Some people out there are innately cool. Whatever is happening, they know enough about society and its expectations to conduct themselves in an acceptable and awesome manner. They don’t get nervous every time they have to meet new people, they don’t worry for hours about making a phone call, and they don’t despair over the way they ordered a glass of water in a restaurant. They are the Samuel L. Jacksons of social situations, and I am one of them.
I don’t know what the opposite of Samuel L. Jackson is, but I think it’s either one of those really shivery dogs or me. Not every situation throws me for a hand-wringing, stomach-dropping loop (For example, eating Cheez-Its. I am so good at eating Cheez-Its I can’t even stand it). Unfortunately, there are some things out there that most people can handle with grace, but that reduce me to a puddle of socially-awkward goo.
Uncomfortable Situation #1: Waking Up First or Last at Slumber Parties
Waking up first at a sleepover is a terrible thing. As a kid, I’d tell my friends to wake me up when they got up, and I’d do the same, but waking someone up is way too hard. If you’re awake first, you can’t bounce onto your friend’s chest and yell. You have to resort to more subtle strategies. If you’re on the bottom of a bunk bed, for example, you can poke the mattress until they open their eyes. You can clear your throat repeatedly, but not loudly. You can roll around a lot and hope your rustling wakes them. Whatever you do, when they finally wake up and say something, you have to act really tired and disoriented like you just woke up too. It’s very stressful.
Worrying about this would keep me up later than my friends, which meant that most of the time I would be the one who slept later. This is the sort of thing that leads to your mother allowing the other girl scouts in your troop to pour glue on your angsty, pre-teen face.
Uncomfortable situation #2: Small Talk with Family Friends
We go to my grandparents’ every Thanksgiving. My extended family is always there, and so are my grandparents’ friends who are in town with no plans. They’re all incredibly nice and expect very little from me besides the ability to carry on a conversation… I fail miserably every time.
Friendly Person: “Where is your school, Stephanie? I’ve never heard of it.”
Me: “It’s in the western part of the state. It’s really small, so…” (Trails off.)
FP, assuming there’s more: “…Oh. What are you studying?”
Me: “Communications. It’s fun.”
FP, waiting for more description: “…Oh. What is that?”
Me: “Uh… My emphasis is in emerging media, so, like… the Internet?”
FP, desperately trying to understand: “So you’re good with computers?”
Me: “Hahaha. No. Do you like mashed potatoes? Because I am looking forward to those.”
FP, giving up: “…That’s nice. I’ll go see if your grandmother needs help.”
Uncomfortable Situation #3: Hugging
I can’t hug. I don’t really like being touched, which doesn’t help, but I’m bad at hugging. I need lessons or something. What is the proper arm placement? Over the neck? Around the waist? Do you go halfsies? (Don’t go halfsies. It increases awkwardness, especially if you punch the other person’s arm in your confusion.) How long do you hug? I know there are only a few seconds between Offensively Short, Perfect, and Vaguely Inappropriate, and I can never get it right. How do you account for extreme height differences? How do you extract yourself from a hug gone wrong? Don’t even get me started on the hug/cheek-kiss combo.
Uncomfortable Situation #4: Haircuts
Girls are weird about their hair. I know this because I’m a girl and having hair makes me a crazy person. I threaten to shave it off, but I have a weird bump on my head that I’m kind of worried has a face, so I can’t do that. The other problem is that haircuts are awful. I’ll go months between haircuts to avoid conversations with stylists. It’s not just the small talk, either, which is not a strong suit of mine. I don’t know anything about my hair, and I certainly don’t know anything about style. When they ask me how I want it, I say, “Whatever you want”, which doesn’t help anyone. They do nothing for my confidence, either. Last time I got a cut, the lady said, “Wow. This reminds me of ‘The Princess Diaries’.” Anne Hathaway starts out with something close to a unibrow in that movie. A unibrow.
Uncomfortable Situation #5: The Dentist’s Office
I hate the dentist’s. I’m not afraid of them, because luckily my teeth have so far chosen to stay firmly in my head in a pattern generally recognized as Mostly Straight and Un-Cavitied. That being said, I dread going. I don’t want to be asked polite questions while someone’s hand is in my throat. I don’t want to try to time swallowing with the hygienist’s blinks so they’re not disgusted by my reflexes. I don’t want to have to move my jaw around discreetly while office gossip goes on above my head. I don’t want to tell any medical professionals the reason I’m missing part of my lower front tooth is that I eat a lot of Smarties. Like, an inhuman amount of Smarties. Even the waiting room magazines are a minefield, because you never know who’s going to judge.
If you need me, I’ll be hiding from society in a closet, eating Cheez-Its and relating to Socially Awkward Penguin.