Where Everybody Knows Your Name

You’re not going to believe this, but I used to be socially awkward. It’s true. I used to be so self-conscious of everything I did that I could barely function in polite society. Parties were hell. Small talk was the stuff of nightmares. Forget networking — I couldn’t say my name without choking on my own spit.

Oh, hang on. Did I say I used to be awkward? Oh, this is so embarrassing. What a terrible typo. What I meant was that I am currently, at this very moment, flailing around feeling weird about everything. It’s how I am and I’m never going to change. My obituary will read, “Stephanie died as she lived. In extreme discomfort, not knowing what to do with her hands.”

It took 10 minutes to get this shot of me feeling awkward about my hands because I felt too awkward and didn't know what to do with my hands.

It took 10 minutes to get this shot of me feeling awkward about my hands because I felt too awkward and didn’t know what to do with my hands.

But in all seriousness, I have gotten better. Twenty-five-year-old me is about 1,000x smoother than 22-year-old me, who was in turn about 6,000x smoother than 19-year-old me. If this pattern holds, I’ll be George Clooney levels of suave at aruond age 93. It’s just taking me longer than I thought to get out of the awkward Michael Cera years.

Skills I’ve Improved Upon

  1. I am now able to make small talk with other people, as long as they are people I’ve known for many, many years and they are alright with long stretches of silence while I think of the next thing to say.
  2. I am much better at escaping small talk than I used to be. It is the reason I’ve survived as long as I have.
  3. I can eat in front of other human beings now.
  4. I can, if given no other option, place a phone call.
  5. In recent years I have been known to reply out loud to complete strangers when they talk to me.
  6. I can start conversations now! By myself! Without flashcards!

I would not say that I’ve perfected any of these skills, but I’m trying. I like to practice them as often as I can. And sometimes, if I’m feeling really cocky, I’ll even show them off.

But let what happens next in this blog post be a lesson to you: No one likes a showoff.

Especially a vengeful universe with a sick sense of humor.

Especially not a vengeful universe with a sick sense of humor.

A couple of weeks ago I went to dinner with my friend Jeff at a brewery. I don’t want to say that I frequent this establishment, but it would not be correct to say that I infrequent it either, and not just because that would make no sense grammatically. The point is, I know some of the people in there, and as I was talking to Jeff at a table near the bar, I saw someone I knew walking towards us.

“Oh, look!” I thought. “It’s my friend Matt! I haven’t seen that guy in forever!”

He looked right at me, smiled, and nodded. And I chose that moment to show off my newest social skill, starting friendly conversations.

The Horrible Things That Happened Next and What I Was Thinking While They Were Happening

  • I reached out and grabbed Matt’s arm. “HEY,” I said loudly.
    • Why didn’t he say hi first? He was totally looking at me. That’s a little rude.
  • “Hey yourself,” he said.
    • That is a super weird way to greet someone.
  • “HEY,” I said again. “How come we never hang out anymore?” I was still on his arm. “Well,” he said, “it’s kind of hard to hang out with anyone with a 20-month-old at home.”
    • Matt doesn’t have a 20-month-old. Matt has a cat. That’s one of the things I like about Matt.
    • Oh my God, this is not Matt. This guy looks like Matt and has Matt’s glasses and is Matt-sized and -shaped. He is almost Matt. But almost Matt does not a Matt make.
  • I let go of his arm and prepared myself to say, “I’m so sorry! I thought you were someone else who I actually know and like!” But before I could, Almost Matt said, “It has been a while! What have you been up to?”
    • He has no idea who I am either. He’s trying to help me save face by pretending he knows me. And now I can’t admit that I don’t know him, or he’ll look stupid. WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
  • “Oh, you know,” I said. “…Drinking.”
    • I’ve only had one beer, but maybe it will be ok that I grabbed his arm and dragged him into an imaginary world where we have to pretend we know each other if he thinks I’m a drunk who does this regularly.
  • “That’s a pretty good hobby,” he said. “Ha ha,” I said,
    • Please leave, please leave, please leave, please leave, please leave, please leave.
  • He leaned over to Jeff and put his hand out. “I’m Eric,” he said.
    • Oh. This is Eric. Guess who he still isn’t, Stephanie? Hint: It’s Matt.
  • “I’m off to the bathroom,” he said.
    • Oh thank god.
  • “Alright,” I said. “Don’t be a stranger,” I said. TO A STRANGER.

