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.”
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
- 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.
- 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.
- I can eat in front of other human beings now.
- I can, if given no other option, place a phone call.
- In recent years I have been known to reply out loud to complete strangers when they talk to me.
- 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.
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.