5 Stupid Reasons Life is Terrifying for Awkward People
Social awkwardness is familiar territory for many Cracked columnists, due in no small part to the fact that 100 percent of our social interactions involve at least one Cracked columnist. Luckily, we're far from alone in this ailment. In fact, I personally believe that no one is fully capable of proper social interaction.
Still, some of the most bullshit situations our awkward asses face in our daily lives are also the ones that are most unavoidable. That's why I've compiled this short list of everyday scenarios that can and will get brutally awkward. Let's see if we can figure out how to survive them in one piece.
Do you like commuting? That's a trick question -- no one likes commuting. I definitely don't. These days, a single bus gets me from home to the office in just 15 minutes, but I remember with dread the days of tram, train, and two separate bus combos required to get to some of my old jobs. For every time public transport has gotten me to my destination in an affordable-ish and kind-of-timely manner, it has also offered ample opportunities to sample dozens of different variations of armpit stank and all-too-literal eau d'toilette in too-full subway cars. A month of commuting gives you more involuntary bodily contact with random hobos than a lifetime of dating gives you voluntary contact with sexual partners.
Don't get me wrong: in theory, public transport is a fine, green concept that I genuinely feel every city is morally obliged to develop and maintain. However, actually using it invariably gives me the fucking creeps.
This is not an uncommon sentiment among my awkward acquaintances. Sometimes, the whole "stuff yourself in a metal box with other human sardines" thing is just too much, even if we're not talking about Tokyo-level jam-packs. It's all too easy to become discomforted in a closed space with a bunch of armpits, and sooner or later it's going to get to you. Travel long enough and eventually you start to shuffle awkwardly, maybe even mutter under your breath a little whenever someone pushes past you and accidentally kneecaps you with the clearly lead-filled duffel bag that they for whatever reason absolutely had to bring in the rush-hour subway. It makes you so mad, you could scream.
Wait, holy shit, did you just actually scream?
How to Deal With It:
Hey, you know what all that shuffling and visible discomfort and awkwardness makes you in the eyes of your fellow travelers?
Hint: it's this guy.
The creepiest part of the public transit experience is invariably the "spot the freak" game that you wind up playing whether you like it or not. There's a very specific set of unspoken rules to being in an enclosed space with your peers, and they all amount to one thing: be normal. The more nervous you get and the more the situation gives you anxiety, the more sweating/fidgeting/being anxious/outright yelling you are likely to do. Congratulations! You're now the freak no one wants to make eye contact with and everyone avoids like the plague.
Wait -- don't run off to the nearest subway system to go full C.H.U.D. just yet! You can also use your newfound status in the commuter caste system as a form of mental protection. Once you wrap your brain around the whole freak thing, you'll find you're essentially the King of Commute: instead of thinking everyone else is out to get you, you can now relish the knowledge that they're all doing their best to give you a wide berth. That sort of thinking can be a lifesaver in an overly crowded bus, and it doesn't even require you to actually poop your pants and pelt people with live ferrets -- just the idea of being that oddly scented fuck-you of a person everyone wants to steer clear of can offer plenty of mental protection.
Just remember to watch out for Frank the Stabby Hobo after 7 p.m. He's not too keen on competition.
The Unexpectedly Angry Boss
It's a beautiful day. The sun is shining. The birds are singing, or at least making noises that probably pass for songs in your job as a turkey masturbator. You're minding your business and taking care of your work as per usual, when suddenly your boss appears -- and holy shit, the man is furious. From the way he proceeds to verbally tear you several new ones, it's immediately clear that he feels you've fucked something up. Somewhere along the tirade, you may even manage to figure out what it was. Still, all that matters right now is that you're in for a hell of a professional donkey punch.
The Angry Boss Surprise is one of the unsung obstacles of virtually any job. Regardless of what you actually do for a living (I generously assume not more than 40 percent of you actually violate poultry for a paycheck), if you've ever held a job in your life you've probably experienced some variation of the theme. Maybe it was because you genuinely forgot to do something. Maybe some asshat of a co-worker laid the blame on you for that huge pot stash behind the deep fryer. Or perhaps the boss found out that his wife just took off with a cadre of Bolivian sex dwarfs, and one of them happens to sort of look like you if he squints. It doesn't matter, really -- all that matters is that he's raining on you like a ton of shitbricks, and you're caught completely off guard.
