I don’t know how it became cool to be awkward. Zooey Deschanel maybe. Or because Steve Jobs gets more attention than athletes. People brag on the Internet about how they answered a text too fast and then fifty thousand people share it because that’s a universal thing. Real awkwardness though, is not.
If you have real social problems you probably noticed around kindergarten. The other kids made fun of you. Now you find yourself being left out of things more than other people are. Because you’re not an adorable kook. You’re not #awkward. You’re weird. And that probably isn’t going to change.
Since the real world can feel like a big high school, you might need some support. Here’s some things you might relate to if you’re on the more isolated end of (ha!) the spectrum:
1. You Like The Same Things As Everyone Else
If you’re an awkward person, there’s a good chance you’re a gamer. But it’s just as likely that you’re not. People think that because I’m awkward I sit in my room reading Kant. I mean, sometimes I do, but I’m more likely to be reading Thought Catalog or watching Girls.
People are especially surprised when an awkward person displays competence at something socially valued that doesn’t require much intellectual prowess. I dress well. My friend Chris can dance. He’s won contests. You wouldn’t guess it because he makes lame jokes and doesn’t conceal his feelings with the appropriate ironic restraint. Last time we went dancing someone who worked there said “hey man, you’re making the right people look bad.”
2. You Hang Out With Other Awkward People
I have some token “cool” friends, but I’m generally more comfortable with other awkward people. Clearly they’re also more comfortable with me. Because as friends have come and gone over the years, they’re the ones who’ve tended to stick around.
We awkward people have the same feelings everyone does, but many people are going to treat us differently. You’ll have to accept that. I’m working on it, but I still have a long way to go. It’s also taken me a while to stop being sanctimonious about my outsider status, even though it doesn’t make me a better person. There are people I look down on because they’re more awkward than me. Once in a while I even resent them because I feel like they’re the kind of people I’m stuck with. Watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s obviously satire, but it shows this concept perfectly.
Please grow out of that way of thinking. There’s as much variation within outsiders as there is among people who don’t have social problems. Once you’re comfortable with who you are you’ll learn to accept yourself and your friends as multifaceted human beings instead of just people who don’t fit in. And at some point, when you’re really comfortable, maybe
3. You’ll Learn to Laugh At Yourself
When the joke’s on you, you can either ignore it or laugh along. You might have more fun doing the latter.
My friend Alex has always had overly formal manners. For a long time he didn’t understand that, so people felt uncomfortable around him because of it. Last time I went out with him he wore a button-down shirt and tie. He walked into the arty bar in town early, when it was full of old hippies.
“Hello, Madam,” he said to the bartender. “May I please have a gin and tonic?” And they thought he was hilarious.
He wouldn’t do that at a mainstream bar with people his own age. He’d go there with his less awkward friends and sing the same songs everyone does for karaoke. Because he gets the joke.
4. You’re Not Necessarily Bad At Dating
In my experience, awkward people get laid just as much as other people. Usually with other outsiders. Or at least with the substantial number of less-awkward people who like hanging out with us.
I’ve “dated” a semi-professional boxer, a Rastafarian, and a computer repair shop owner. Alex has been with 20 girls and most of them were cute. He met them at school, parties, and through friends. He wanted that life for a while and he’s had as much fun as anyone else.
Right now I’m in a relationship with another outsider. It’s going pretty well. I’m not saying people with social problems don’t have it harder, but a lot of those problems have to do with not accepting yourself as you are.
Of course, if you’re deliberately off-putting then you don’t have the right to complain. I’m not going to have sex with an unkempt, angry man and neither is anyone else. Hone your strengths, present yourself with dignity and the rest will follow.
5. Hippies Are Your Friends
They reject social norms like you do, although chances are they’re doing it intentionally. And they’ll hang out with anyone who smokes weed and isn’t status-conscious. I haven’t fully immersed myself in burner culture, but I could see it happening at some point.Seriously, the polyamory/BDSM crowd looks like an episode of Freaks and Geeks.
The blanket rejection of awkward people comes from people who rank each other based on the dictums of mainstream society. People outside the box don’t have to worry about how you fit into it.
6. Your Career Isn’t Limited In the Way You Think It Is
You’re not good with people, but that doesn’t mean they won’t respect your competence. Your best bet is to go with something you’re good at. If you like something, teach it. Be kind to your students. Some of them might be mean to you but most of them will think you’re cool as long as you listen to them and you give fair grades.
Research is also a good option. I know I’ve gotten great at finding and retaining large amounts of information from reading and writing on Saturday nights.
But I’ve also sold designer clothes. I was excited about them, and that excitement came out with the customers. People who are nothing like you can still bond with you over shared interests.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this though. I’ve missed out on a lot of jobs because I’m not fast-paced or charming enough. For a while I felt like my talents were pretty much useless because I don’t have the personality for some of the places I wanted to work.
You’ll have setbacks, but don’t take them as a life sentence to failure. Lots of people like the things you like and feel the way you feel. The onus is on you to figure out what to do with that. Your personality might not be an asset, but there’s a good chance your brain is. And the good thing about being awkward is that people assume you’re smart.
7. The Rules Still Apply To You
You’re still expected to add value to the world if you want to get anything back from it. It’s easy to think that you’re fundamentally different from other people, and therefore not part of their hierarchy. Especially if people have ignored your attempts to do things because you’re weird. That just means you’ll have to work harder. Remember, most people are not against you. They just don’t have the time to look past that first impression.
So develop your skills. Be a good listener and a loyal friend. Empathize with everyone’s problems, not just those of other awkward people. You never know what the people you envy are going through.
I’m still learning to live my life with my social deficits. I’m sure you are too. But there’s a lot of us, and we can help each other. As I’m growing out of the bitterness I’m realizing that the human experience doesn’t have to be limited for me because I’m awkward. I can go out, date, travel, have friends and relationships and live a fully realized life with people like me. I can write relatable stories for people like me. Everyone feels more comfortable with people who are like them. That’s not awkward. That’s normal.