And that’s the story of why I can never go back to my favorite bar.

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20 comments

  1. edengrant1

    You write so well hahahhaha!!!!!!!! Feel inspire to share a time when I wrecked my sense of dignity in a social setting. This line got me because I do the same. “I am much better at escaping small talk than I used to be. It is the reason I’ve survived as long as I have.”

  2. melissajanisin

    Oh the small talk….for me it’s really just that I don’t like it, and therefore am not good at it, and therefore get anxious about it because a)I know I’m not good at it, and b)I don’t like to do it. Vicious circle. Excellent blog post.

  3. weebluebirdie

    A couple of weeks ago I saw my man walking along the street towards me, naturally I waved, and was only mildly wondering who the woman was walking beside him. I was more puzzled that he didn’t wave back – until I realised it wasn’t him!!! The bloke looked round to see who I was waving at, and there was no one behind him,not even anyone in the distance. I couldn’t even cross the street, there was no one on that side either. I had no choice but to pass him with my head down. I have lived with my man for more than 20 years. My only defence is that the sun was in my eyes. ;-)

  4. Pistachios

    Oh dear, that experience does sound traumatising. Now and then, I see people I know from school, or people I used to work with, but I’m not sure if they’d recognise/remember me, so I’m never sure whether to smile/wave/greet them… I usually go with the option of pretending I didn’t see them.

    I also used to hate making phone calls, but I have to talk on the phone a lot at work, so that’s kind of helped to force that anxiety out of me

  5. gliderpilotlee

    Charming, just lovely, thinking the reverse at the moment. I lost count- over fifty times – some predator guy or a random woman will approach. The guy just wants to be introduced to the ravishing woman with me (pretending to know me) ! The random woman I’ve never met is actually one of two things – a cruel bitch that just wants to tweak /abuse the security of my lady, or thinks – handsome man! he’s with a fantastic woman- she’s already picked him – he must be a nice guy. “I want him” and f-s my life up.
    I’m still hanging out with the most recent, fantastic woman, but she’s soo cautious now. Picture this, we are the only white couple in a downtown Detroit Mi. cafe. First date, and within a half hour we are having great ribs and beers. A lady first (random again, no idea who she is) touches my arm, ( should have put up a boundary- maybe a stern look back) but I was cordial, smiled, just friendly. Pretty soon she’s got her hand on my thigh, stroking my arms, eventually kisses me on the cheek. ( I have a cowboy hat on- does that give permission?)

  6. Kathie Chicoine

    I just love this! I once awkwardly ran with my arms outstretched towards a man I thought was my father – I needed glasses, but didn’t have them at the time-,when I got close enough to see the guy wasn’t my dad-I just kept on running-awkwardly, of course.
    I was mortified, and probably around 8 or 9 at the time.

  7. Bea dM

    Fun read: I think most people have had at least one episode of the kind in their lives! I love the idea of carrying flashcards around to start up conversations haha :)

  8. shetlmk0

    oh wow, i know the feeling. I was trying to make small talk with my dentist at a bar one night and I simply couldn’t think of anything to say so I resorted to the good ole ‘well, see you at the office!’ escape rout. Then I happened to have an appointment the next day. I wanted to bury my head in an assortment of nuts and bolts and seeds.

  9. Jenndude5

    “I don’t know if this makes me feel better or worse.” Signed, The Socially Awkward (Almost) Eighteen Year Old Who Almost Had a Panic Attack at the Dentist (For Reasons).

  10. NgerongilongNose

    I also used to be like that before! like I couldn’t survive a five minute conversation, well except for my closest friend. It usually ends up in HAHA, like can the ‘ha’ syllable be multiplied into three? hahahahaha because sometimes ‘haha’ is a euphimism of ‘stop texting me’. hahahaha

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