I am twenty four, and it seems that by now I would be able to get through a party without spending half of it standing around awkwardly staring at the TV in the bar, but this is not the case. Despite over twenty years of practice (assuming I learned to speak before I was four, I don’t really remember) I still cannot seem to carry on a normal conversation with another human being. So there I am, at another party, trying to determine which clump of human beings I will attempt to communicate with next. The problem is, I cannot seem to figure out how to enter a conversation. I try standing next to them silently until the conversation lulls and I can interject something interesting or funny or clever. Once I find myself standing there, however, I cannot seem to think of anything interesting or funny or clever to say, and so I just stand there, on edge of the circle, staring at them as they carry on a conversation in front of me. I imagine this is more than a little creepy.
I have always been socially awkward. It feels like an accomplishment when I carry on a conversation with a person in an airplane. I come home and tell my family, “I talked to a guy on the airplane,” like a four year old telling his mom that he found a bug. “That’s nice,” they tell me.
It’s probably obvious at this point that I have trouble meeting girls. “It’s called initiative,” my ex-girlfriend tells me. Yeah, I know what it is, but knowing what it is, and taking it, are two very different things. It’s as if strangers and pretty girls are kryptonite for my brain, causing it to writhe on the floor in pain and confusion. I try desperately to think of interesting and clever things to say, and this, of course, only chases all the clever thoughts away.
Really, unless you are shy yourself, you just don’t understand what it’s like. I’m not just socially inept, I know when I am being awkward and making the people around me uncomfortable, I just can’t seem to do anything about it. Instead, weeks later I’m still thinking about the awkward conversation and the really funny joke that would have been perfect to break the ice had I thought of it half an hour earlier.
I seem to have the same reaction to every emotion. When I am sad, or angry, I get quiet. When I am angry or pensive or at peace or nervous or uncomfortable, I get quiet. This makes me completely unreadable. Sometimes it’s nice to be mysterious, the strong silent type (although I don’t know if anyone would call me that either), but more often than not it’s a problem. I may just be nervous around this girl ‘cause I think she’s cute, but she interprets my silence as boredom or distaste. But some part of me fears this interpretation less than what she might think of me if I actually open my mouth. In truth, I can be funny and clever, sometimes I even have interesting thoughts, but not when I’m nervous or uncomfortable. When I am around people with whom I am not completely comfortable, my charm retreats into the cellar screaming “Storm’s a comin!’” and the next thing I know I’m staring at my shoes thinking, “Did I just introduce myself as seremy nierra?”
How did I get this way? My parents? Did they pass the shy gene to me along with brown hair and a big nose? Insecurity, from being made fun of in school for my nerdiness? Something I ate? I don’t know, but it’s sometimes achingly frustrating. I can be all sorts of interesting and funny but what good is it if I can't communicate it, if everytime I have something important to say my brain goes into lockdown and I find myself stuttering the pledge of allegience or whatever else happens to pop into my head? Isn't it human to communicate our thoughts? What good am I if I can't?
When we look into the future, we always assume that someday we’ll flex the collective muscle of our species, and push off from the planet, heave ourselves across the universe. We’ll see Mars and Saturn, then whole clumps of stars sticking together, then the spreading edges of the universe. We can see much of it from here, but we want to be there, put ourselves into it. It’s that we’re curious and want to know the universe, yes, but more than that. It’s that we want the universe to know us. We can never be known enough. That’s why people are comforted by their faith that there is an all-knowing God, why we send radio messages into the galaxy, and why we communicate with each other. My biggest fear is that people will never really know me, because I can’t seem to tell them. Maybe that’s why I write, and have this stupid blog. I’m afraid that I will die, and only a few people will ever know that I’m funny and friendly and sometimes interesting. You’ve all probably heard that Abraham Lincoln saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” I don’t know, even if people know I’m a fool, at least they know me.