd hardly call this a 'start,' the season's almost over."
Me: "I'm not really a baseball- I'm talking about football, now..."
Guy: "Affeldt is looking good this year."
Me: "I don't know who that is."
Guy: "Pitcher. For the Giants."
Me: "Okay, but, again, I actively avoid-"
Guy: "He's getting up there in age, but he's not showing it."
Me: "... The problem with the New York Giants is we lost so many receivers and didn't do anything to replace them."
Guy: "... I wouldn't mind seeing Casilla get a few more innings."
Me: "At least our defense showed up last-"
Guy: "I usually catch them when they play the Dodgers but this year-"
Me: "I think Manning would be more effective if he wasn't pathologically afraid of crowds and noises-"
Guy: "Pitching! Innings! Dugout! RBI!"
Going to Concerts
Even awkward people like music. They're just, you know... bad at it. You like live music and your favorite band is in town, but you're not sure if you want to go the concert, because you don't know how to dance and you're afraid of being in a big group of strangers because the family crest of the Awkward Clan is a scrawny lion that doesn't know what to do with its hands.
You are the only one at the concert who doesn't know how to move right. The band you're seeing doesn't play dance music, but still some people are dancing. Should you do that? Obviously not, because you look terrible when you do. And everyone else seems to know exactly what to yell, ("Woo"), and exactly when to yell it, (when the moment is right). All of these tricks are lost on you, because you're only really good at listening to music quietly in your headphones as a way of avoiding conversations with people. Some people can scream "Woo!" with total conviction, but not you; when you shout "Woo," it's clear to everyone that your subtext is "Did I do that right?" Even though it's three letters, one syllable, and even though it's barely a word, screaming "Woo!" at a concert is all about confidence, which you absolutely don't have.
Being a quiet, shy person at a concert is tough. You're worried that not everyone around you realizes that your silence and blank expression is how you look when you're enjoying yourself. You don't want to look like a dick, you want to fit in, but you don't know how move and no one taught you how to scream. You could sing along, but the people around you don't want to hear you sing. You wish you could just stand calmly and nod in contentment, but this is a concert and there are new rules. You need to somehow communicate that you appreciate what the band is doing, so you wait for a break in the action and shout "I appreciate what you are doing."
And that is absolutely the wrong answer.
"This music is pleasing. To my ears. I enjoyed the songs you played. I look forward to more. Hi, I'm Daniel."
Gym Locker Rooms
The problem with a locker room isn't that it's inherently uncomfortable to be naked and sweaty in a room full of guys who are similarly naked and sweaty. Yes, that's weird, but most guys in the world know that it's weird, so we all collectively agree to make it as comfortable as possible by not talking to or looking at anyone. We dress quickly, we shower quickly, and reduce the amount of time that we're actually naked around each other to an absolute minimum.
Most of us do, anyway.
The real problem is that, in every locker room in every gym at all times, there are people that are way, way too comfortable. They'll get naked, and then they'll just hang around and talk to you. Ask you how your day was. Ask you what you plan on working out. They're not saying anything weird; they're just being friendly. But, more than that, they're being naked.
Guy: "Hey, Dan, long time no see, how've you been?"
Me: "Oh, just... Oh. No, nothing, just- Changing quickly and staring at the floor."
Guy: "Nice. Whatcha working on today?"
Me: "Mostly doing my best to not see your dick, because we work together. And I don't like dicks, as a- just as a general, thing-"
Guy: "Cool, nice, yeah. I'm actually taking the day off today; tore my ACL last week."
Me: "Yeah that'll- Wait, what the fuck are you doing in here?"
"Wife's really been ridin' my ass about fixin' our lawnmower. Women, right? Oh well. Read any good books lately?"
There's no explanation for it. There just exists a type of guy who, under normal circumstances, will never casually hang out naked around other guys. Until he gets to the gym. Then it's all he does and he loves it.
Have you ever interacted with someone who was so unwaveringly comfortable with something seemingly weird that it made you actively question if you were weird for not being equally comfortable? That's what these people do. They come into the locker room with an air of "FINALLY, I can just be naked around my dude friends, right guys?" And no one's ever told them we're not on board. It's like they're so evolved that they wouldn't consider even for a second that you wouldn't want to do naked Captain Morgan poses in the locker room and talk about your weekend plans.
"Yeah, I gotta take the kids over to- What's that? No, I don't need a towel, I've got one draped over my shoulders. Thanks though.
Being Your Age and Interacting With Anyone Else Your Age, Under Any Circumstances
Intellectually and emotionally speaking, the socially awkward man is always five years younger than he technically is, because awkwardness is all about being slightly behind everyone else, always.
When you're awkward, even the act of getting older makes you feel out of place. You enter college and you look around at all of the people making new friends, successfully managing their new freedom, experimenting with new facial hair, and you feel like they were given a set of College Survival Instructions that inexplicably never reached you. Everyone's already a College Guy or Woman, except you. You're still just a High School Kid in college. Eventually, you figure it out but, by the time you graduate, there are new rules, and then you're the last person to figure out what those rules are. Again.
Your friends who were College Guys and Women quickly and magically become Working Adult Men and Women. When you leave college and get a real job and work for a few years, your coworkers will suddenly start talking about stocks, and 401(K)'s, and they won't for a second assume that you don't know what they're talking about. They're all thinking "Well, you're 26 now, so obviously you have a rich and active stock portfolio; let's now talk about it at length." Meanwhile, you're thinking Actually I keep all of my money in the checking account I've had since high school, except for a few dollars that I keep in my glove compartment in case I ever need some loose cash to buy fast food, because I am an eight-year-old with a car.
"How many McNuggets can I get for this much?"
And normally I don't have a problem interacting with the people my age. It's only when they bring up stuff that people my age are supposed to be thinking about do things fall apart. When a friend asked me what my company's 401(K) plan was like, I vaguely remembered throwing out the paperwork because it had a bunch of questions that scared and confused me, ("What should we do with all of your money when you die, Daniel?). When I met with a Financial Advisor for the first time and he asked me if I had any interest in buying a house soon, it took every fiber of my being to stop myself from saying, "Why, no, I'm not a Daddy. That's really more of a Dad thing."
"I was actually saving up all my money to buy a few fistfuls of puppies. Is- Should I not be doing that?"
And the truth is that everyone else is probably just as dumb as you are. They're just as confused, and just as unprepared. The difference is that they know how to fake it, and you don't, because faking requires confidence, and you're not the guy with confidence. You're the guy who's afraid that if people hear you pee, they'll know you're doing it wrong, (somehow).
You've just got to learn how to fake it. Hey, you know a good way to fake being an adult? You should just go buy a suit and... oh, right.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and he is desperately working on his social awkwardness, (la-...ladies).