We are multidimensional. It is one of the only fair and truthful descriptions to afford ourselves. Sewn together from biological blueprints and structured patterns of thought; dipped into a cosmic mix of creativity; and left to dry in the light of undivinable uncertainties… all of it has left us a mass of contradictions that defies comprehension.
Yet, our curiosity ceaselessly drives us to achieve greater clarity on the human experience. Categories and mental tick boxes are the vows to a wedlock with sanity. Meaning: we basically need a way to structure our thoughts, feelings and behaviours if we intend to pursue a life with reason.
So, we satiate our sanity with a collection of patterns that help maintain that order. And what a delicate task this is. Thoughts tend to be sharp due to their edgy logic. Emotions are dirty little things that have a knack of leaving a stain on immaculate moral records. And behaviours can culminate into any number of consequences depending on their shape, reach, and influence. And in wake of such important realisations, we instill virtues that we religiously pursue, relating to the self: self-discipline, self-restraint, self-monitoring, self-control… reminiscent hammer-beats to temper the human spirit into pseudo-selves to present to the world. All to be acceptable. Who doesn’t love a stellar moral citizen that keeps their cynicism on humanity in check… Am I right?
What about wallflowers though? Oh well; they tend to be especially thorough in mulling through their cognitive, emotional and behavioral repertoires. Sideline bloomers are adept at staying out of a situation, remaining partial to the daily drama’s of our counterparts who prefer blossoming in the show garden right at the centre of life. Not to say that we never showcase ourselves, we are just a little less vaudevilean in our attention-seeking behaviours. That is, until we feel more self-efficacious in taking centre stage in the show. Other than that, we have some streetsmarts about blending in and prefer a soliloquy with ourselves as audience…
But every so often, a hitch works itself into our prospective schemas of steering ourselves – unnoticed – through a particular situation that involves people. As a wallflower, you may still be chilling on the sideline; you may still be busy intuiting a given moment that may possibly present itself. And for a short while, you may actually entertain the idea that you are riding the wave of a conversational flow, or sailing smoothly through a social gathering. There is no real need for an extemporaneous show of your social skills, just yet. That is until you are caught with your petals out of place in the wondrous little spark of cosmic unpredictability called the awkward moment.
An awkward moment is a beautiful little human catastrophe that worms itself into your self-representational sphere every now and then, offering its fair share of a little strife, existential dread and embarrassment. It’s a bit like engaging in a unintentional, self-destructive, social calamity, where even Karma thinks you are so deep in that she may need to give you a break during the next cycle of a Mercury retrograde. It’s so bad in fact, that your guardian angel files this in the backlog of messes you get into when they are on sick leave, because no amount of divine intervention can deal with that degree of perplexity. It’s a bit like your self-esteem stepped on a Lego brick. Its quick, its jabbing, and a 200,000 pain receptor volley worth of agony. Afterward, you recollect what is left of you in a measly little mass of melancholy and shy away to the nearest corner to close your bud for the rest of the show to suffer in silence. Oh honey, every awkward moment endured surely has to be an investment in a well-deserved peace for one’s afterlife…
Well…perhaps that is overdramatic. But the consequences can feel nearly as intense in my expert opinion.
So let us imagine the situation for a brief moment. Nothing quite saturates a description like a hypothetical little simulation. Maybe I dreamed this; perhaps I imagined it. Maybe this is stored somewhere in my private memory banks or in those relating to a friend (one that just led to a great deal of identification). Whatever the case may be… I recall a distinct example. So I am fairly sure this happened…
I was minding my own business at this party I had no real intention of attending…
As a proud introvert, I was probably stuck in the section which I would like to call, “The Island of Misfit Toys”, where people are too shy, drunk, stoned, or asleep to pay much heed to any need for actual mingling (I thought they were beautiful). But never you mind: everyone was thriving in their own way. There was a vibe going, and everyone was digging it. And there I was, just sipping away at my garnished G&T on the rocks, legs crossed, eyes cruising, and engaging in a bit of adult supervision over the playground of outcasts.
Now, one drink in, my observational skills were running optimally with all the customs of sobriety. To add, quite frankly, I was also too engaged in a sophisticated snapshot moment that felt much too sacrosanct to be overturned by just any bit of loquacious repartee (fancy little word for striking up a convo) with the commoners. The King was on his throne baby, and he was sipping from his goblet.
Soon though, my drink was starting to get a little low as my steady sips slowly siphoned away at the hours, and so I thought it opportune to make a prompt exit from this social hibernation to rectify the matter. And what a perfect little corner of the club to stealthily sneak in a bar visit without notice.
You see, after a highly stimulating week that had it’s fair share of interpersonal engagement, I became pretty stoked at the idea of spending the night in. But, if you are me, it is likely that your more gregarious circle of friends took it upon themselves to try and spoil the world with your demure presence. And it is not to say that their arguments for this little excursion is particularly convincing. It is just that their overwhelming energy needs to be dialed down to a malleable level for you to survive the night, so being agreeable just appears less taxing. Its a hard knock life…
If your an introvert that was socialised in a world celebrating the extrovert ideal, then you have become reasonably equipped to manage yourself effectively in situations like this. You just pop out that survival guide for the highly sensitive, own your best smile, and quietly plot your way through the superficial social gathering about to ensue. “Blessed are the meek”… or something like that. I just did not want to be bothered much.
