a meditation on my social ineptitude

Written by Patrick J Turner Jr

Published on December 29th, 2023

No small amount of my waking hours on this Earth are spent considering what is Wrong with me. I do not have words for what is wrong with me, only the bubbling feeling in my head that something is off every time I interact with another person. These nebulous, formless thoughts need to be contextualized and put into words in order to understand them (and maybe do something about them), so I think a lot about myself and what my problems are.

Over the course of my life I have come to the conclusion that I lack significant social skills everyone else seems to have. This happened gradually. An odd comment there, a stray bit of passive agressive behavior from someone there. All the evidence that has been presented to me through Life points to the fact that there is something strange about myself which others can readily point out just through casual conversation. I may not fully know how others view me, but like anyone, I pick up bits and pieces over time and incorporate them into my mental handbook of How I Should Be.

Here are three such pieces:

- In freshman year of high school I poked my head into a classroom to say hi to one of my friends and awkwardly conversed with an acquaintance. As I left the room I could hear them briefly say, "He's kind of weird, right?"

- Two years later, in my junior year of high school I was at home and wanted to iron one of my favorite shirts to wear. This was a linen shirt made for wear during the Summer, but I wanted to wear it in the dead middle of December. My father tried to explain why that was a sort of silly idea to me, but I stubbornly decided to wear the shirt. As I went upstairs I could hear him turn to my mother and say, "That boy has no self-awareness."

- In my freshman year of college a friend who would become my girlfriend and then later become my ex-girlfriend was texting me for advice on how to approach a boy she liked. I was doing my best to help her and provide constructive ideas. After a few unproductive messages she said, "You're bad at giving thoughts."

These memories of these moments and memories of moments similar to them replay in my head against my will at regular intervals. It's like alarm bells ringing in my brain all the time. Don't speak! Don't say anything weird! Don't screw it up by being you! I suppose this has made me into a rather stiff, robotic man around people I don't know well or situations I am unsure of. This is more than just shyness or social anxiety, it is a defense mechanism instilled in me by an intense fear of failure to connect with others.

I find it hard to be close to my parents, to my roommates, to my coworkers, to some of my friends, or to any of the people I cross on the street. It's not that I don't want to be closer to other people, I just don't know how to exist around them. How do I act? How should I look? What do I say? What form should I give myself? I am constantly shaping and re-shaping myself for the approval of others. Conflict and confrontation scare me, thus I have developed a neurotic need to please everyone.

Recently, I have been reading a communications textbook out of a desire to better myself, to somehow "cure" myself of my social ineptitude. It has provided me with a more structured, honest view of communication with others to contrast my inner narrative. So, allow me to make a counterargument against myself:

- Your friends in your freshman year of high school were kind of assholes. You were kind of an asshole too. Everyone was. It was high school. Besides, someone thinking you're weird is not necessarily a bad thing. You are weird. That's okay. Weird people are cool. Lots of people like you for your specific brand of weirdness. You should learn to be happy with your own weirdness. You need to love yourself.

- You think about the moment your dad said you have no self-awareness a lot. It hurt. It still kind of hurts but not really. Let's get a few things straight: it's fine you wanted to wear your favorite Summer shirt in Winter. Who cares? It's okay to do the things you want without considering how other people might view you. If that makes you weird or means you lack self-awareness sometimes, that's okay. But also, your dad was kind of right! You did, and still do struggle with self-awareness at times. This moment, even if harsh, made you more aware of how others view you. So hey, thanks for that dad.

- Put yourself in the shoes of your friend who would become your girlfriend and later your ex-girlfriend for a moment. It was freshman year of college, she had a crush on a boy and did not know what to do. She came to you for help and you did the best you could. She was frustrated and confused and in that frustration and confusion lashed out at you. This happens sometimes. You have done this same thing to others multiple times. Sometimes, whilst embroiled in our inner turmoil we say or do things we don't mean that aren't fair. It is important to not let these extreme emotions color our view of reality.

I guess what I'm saying is that you have a skewed view of yourself. You are your harshest critic. You view yourself uncharitably and do not give yourself enough grace. You're alright! Everyone has their flaws and insecurities that inevitably affect the way they interact with others. That's being human. That's showbiz baby.

I will close this counterargument with a realization I wrote in my notes whilst half awake on a week night of no particular note:

We all do things that are deeply strange and unhealthy. It is only through recognizing ourselves in each other's struggles that we can hope to grow closer with one another.

Essentially, I (you) have to learn to be more open with my own struggles and be more mindful of the struggles of others. Call it fate or circumstance, but we have been placed into this current situation on this Earth together and the only way out is through. Give yourself a break and understand that you are human. Recognize the humanity in your fellow man. Only then can you (we) make it through this thing called Life.