In awkward-person circles, the situation is affectionately known as "the worst nightmare."
How to Deal With It:
It's simple: don't.
At this point, the comment section is probably starting to fill with heroic stories about dudes who bravely reacted to this terrible slight by wrestling their boss into a pretzel shape and dipping him in that deep fryer. Then they quit, trashed the place, and walked away to punch the sunset. Don't do that shit. Don't even do that thing they really did, which is snarked back a bit and got fired.
This is actually the one situation where your natural lack of social interaction capabilities turns into an outright superpower. Here's why: unless you work for a Nether God or some shit, your boss is a human being. This means that, unless they're a complete sociopath (in which case you might want to look into other employment opportunities anyway), they're going to feel like a real butt after giving your oblivious face an astronomic scolding for reasons you clearly weren't aware of. Oh, they're not going to admit it outright. They're the boss, after all. But there's a very decent chance that they're at least going to cut you some slack in the immediate future -- that is, if you had the good sense to refrain from shoveling shit right back at them.
Especially if your job entails shoveling actual shit.
So embrace your natural awkwardness and meekly stare and mumble your way through the ordeal. If it was a genuine fuck-up on your part, you'll actually learn an important lesson and can avoid this in the future. And if it wasn't ... well, it's not like you have to retaliate by filling your boss' car with spiders today.
So you're chilling in a corner and hoping you can get through the day without the world noticing you in any way, when a boss/teacher/war-demon with superior rank comes along and says the dreaded words: "Hey, could you give us a few pointers on Latvian break-dancing at the [class/meeting/communal bile pit] tomorrow?" Technically, this is no problem -- you know everything there is to know about the subject.
As does the image library we subscribe to.
In practice, however, you're in for seven sorts of pain. The very idea of standing in front of an audience -- however small and familiar -- and having to blurt out bullshit while everyone's eyes are on you is enough to fill you with icy dread.
The Presentation -- namely, any situation where you have to efficiently convey information to an audience -- is a peculiar scenario that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with an inability to perform in front of watchful eyes (insert your own porn-star joke here). It's not stage fright, either. Tons of actors have that, yet they have no problem tearing into their roles in front of hundreds or thousands or millions of spectators. No, the Presentation is not about having to stand up there. It's about having to stand up there and appear to know your shit. Most of us have the exact same deepest, darkest secret, which is that we're really just winging it through our lives. The Presentation reminds us of that and forces us to pretend otherwise while people are watching. If there's an awkward bone in your body, that's the kind of situation that's going to bring it up.
Hehehehehe. "Bone." "Up."
How to Deal With It:
Realize that no one cares.
You're not Arnold Schwarzenegger giving a TED talk. You're just some fuck going through some PowerPoint slides because your boss told you to. Your audience is sitting there because that same boss told them it's mandatory. So no one gives a shit. Everyone's bored and zoning out, including the boss (in the unlikely event that he's there at all). Even the obligatory office kiss-ass who actually takes notes and asks questions at the end of long meetings isn't going to pay you any attention. They're too busy processing the information you convey.
When you're up there, keep reminding yourself that you don't need to cope with being the center of attention, because even if someone is actually following the show, you're never its star. The content is. Maybe it's top-notch, maybe it's bullshit. Either way, you're just a drone mumbling away in the background, and the most attention your person is going to get from the audience is the way they instinctively avoid eye contact in case you ask them a question. By the fifth slide, you might as well be juggling live possums in front of them and they wouldn't notice.
And if they do, just follow the possums' lead.
Honest moment: is anyone not scared shitless by banks? If you said yes, you're either born wealthy or living off the grid in an end-of-the-world commune. For pretty much everyone else, chances are you've had a few run-ins with The Bank. I capitalized that shit because not only are banks terrifying, I use the word as an umbrella term for all institutions that deal with moving money in ways that confuse me. Besides, Big Money just sounds kind of stupid.
