There is this little tear in the fabric of time and space that I like to call the great zone of awkwardness. In this zone one experiences extreme discomfort, paralysis and disorientation in a social setting. The only saving grace is that this zone lasts for a short burst of time before one quickly crawls back onto the seamless fabric and walks on pretending the zone never happened.
So naturally I thought I’d list down the most prominent forays into the zone:
1. The Missed Smile – When someone smiles at you and you’re thinking about pizza or Chris Hemsworth or Chris Hemsworth on a pizza and it takes a nanosecond longer than necessary for you to register their smile. But in that nanosecond they have taken your intense pizza/Chris Hemsworth mulling gaze to denote pure, cold hatred and indifference to them and stopped smiling and even looking in your direction. And at that exact moment as when they avert their gaze you smile back, only to stop because you’ve already made an enemy for life. Damn it Chris Hemsworth pizza!
2. The Hug Conundrum – Now for the people who fall into the vaguest bucket of social connections: acquaintances, there are no set rules of greeting. Sometimes you just smile at them, other times a little wave is fine, sometimes you hug them (sideways of course! No second base to second base action for acquaintances!). But the pickle happens when someone dithers between these states. For example, you spot an acquaintance and decide to go with an enthusiastic, “Hey!” and stretch out your right hand for a hand shake. But as your hand begins to move you notice that the acquaintance is shifting their body indicating their choice of greeting to be a side hug. Now your hand is going at them, while they are exposing their left side and leaning towards you. Both of you lock eyes in horror, knowing that a terrible awkwardness is about to ensue. And then both of you stop. Hand mid-air, turned sideways. Then you settle for a wave that dies before it rises.
3. The Do-I-Know-You – This happens in passing thankfully. You’ve indirectly engaged with one another, probably at work, or at a party. And then you’re out in the mall shopping when you spot them at a distance. Both of you look at each other, recognise each other and then look away like you’ve looked at Medusa. You hold your breath as you pass them by and exhale in relief and think, “That’s that.” Until you meet them again at another random party or at work.
4. The Silence Of The Unknown Lambs – Everyone talks about that movie’s title with a grim awe and I just wonder if the lambs were silent because they just didn’t know one another. Sometimes you’re out with a bunch of people who know your friends and by some miserable stroke of luck (or inability to sprint first into a restaurant) you are seated next to people you’ve only met that evening. There is small talk happening that peters away to silence as you wait for food to arrive. Now this silence is no ordinary silence. It is heavy and prickly and so painfully awkward you want to breathe louder just to break it. But after fidgeting and pretending to be unduly interested in the cutlery, someone begins to talk of the weather and you join in with such gusto and feign such interest and knowledge about weather patterns in your area and around the globe that one could mistake you for the local news’ weather person.
5. The Inconsiderate Question – At times you’re cruising along on a different frequency in your head when someone is talking to you. But your expression is a ninja: such concentration, such dedication lines your face that the speaker actually feels helium balloons of joy floating within him or her for the unadulterated attention. And just when everyone is happy: you in your wonderful world far away and the speaker in fervently regaling you with their super-important story, out of nowhere, the speaker asks you a question. The droning is cut off and you realise something is amiss. In panic you try to tune back to the frequency of the speaker. But you can’t. The speaker’s eyes are on you. Expectant. Waiting.
“So what do you think?”
Your heart is hammering. There are two choices in front of you:
a) Admit your folly. And watch as the speaker mentally castrates you.
b) Try and wing it by saying something like, “I think that is great!”
Of course this has a 50% chance of working. I mean if the speaker is talking about how she accidentally killed a woman while driving drunk the previous night, I’m guessing that is not an appropriate response.
6. The Poor Eyesight Tragedy – This is specific to people who have poor far vision and refuse to or forget to wear glasses. You’re walking along happily in the office, in the park, or on a street and you spot a shape: it’s blurry, has two legs and black hair with dark clothes. You smile in delight and think to yourself, that’s Mike!
“Hey Mike!” you shout out and wave.
Now Mike is close enough and you realise to your utter horror that it is a complete stranger with red hair, bright yellow clothes and that the stranger is a woman. You have no option but to lower your raised hand on your head, look up and around and shout, “Can someone get me a mic? I’d like to begin my speech now. Mic! Mic!”
Then there is the flip side. You’re walking along happily in the office, in the park, or on a street and you spot a shape: it’s blurry, has two legs and black hair with dark clothes. You smile in delight and think to yourself, that’s Mike! But then you remember the last time you had thought it was Mike and how embarrassing that had been. So you stare long and hard at the blurry shape and suddenly look away and pretend not to know him as you pass him by. But then as you walk past him you realise he is staring at you with a hurt expression. Because of course it is Mike!
And now there is nothing you can do. Mike thinks you’re a jerk. End of friendship.