This is Awkward

Socially inept? Here’s a guide for you

Honestly, do you know anyone who enjoyed middle school? For boys it was a nightmare—we suddenly found ourselves interested in girls but realized that they were suddenly taller than us. But for girls it was worse: Cliques, talking behind backs, and backstabbing friends made female alliances more difficult to follow than those in Middle Eastern politics.

The worst part of middle school was the inevitable social awkwardness that all of us had to endure. You would think that this social uneasiness would pass as we grew older and gained more experience, but unfortunately, even at college our social experiences at parties are wrought with horrible awkwardness.

The opportunities for awkward moments at college parties are endless. I know this because I am usually the cause of them. It must be hard to believe that a cool cat such as me would have so much experience in embarrassing myself, but it’s true. I’m so adept at creating uncomfortable social situations that I somehow manage to have awkward moments when I’m alone in my room. The good news about my inelegance, though, is that you can learn from my mistakes. Hopefully you’ll improve your social skills to the point where you can look people in the eye when you talk to them, an ability that still eludes me.

First, never show up early to a party. And by early, I mean the scheduled start of the party. Hardly anyone will be there, and you don’t want to be that guy sitting in the corner by himself holding a beer in one hand and playing “Snake” on his cell phone in the other. Along those lines, make sure you know the correct date of the party. I can tell you from experience that it is horribly awkward to show up to a club where you think there is a toga party, only to find yourself attending a Bar Mitzvah. And you didn’t even bring a gift.

Once you show up to the correct party, you immediately have to deal with possibly the most uncomfortable experiences of the night: greetings and introductions. Perhaps the most difficult decision a person ever has to make is what type of greeting to use.

Do I go in for the hug? Hand-shake? Kiss on the cheek? What if I go in for the hug but she extends her hand for a shake? Either I’m a loser for mistakenly thinking that we’re tight, or she’s a jerk for not showing me any love. Greetings are like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, where your success depends entirely on what the other person decides to do, but you don’t know what they are going to try until the moment of action. It’s just not fair.

My rule of thumb is to default to a handshake if there is any doubt. You might want to take this advice with a grain of salt, though—my ex-girlfriend broke up with me because I shook her hand every time I saw her.

Above all else, keep track of who you are greeting. Two weeks into my freshman year, I had this uncomfortable exchange at a party:

ME: Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Eric.

GUY: I know. You’re my roommate.

Once you get those tricky introductions out of the way, it’s time to party. I’m not much of a dancer, so I spend my time at parties just talking to people (hitting on girls). The only problem is that the music is generally so loud that I can’t understand a word coming out of their mouths. It gets real awkward when I ask “What?” six times in a row, so I start to guess at what they’re saying. While a girl gabs on about something that I can’t hear, I randomly alternate between responding with “Yeah,” “Not that much,” and “I know!” This technique actually works fairly well. Except for once when a girl inexplicably ran off in tears, and another time when I unwittingly volunteered to help move someone’s futon from the Quad.

If you’re the dancing type, there are plenty of awkward moments waiting for you. College parties tend to operate at a temperature of roughly 147 degrees. It’s no easy task to put on some slick dance moves when you and everyone else are drenched in sweat. Ever tried to dance with someone, only to watch them slide off your body like it was a ride at a water park? Awkward. My suggestion to guys is to avoid dancing. Chances are you are bad at it, and apparently girls just prefer to dance in a circle with each other anyway.

My last piece of advice is to not get discouraged or intimidated by awkward situations. There is no avoiding them, so just go with it. Plus, they can be really funny. And if you find yourself at a party with no one to talk to, just look for me. I’ll be in the corner avoiding people while talking on my cell phone. Don’t be afraid to interrupt me, though. There’s no one on the other end.

Eric A. Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.