So now I found myself at this party, mosied up to the bar, and busied myself in the recall of another one of my referenced short-form dialogues to politely ask the barman to whip up another little pop of inebriating magic. So not the drama… That is, until HE walks up…
Yes dears, this is yet again a story about a man…
One who had the exact same idea in mind by coming to the bar. Now, I was tending to my own petals when I caught a glimpse of him. He was a well-groomed charmer that totally seemed to have lost his kind on the other side of the club, because I could not imagine why he would come to cast his magic dice for a gamble on the dating scene here. And boy oh boy, was he ever ready for a mating dance. A classic pompadour hairstyle with a fade, buttoned down shirt, tight-fitting jeans, and a chest cut as deep as the Mariana trench; this man had aspirations. He was a strapping vision, with a jawline so square that there was no way of cutting corners around that mouth if he started talking. And he was about to wet those lips with a bit of liquid seduction before he started prowling the club again, I could tell. Opportunity was out there. Except of course, when opportunity was a wilting little wallflower just waiting to be watered with some whiz-bang seductions slowly served on the ice. And that was when he looked at me… and I realised that my casual observation had become a stare about two descriptions in. Damn it! I whipped my neck back to the front so hard that every reincarnation of mine would experience neck spasms from that moment out.
Oh, but if anything, that just gave him the warm welcome he would have probably taken himself if I was not so generous with my curiosity. So he pounced. That’s right, hang on to your cocktail umrellas ladies, because the bartop weatherforcast predicts a smooth opererator is about to blow you away.
Now god; you know, I could only venture a guess as to what any other wallflower may be going through at this particular point. But there I was – just a boy that sauntered his way to the bar to wet his whistle (with no intentions of using it for idle banter), only to have a strapping Adonis swerve in from Olympus for a weekend of introvert hunting. Clearly the gods are less busy these days… And damn! These deities get cheeky on their little earthly excursions. To look at him was something different altogether… He leaned on that bartop with such a casual flair that he shifted the whole perpendicular angle of every other object in that room. On top of that, his now steady gaze had its lazer focus direced on my poor and unsuspecting self.
Unsuspecting. Well, that was perhaps not completely truthful, considering this whole description was spiced up with a serving of acute predictive detail. But, I guess that a very small part of me desperately wished that the clear social cues would not lead to an actual fruition of his plan to interact with me. Wishful thinking, right? And what the hell was wrong with me in any case?! A hot guy just comes to burn up the stratosphere of my private little world out of nowhere – that is any lad’s dream.
Oh f*ck. Great. Confidence. Suave. Good looks. Undeniable sex appeal. And then that voice… with the smooth tang of an aged bourboun… I say that as if I knew exactly how to expertly describe whiskey, but I guess any bar rookie could probably describe bourboun as smooth for lack of any other description. Smooth? what did I expect, that his words were going to choke me?! The only thing I was struggling to swallow was my own sense of self-awareness. It’s all good Gernus, just offer a sweet and simple hello back. The man is waiting. “Hey”.
“I haven’t seen you around… Where have you been hiding yourself?” Oh, you know, hiding behind my forgotten and forlorn fantasies of a quiet night in while perching on the armrest of that couch there in the shadows. Damn it. He caught me at my game!
I was duly reminded of one mechanism behind this encounter from an insightfull little post that highlighted the four aspects of a stressor, as posited in research done by the Centre for Studies on Human Stress.
- Threat to the Ego
- Sense of Control
I believe this beautifully summed up the parameters of that particular incident that so gloriouly represented how real the struggle truly was. A new encounter…striking me from the blind side… to thoroughly draw my capabilities into question… in regaining a hold over my cool little sideline gig I had working for me so far. Yeah, it was rightfully labelled N.U.T.S.
Oh my sainted aunt… Just answer the poor man! He asked you another question!
“Well, where have you been looking?” Teasing smile, calm composure. Well done wallflower! Where did you pick that one up?! Have you been spending some time waiting at streetcorners during the witching hour? Because your flirting game is just enchanting! Maybe you’ll be ok after all.
[At this point, mental asides became a crucial coping mechanism… As you can tell.]
Crooked smile in response, and with eyes lighting up, he edged closer in this little spell I just conjured. Well, that just worked…
“Clearly I haven’t been looking hard enough.” Wow. Alright. He came locked and ready with a heavy arsenal of swoon-worthy artillery. He probably could have said about a hundred different things after that. But why would he need to? His eyes spoke a whole other language that shared volumes of insight to where his mind was leading him as he took a good look at me from bottom-to top. Ending at the eyes. Classy. we may just have a gentleman on our hands.
“Guess you deserve a drink for the recent victory then.” You see, this is when things started to go a bit south. Why did I say that?! He obviously liked that, but that little comment made me aware that I was on a slow departure heading right into a Humility Heights. I could not keep this up! I had set the expectation bar far too high!
