I’m listening to the way my heels click confidently against the tile as I walk, and I wave casually at the receptionist before pushing through the double doors leading to the café at work.
Oh, God, someone I don’t really know is walking my way.
I keep walking, a little slower now, shifting my eyes from the floor to the space in front of me to the face of the man approaching me and back again.
Do I smile?
He’s getting closer.
Do I say hi?
Shit, he’s right here.
Maybe I don’t even look at him.
“Hi,” he says as our paths cross.
I sputter. “Good, you?”
That’s going to haunt me at 3 AM for the next 5 years.
We all go through an awkward stage growing up. Maybe it’s a bad hairdo. and you have family photos showcasing that time you tried to cut your own bangs. It could be a poor fashion choice, and you’re looking back at those red pleather pants you just had to have in the 90’s. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two, and your high school yearbook forever has you in a powder-blue suit with a big-ass afro. (cough…Dad…cough…)
Thankfully, we all seem to grow out of that obligatory awkward stage and eventually burn all photographic evidence. But there are some forms of awkwardness we never really expel, even as we pretend to be semi-functioning adults. It stays with us, like an annoying extension of ourselves that just won’t take a hint and leave. We might move on from the chubby stage and our bangs might grow back, but we can never change the fact that when the movie ticket girl at the cinema told us to enjoy the show, we said, “You, too!”
We have to interact with way too many adults on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes I wish I could call in sick simply because it’s too peopley out there. Names and faces can be so difficult to keep straight, especially when you work for a company that has many traveling employees. I am constantly seeing new faces that aren’t actually new, and it’s the source of so many awkward moments.
I enter the meeting with a laptop tucked under my arm and I close the door behind me. A man with a purple tie already sits at the table with a notepad and pencil.
“Hi, I’m Kaitlin,” I introduce, reaching to shake his hand.
“Yes, we’ve met, a few times,” he says, chuckling.
Lock me up. I shouldn’t be allowed outside.
Speaking of shaking hands, this is a pretty common social phenomenon. But I can’t be the only person who panics about this when meeting someone new. How am I supposed to know if you’re a handshaker, a fist bumper, or, God forbid, a hugger? Too many times have I gone in for the normal white girl handclasp only to be met with a closed fist, or to suddenly be engaged in some awkward grip-changing secret handshake that I feel like I’m supposed to know, but don’t. Should I shake again when I say goodbye? And damned if we don’t awkwardly walk in the same direction after saying bye, and I must stop and tie my shoe to put some reasonable distance between us.
Only to realize I’m not wearing laces today.
Work is not the only place we frequently experience awkward moments. A few years back, they changed the words to Catholic mass. Suddenly it wasn’t “And also with you,” but rather “And with your spirit.”
Priest: The Lord be with you.
Everyone else: And with your spirit.
Me: AND ALSO WITH YOU!
And now people think I haven’t stepped foot in mass for ten years.
Let’s just skip over the fact that I thought the phrase “peace be with you” was “pleased to be with you” until I was eight.
In today’s world, it’s damn near impossible to get lost. In the age of Google Maps and even GPS, there really isn’t an excuse. In fact, it’s impressive if you manage to get lost. But what are the flippin’ odds the driveway I decide to use as a turn-around belongs to the car right behind me?! Here I am, awkwardly waving at you as I back out of your driveway. Wonderful. And people don’t really talk to each other anymore, so we don’t ask for directions…but if for some reason I have to, and you start using crazy words like “north” and “east…”
In psychology, they call the phenomenon in which people think they’re noticed way more than they actually are the “spotlight effect.” OF COURSE we find ourselves infinitely more awkward than anyone else ever notices. That guy I awkwardly greeted at work is not up late thinking about how awkward I am.
He’s up late thinking about how awkward he is!