*suddenly becomes self-conscious*

Hey there,

I was in the communal bit of the library today – for those of you non-UCL people, or scientists who’ve never actually been to the main library – which is a small circular area with benches and chairs that people can chat and eat in, safe from the crushing obligation to do work of the library proper.

I was originally going to write a Local Celebrities post about a woman with a bizarre way of using her laptop, as she placed the computer on a chair then sat cross-legged in front of it on the floor, but have decided against such a thing.

Instead of highlighting the quirks of another, I’m going to write about my own quirks; I have gone from the online documenter, to the online documented.

Because I realised, oh too late, that for a good few people there I would be that guy; that person with a particular quirk or trait you see in public, and go home to tell your friends about in a vaguely smug and sneering manner. It doesn’t matter if you’ve cured cancer or fought crime, if you trip over a kerb and squeal reflexively you’ll be The Guy Who Tripped And Sounded Like A Pig to some idiot and their friends for the next hour.

And today, I fell into that category.

I ate some crisps in an otherwise silent room.

Now, I must stress that I wasn’t breaking any rules. Food is allowed in this space, and most of the people around me were eating, or chatting away happily. But then they stopped eating. And the conversations trickled away. Then the footfall of passers-by stopped, depriving me of the cover of even simple footsteps. It was suddenly silent.

*munch*

*munch*

*munch*

*munchmunchmunchmunchmunch*

Frak. I’d so become that guy. I could feel their looks, their quickly-averted gazes as I worked my way through my lunch with increasing hurriedness, that only served to make my chewing louder and more frantic, disruption born out of the ironic fear of being disruptive. One of them probably runs a blog with their middle name plastered all over the URL for no good reason, and they’re gonna write about me on their sardonic, black-backgrounded online canvas.

Perhaps not, but the idea still works; I’ve been more aware of what people think of me in the last few months, and now that self-awareness is seeping into my (albeit limited) interactions with strangers. I’m not cripplingly self-aware – it’s not like I abandoned the crisps as soon as I realised people might be looking at me – but it’s something that’s registering on my mind, whereas in the past I’d have imagined myself in a bubble where there are no other people and I can act as I please.

Because I can’t act as if I’m the most important person in the world; I’m simply not. It didn’t take a packet of crisps to tell me this, but it’s a nice metaphor.

Casey

The Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness

Hi again,

First up yes, I didn’t post for a few days. Yes, I’m still the same person who sustained a 150-odd daily post streak last year.

I realised, however, that forcing myself to write is never a good thing; the last few days I was feeling sad, and instead of putting on a happy or upbeat face to write a quirky blog post, I thought eating Oreos and playing Civ V would be a less painful exercise. And, sure enough, I’m now feeling good again, so am getting back to blogging. This isn’t to say that writing in general is destructive when I’m feeling down – the opposite is true, in fact – but writing in this manner, on a personal blog that aims to be amusing most of the time, requires me to be confident in myself, and feel good enough to want to make jokes. If one of these conditions isn’t met, the posts, and the overall blog, will suffer; a lot of the bitchier, more aggressive posts on my last blog came from me writing from a position of sadness and fear, and in those moments anger is a comforting substitute for a real solution.

So there may not be posts absolutely every day on here, but I’m feeling better as a result; if the choice is a blogging streak or my mental health, I’m sorry WordPress, but you’re not winning that one.

Now, let us talk about social awkwardness, a topic analysed, laughed at and cried over by literally everyone to have ever booted up a computer and stumbled waywardly onto the homepage of YouTube, Reddit, or even just Facebook. Some people are afraid of awkwardness, others wear it as a badge of quirky, indie honour, others despise it as the result of an increasingly oversensitive society; and there are a million more opinions held by a billion more people.

My interpretation of this much-analysed social phenomenon is that it’s more of an event than a state of being; people aren’t socially awkward in the way that they’re friendly or anxious, but suffer from socially awkward events in the way that they experience memorably events and painful events.

For instance, today I locked eyes for half a nanosecond with someone who I think is from my course but honestly I couldn’t tell; they smiled at me – so we must know each other from somewhere – and I think I recognised them from the glimpse I got, but I can’t really say.

Now, I would call this a socially awkward situation, but I’d not say that I’m socially awkward. The awkwardness comes from my inability to remember people’s faces, the fact that I struggle to talk to strangers or people I don’t know very well, and the speed of the entire exchange that meant the whole thing was over before I had a chance to respond to it. These traits prevented me from smiling back, or stopping this person to chat about it.

You may call the combination of these traits ‘social awkwardness’ as a trait itself, but socially awkward situations can arise from so many personal traits that I’d find that difficult to do. A situation can be awkward because you’re shy, or not feeling like talking, or distracted by something else, or afraid of that person, or you make a mistake in remembering who they are and what they do, or an infinite number of other very specific behaviours.

To simplify all of this into ‘social awkwardness’ is an oversimplification that I think can be very harmful; I’ve spent a lot of my life not talking to people, or being afraid of sending emails to teachers or calling doctors and dentists, and when I found the Internet and its social awkwardness-blaming culture, I found false comfort. I placed myself in the ‘Irreversibly Socially Awkward’ category, which was comforting for a time, but then I realised I was still unable to make new friends, or keep old ones, or engage in people professionally, so this newfound label didn’t really help. I may have gone too far the other way now – breaking down each of my behaviours and mannerisms to identify which of the rainbow of Sims 4 traits I best personify – but at least I know how I’m flawed in more detail. I know that I used to be very dismissive of other people’s opinions, which I’ve tried to correct in the last eighteen months; I used to treat people with disrespect when they talked about something they liked rather than humouring my by feigning an interest in something I liked, which I’ve also worked on. I’ve not corrected these negative traits entirely, and I have a myriad of others that I probably don’t even realise, but I think I’m a more tolerable and tolerant person than I was two years ago; than I was six months ago, even.

So while diagnosing yourself as socially awkward can be a relief, it’s not a solution as far as I can tell. It’s a cultural phenomenon too broad to ever be improved upon by itself, so I would encourage breaking it down into smaller traits that can be managed, or altered, or unlearned altogether.

The more harmful traits I remove, the less the Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness hangs over me; unless I lock eyes with an acquaintance in the library, of course.