Now look… I threw a perfect one-liner as rebuttal a moment ago. That didn’t secure me an effortless pass to this little back-and-forth with this fellow. He was a master at the game. I think I was not even worthy as a practice run for his best pick-up lines. Not to pull my own self-worth into question, but I knew that my capacity for social engagement was near depletion by that particular Friday. I was an introverted HSP that just needed a little recharge and a self-prescribed dose of alone-time.
But here I was: just living it up like the sex symbol socialite and nightclub high roller with the two-drink bartab that I clearly didn’t know was flourishing inside me till that evening…
“Sounds like a plan. What does a guy have to do to get a drink around here you think?” He nudged another teasing look at me. In hindsight, the cues were simple, obvious, and even without hassle. There was a simple courtship schematic to follow here, honestly. As a wallflower, I should have known that silence followed by agency would buy me a one-way ticket into the next leg of this conversational journey. My friend had just recently reiterated that actions truly speak louder than words.
But in that neon light the nuances disappeared into the netherworld of neverminded reactions, and that pesky little mouth of mine just adopted an altogether different mindset. My grandmother use to say that the guard in front of her mouth was gone… well mine just cashed in on an early weekend leave while I was left to deal with those lips that were about to move in all the wrong ways. So I answered him instead: “Oh…well…you can just ask the barman…”
“Ask the barman…” For f*ck sakes… Stellar answer Sherlock! Why don’t you just remind him to come back here for a refill when his drink is getting low! I am sure he would appreciate the info to make his life easier…
The regret was immediate. Flabbergasted, he gave an odd chuckle, his pace of approach completely broke, and the vibe we had going just slowly and torturously evaporated until a lovely silence lay in the void of a missed opportunity. If he was about to flirt, what in the name of Aphrodite would he say? God, I basically just dismissed him in the shake of lemon wedge. And boy, I bet it stung! Damn it.
Oh but there I was, still on the bandwagon to this sudden uncomfortable encounter, waiting with dire desperation that my drink would just arrive. I was triggered… I just shot myself in the foot after all. The humiliation was setting off a synaptic disaster in my executive brain. And I knew that the systemic overheat of grasping for another topic to save the moment was causing a blush that would leave any make-up mogul shook. The awkward moment had flowered in my garden… and it smelled of self-defeating shame, sounded like the nervous tick of fingers on a countertop, and tasted like cheap gin. Beautiful.
He tried his approach again as the barman magically appeared. No sooner had that drink made its landing on the countertop, when my hand shot out with a such a desperate need that the glass was knocked over… effectively spilling my coveted drink, my saving grace, my dignity, and the final hopes of walking out of this accident unscathed.
He tried to say something, but that was amid the full blare of deep house and EDM. It resulted in my repeated apology for my lack of ability to hear anything that he was trying to say. Honey, the walls of Jericho had already fallen, and blowing anyone’s horn was not exactly going to build up what we had going. You might as well give up. He was handsome. But neither his looks, nor the faint memory of my five seconds of competent banter could save what was futilely lost.
For a fellow like me, these awkward moments have a higher probability of occurring (at least to extent of my own experiences). Overstimulation, sensitivity to minute detail, excessive processing, and high reactivity are but a few of the reasons to why an introvert such as myself (that draws energy from quiet time) would stumble upon the awkward moment in social engagement. Even more so if you happen to process information more deeply (by being an HSP). The two traits mutually influence one another to create the perfect conundrum of dealing with difficulty – if your are not smart about it. “HSPs simply process everything more, relating and comparing what they notice to past experience with similar things,” says Dr Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person. So our minds are pretty occupied at times – perhaps too much to keep our mojo flowing in all the right ways.
In fact, our very perception of the present moment is tied to activity in a small brain region called the insula, that seats self-awareness – which has shown increased activation in HSP’s according to research by Bianca Acevedo and her colleagues. And taking to account then how a wallflower may process a given moment, fully in touch with their inner flows and feels, this seems to explain quite a lot.
But that is just the science speaking – it tends to help with those spurts of post-rationalisation that occur for nearly a decade afterwards…
However, I always believed that awkward moments were humbling. (Well, saying always may be a bit of an overreach… I certainly had my doubts in the past when my confidence sputtered like a candle burning in a hurricane). It seems to reallign the internal gyroscope of awareness, reset one’s attentive functionality, and even to reboot the set of social systems with which one operates. Above all, it negates the penchant to pontificate, especially because it makes us so aware of our humanity. Very, very aware… One often has a sit-down simulation with oneself to prepare for similar conundrums in future…
As always, turning experience into insight seems a beautiful route to follow here… So, in dealing with that cosmic malfunction called the awkward moment, remember this:
Eccentricity and oddity is the spellwork behind your inner magic; just as idiosyncrasy is the spellbook to your individuality. Wield it without woe, and be the wizard to weave your way amid your own quirks and charms.
Love and light fellow bloomers!
Images drawn from the amazing Classical Art Memes, that in their humour really managed to bring life to this tale. Follow them for a daily dose of legendary laughs.