The Importance of Awkward

I don’t often do well in social situations. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess. I am the kind of person who doesn’t say anything if he doesn’t have anything to say. It’s a good defense mechanism for avoiding saying dumb things, but it also has the adverse effect of making me come off as stand-offish, stuck-up, or just plain anti-social.  Mix that with a mild case of RBF and you’ve got someone who’s not very fun at parties. I do my best to avoid the possibility of any awkward situations, but there is always the off occasion where I act before I think and find myself in a place I never expected to be.

The other day I was walking out of design class and finding myself in a perplexed state. My afternoon class had been canceled, I didn’t have to be anywhere until four, and I was extremely hungry. Being strapped for cash I decided to make my way home for a delicious meal of last night’s Toshi’s Ramen. On my way out of my school’s commons building, I noticed a gathering I hadn’t seen before. There was a line, and at the front of the line, there was food to be had, presumably for free! This was phenomenal because I really didn’t feel like driving home yet, and that ramen was meant to serve as dinner on my shift later that night. I strode over to the line with the confidence and fervor as a general returning from battle.

As I stood there, however, I started noticing things. Things that made me stand out in the crowd that had amassed for the offerings of free food. There was a lot of accents among the few students who were speaking English, and as for the rest of them, they weren’t speaking English at all. Looking at the line one would begin to see it as a colorful spectrum from dark to light, me being the lightest of the bunch. Another student approached me and asked me to fill out a form so they could keep track of the number of people they’d served that day. I asked what exactly the line I was standing in was for, although I’d already had an idea of what it might’ve been. She replied, “We’re serving food to the international students attending Lane. Feel free to join in and mingle.”

I was the only American in the room, a picture of imperialism at its roots. I had invaded foreign lands and begun to take up their space, eat up their food. How dare I stand in that line and accept that delicious naan bread. I was sick to my stomach! I had done the thing that Americans were the best at. I stuck my nose in a place where it didn’t belong. Or at least that’s the thought process that ran through my head before I smiled, filled out the form, and continued waiting in line.  What did I have to be afraid of? This wasn’t a hostile takeover, this was tourism. I turned around and started talking to the people in the line behind me. They were happy to hang out with me.

It’s funny how much of the awkwardness of situations come from our own heads. I felt out of place for a brief time, but the moment I said: “Let’s behave like we belong here.” Everything was cool. Now here’s why awkward situations are important: Without the awkward situations, what would we have to learn from? If I hadn’t unwittingly stepped into that line, how would I have learned to adapt to the situation? Would I have made the friends I did when I was there? It’s not just awkward situations either. The bad, the sad, and the just plain horrible. It all adds up to us. It makes us the people we are, for better or worse. So when you find yourself drunk at a party or misidentifying your friend who you could have sworn identified as a woman last week, or causing your SO’s aunt to relapse into alcoholism, just remember that every awkward situation is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to figure out just what the hell Lavender’s pronouns are. Seriously man/woman, can I sign up for a newsletter or something cause this is getting ridiculous.

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