Be it an insurance company, an actual bank, or any finance-related institution you can shake your empty wallet at, dealing with representatives of the industry is the opposite of a good time even if you're extremely social and outgoing. For the awkward person, it's the fourth circle of hell. Your finances are probably the most intimate thing about you apart from your sexuality, and those 2,000 pages of erotic Smurfs fan fiction you've been posting from that account you still haven't realized links to your Facebook profile (sorry you had to find out this way, Brian) have already well and truly compromised the latter. Having to discuss money stuff with a stranger is already bad enough if you actually have money to talk about. In a far more likely scenario where you're applying for a loan or whatnot, chances are your bank visit is going to be one thinly veiled panic attack.
Shit can get awkward as shit, is what I'm saying.
"And that's the reason I entered the bank screaming and wearing a pantyhose mask, officer."
How to Deal With It:
Think of dealing with your finances as a job. Not a chore like most people see it -- a full-on job. That way, you can use your work game face and detach yourself from the situation enough to pull through.
Throughout my student days, my understanding of finance (and, as such, ability to interact with financial institutions) was strictly limited to "I now have enough money to buy beer" and "I now don't. Shiiiiiiiit." One day I realized I could use my Work Face (patent pending) to deal with fiscal issues that my awkward private self was unable and/or unwilling to face.
Not ... not that work face. The other one. Jesus.
Sure, if you're not into keeping your personal and professional identities separate (and it is a mixed bag at best), this might not be the greatest solution. But in my experience, it's one of the better moves for the purpose of keeping your socially awkward self at least somewhat secluded and sane when it comes to finances. At least, as long as the Bank-You isn't the kind of dick who would rip off the Private-You, and then you wind up having a schizophrenic showdown, Fight Club-style.
Falling for someone is never what you'd call easy on the emotions. Its effects are eerily similar to those of the fight or flight reflex, and Cthulhu forbid if it all goes south; a breakup brings you so many detrimental effects on your mental health, it's crazy (sorry). Yet we sail on our space rock as a species that relies on this whole "love" bullshit to survive, which means each and every one of our brains is hardwired to be dealt the dick punch of amor.
Now, bring social awkwardness into the mix, and you might as well replace your brain with a hand grenade.
The Scanners defense mechanism is effective but has its issues.
Speaking as an adequately awkward dude, there is not a single fucking thing on this Earth that's more difficult than talking to a lady that you like. Not one. Inside my head, I'd fight 20 bankers with a spork before saying hello to a crush any day of the week. I know for a fact that I'm far from the only one with this problem: most awkward/introverted people I know have difficulty talking with potential love interests. Yet, through some demon magic, as far as I can tell we seem to be able to form relationships with approximately the same wobbly amount of success as our extrovert peers.
So, what the fuck is going on? How can we, the folks who, if we could choose, would spend our lives huddled behind the couch with a good book and a pile of sandwiches, manage to find a mate as if we are people?
How to Deal With It:
Find your comfort zone and try to act like a decent human being. More often than not, things will take their course. Yeah, I realize that sounds tacky, but it's literally the only explanation I've been able to find in my years of scratching my head over the peculiarities of romance.
I've written an entire column about the various pitfalls of dating, and when real feelings enter the equation everything's just going to be 100 times more awkward. However, my central point in that piece applies here as well: find familiar ground. Stick to situations and places where you're comfortable and able to relax (and don't claim you can't think of any -- all human beings come pre-equipped with a tendency to pick a home base).
You can't always keep within the confines of that mental pillow fortress, but just having access to it will help when it comes to communicating with the object of your desire. In that column I mentioned earlier, I explained that I met my girlfriend unexpectedly, in a relaxed outing with an old friend. I got plenty of messages about similar situations -- people have fallen in love in supermarkets, during game nights with friends, at dance lessons, fighting the blood orc horde of G'kharr the Skullfucker ... you get it. Unexpectedly, naturally, deep in their own comfort zones.
So, you know, maybe try that shit if you feel awkwardness is getting in the way of your love life. And, maybe, if all goes well, you'll find someone who loves you back, and then you start dating, and then you can start a brand new loop of awkwardness as you need to interact with your new partner's friends, and family, and alien habits, and ...
Shit, I just made it worse, didn't I?
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Things No One Tells You About Dating Until It's Too Late and 4 Creepy Ways Growing Older Shapes Your Thoughts.
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