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Awkwardness is not real

Nov 04,2023 | Joule Goddess

You’re sitting amongst a group of friends, some acquaintances, some kindred souls from past lives, some borderline strangers. The bonfire crackles and bursts as the kindling catches flame and snaps under the embers. Someone makes a joke, something about their grandma and a misplaced pack of diuretics. Everyone breaks out in laughter, big belly laughter. You decide to “yes, and” the joke and say something right as the laughter turns into gut-wrenching silence. And the silence remains. And remains. And it seems to remain forever, even as someone else in the group changes the subject and starts talking about their new TV show obsession. But you’re not listening to the plot points of the newest crime drama, you are listening to that little voice in your head that has just poked in to say, “hi! You are a weirdo with bad comedic timing, you were invited here because people feel bad for you, and you don’t have any real friends.” Thanks, thanks a lot.
We all know this voice. It’s the voice that surfaces when you call your teacher “mom” or when you take a super loud shit in your first serious boyfriend’s apartment. This tiny self-sabotage master, criminal of the psyche is a little thing we like to call “awkwardness.” Everyone experiences awkwardness. It seems part in parcel to the human experience. Some of us experience it more than others, and owe their successes to that ugly swan era. Think Angelina Jolie or a number of international super models who were endlessly mocked for their lanky limbs and unique features. Awkwardness is a necessary evil. But if you don’t buy into all that “life lessons” BS, allow me to expand on another theory as to why we have experience the sensation of being awkward.
Picture a new scenario. You’re sitting around the fire with your tribe. Not the tribe that white girls in sororities talk about, I mean your actual tribe that you hunt and gather and commune with. It’s 10,000 BC and you are having a lovely paleo-friendly meal of braised elk and local greens, all captured that very day. Good times are being had. Someone makes a joke about their grandma and a misplaced bundle of dandelion root. Everyone laughs. A deep belly laugh that goes on and on. And your inquisitive caveman/woman brain comes up with a funny accomplice joke to the one you just heard. You fire it off confidently and there is silence. Pure, unadulterated silence. A couple of your fellow cave mates are tired of your bad jokes, and in the middle of the night while you’re all bundled up in your emu blanket, they move camp. You wake up Sid the Sloth style, surrounded by nothing and no one. You are on your own. You are a dead man walking. 
That, I believe, is the true origin of awkwardness. Not a result of the encumbered modern mind, but a survival instinct. Awkwardness is a mental warning signal that whatever you just did has jeopardized your relationship with your tribe and you better, A. Not do that again, or B. Do something to make it better. Because at the end of the day, we need people. It’s in our DNA. Awkwardness is simply here to remind us of that. 
So I guess you could say awkwardness has good intentions (or had, for that matter). Let’s draw some comparisons between the scenario we heard first, and the 10,000 BC version. What are the realistic outcomes of spouting off a bad joke in this day and age? Certainly not getting kicked out of camp to fend off a saber tooth tiger with a stick. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen is that a couple folks think to themselves, “that wasn’t very funny,” for a hundredth of a millisecond, and then they’ll forget. They will forget long before you do. When you’re up late that night thinking about that awful joke they’ll be staring at a video of a puppy playing the cello.
And yet, we go through the typical stages of feeling awkward (much like grief). First is panic, the direct aftermath of saying or doing something “wrong.” Panic says “FUCK OK IT’S FINE UM WE CAN FIX THIS.” Second, self-pity, which makes you somehow believe that you are unloved by all and your mom has been paying people to keep you company. Third is anger. The voice that says “these people are numskulls! I am a comedic genius. Fuck them for not realizing that. Fourth, acceptance. So the joke didn’t land? It’s fine, I’m sure I’m overthinking this. And lastly, reality. While you’ve been silently mulling over your misstep the conversation has continued (because life goes on, with or without you), and someone asks you a question. HUZZAH! You are not a social pariah! 
We go through this whole internal process, all the while, life has continued. And it’s then that we realize it wasn’t such a big deal. Awkwardness truly is a construct of the mind, and rather than letting it take hold of us and ruin our existence, we can acknowledge it’s intention, and let it go. 
Here’s a little mantra for the next time you give your boss a sweaty handshake or butcher your order at an Italian restaurant:
“Awkwardness is not real.”