I’ve spent many years being socially awkward and anxious. My way of dealing with being forced into social situations was to observe how “normal” people interacted, and try to emulate those traits in order to make myself seem like less of an awkward weirdo. Sadly, I’m not great at emulating the successful social butterflies, as you will know if you’ve met me in person, but I am very observant about all the ways that people make it difficult to integrate people into conversation, because I am so often on the receiving end of this.
This is just a guide based on my own observations and social preferences, in a situation where you’re around strangers or people you’re not well aquainted with. Obviously pre-established social groups will have their own etiquettes.
1. Use internet speak like “lolz”, “winning”, “OMG” as part of everyday speech.
Obnoxious and annoying. No one above the age of 14 should speak in this way. Sorry.
2. Stop halfway through telling a story because it’s too embarrassing/rude/whatever.
If you’ve started a story, you’re indebted to finish it. Sorry, them’s the rules. You make it ten times worse when you say “oh nooo, I couldn’t POSSIBLY tell you the rest, it’s far too embarrassing!!!!” You know that just makes me want to hear it even more; or it makes me wonder if you’re just saying that to get attention; as in, “No, I’m dying to hear your story, don’t stop now!”
3. Not introducing people to each other.
It’s so easily done, but frustrating and potentially very awkward for newcomers in a group.
4. Inside jokes.
“bark bark bark CHICKEN! Bahaha! “ Just don’t, please. Inside jokes are awesome for the people who are a part of them, but for everyone else they’re annoying and isolating. Save the banter for a more private gathering.
5. Make offensive/oppressive comments about groups of people.
If you make a comment like “I’m not racist, but… [racist comment]” or “there’s no such thing as bisexual, they’re just greedy“, I’m gonna do one of two things, depending on my mood: 1) Call you out on it (usually after some dutch courage). 2) Quickly leave the conversation and avoid you for the rest of the evening, telling everyone else to avoid you too. There’s a fine line between ignorance, and asshattery. Furthermore, never assume that you’re ‘safe’ to, for example, tell a rape joke or make an ableist comment because no one looks disabled, or because no one is a survivor as far as you’re aware. A cheap joke or jibe on your part could cause a great deal of upset for someone – don’t be a dick.
6. Start a controversial debate.
Sometimes this is a good ice-breaker, when executed correctly (I personally don’t enjoy debating, but that’s just me). But a debate needs to be started it in the right way, in the right kind of atmosphere. I’d also advise a tactful approach – don’t bound into the conversation playing devil’s advocate with a wild statement like “who here disagrees with abortion?” (I heard someone doing this at a party a few months ago… awkward)
7. Cling to one person all evening.
If there are only a few of you (less than eight?) and you refuse to talk to anyone other than the person you arrived with, then that’s very frustrating, because it creates an us-and-them atmosphere that makes people uncomfortable. This has happened to me on double dates, and it’s so awkward. I will admit that this is something that people don’t notice they’re doing, and I’m sure I’ve done it unknowingly out of fear and discomfort – sticking to one person makes you feel safe. But it can make things quite awkward.
8. Keep going on and on about your significant other.
I think women in particular are encouraged to see their partner as a crucial part of their lives, and perhaps are also encouraged to build their lives around their relationship – so it’s inevitable that conversation about significant others crops up frequently. However, extended discussions that keep returning to this topic get pretty boring after a while. I want to hear about what you do, where you’ve been, what your interests are, not what you and your spouse do on the weekend. Unless you have a super-crazy awesome life together where you go hang-gliding and whatever every weekend. Though if that’s the case, then what are you doing at my party?
This blog post was inspired by the number of hours spent recently procrastinating at Hyperbole and a Half and The Oatmeal after a long day at work. Both blogs are far better at expressing everyday frustrations than I am! Go take a look at their work, they’re great.