Say Something / Emulating Alien
“Socially awkward” makes my mind jump to saying something at an inappropriate time, or speaking or laughing too loudly, or being unaware of personal space boundaries. While I constantly worry about being seen (or exposed) as that person, the majority of me being “socially awkward” mostly comes from the exact opposite.
For a very long time, I would say nothing in social situations even when being directly addressed. My brain just didn’t come up with what the response should be, even if the situation called for a simple “Thanks”. After a lot of practice (with cashiers, mostly), I taught myself to respond with a list of phrases for situations, like those little kids books that plays a sound when you press a button when the story tells you to.
I’d say it was a good first step as it alleviated much awkwardness and gave some self confidence, but it’s recently it’s become less helpful. As I’ve become more stable and try to deal with my social awkwardness (and anxiety), I feel that self-programming popping up before I even give it a thought. The bane of my recent existence is the word “Cool”, which I constantly find escaping from my mouth in any situation where I need to utter a response -even more frequently if the situation is inherently stressful.
It’s things like this that have made me say in the past: I don’t feel as though I engage in social interaction, I emulate real engagement. I’ve also used the analogy of feeling like an alien, performing actions because I’ve watched real humans do them and saying sounds that are phonetically similar to words real humans say in such situations. And while this isn’t the case 100% of the time with 100% of people, it’s certainly enough that when people say “you don’t seem socially awkward at all”, I want to say “yeah, because I’m trying way more than I should have to not to appear that way.”
(Also, I want to quickly say that I’ve come to understand how social anxiety causes a large part of the awkwardness and I appreciate the connection between the awkward silence to a freeze response. It doesn’t fix the problem but it does give clarity instead of just “I’m too broken to carry a conversation.”)
Tangentially related, years ago I noticed that I am much more comfortable online. That feeling of alien and emulation is nearly nonexistent; when typing, I can be completely comfortable with a perfect stranger and my brain works at a normal rate to formulate responses -and even witty ones occasionally.
Perhaps it’s because I have more practice online; as a kid and teen, I always had a small online community that I was a part of where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. Or maybe online interaction doesn’t need any practice at all and it just comes easy to everyone, even emulating aliens. Or maybe I’m comfortable with conversation but not when ‘body language’ is involved. Or maybe my brain just finds visual (textual) communication less uncomfortable than auditory.
In any case, the reason it’s related is the difference between response times in situations. Offline, it feels as though my brain is trying to perform a google search and the progress wheel just keeps spinning. Sometimes 10 minutes later, I’ll realized what I should have said, and while everyone experiences this at times like when being insulted or flirting, it’s not for every response. Meanwhile, online, my brain’s connection is fine and everything loads quickly. True, I can take as much time as I need to think of what to say, but mostly I don’t need that time and can carry on a conversation at a completely normal rate.
As a step in my “Journey to the Center of Self,” I’ve taken the knowledge that I feel more comfortable online and have made some sense out of it. It’s given me some confidence, that I have some realm where I am not a complete alien and that I’m not completely flawed and maybe not hopeless IRL. It’s given me a place to go when I need to feel normal socially, from a short conversation with a random stranger to making random long-term friends to trying to start something that could eventually go IRL. And I’ve also tried to think things like “just act like you’re typing” during IRL conversation, but I think the way that the brain is set up to process the two senses is just too different to directly overlay one to another. And having to visualize what someone said as text with a QWERTY keyboard in front of me doesn’t abate the feeling like an alien.