I am a 48 year old woman who is terribly socially awkward. Don’t get me wrong. I try. I really do. But there’s a missing piece in my brain that controls social interactions.
I can remember a time when I was free. For a brief moment. I remember reacting to every impulse and playing with abandon, and laughing. Really laughing. Not the polite “oh that was funny laugh.” The from the soul “I am having the time of my life laugh.” But it was so long ago. I couldn’t have been more than 5. I was still oblivious to the world around me and the chaos around me. I was in kindergarten and there was a boy I wanted to kiss so I kept trying and trying. His running away had no effect on me.
But fast forward a couple of years. I was living in a home filled with hate, alcohol and pain. It was everywhere. Every word was biting or cutting. The air was always thick. My mother had a 9th grade education. Her mother died when she was 11. She was a wild one and was sent to live in California at the age of 19 when she discovered she was pregnant. Her father said he never wanted to see her again.
She met my father and like 2 smashing trains they collided. My father grew up in a home where his parents would literally move while they were at school. He would come home and they would be gone. Then he would have to try to find them. His step father shot at him one day in an alcoholic stupor and he only survived because he was a fast runner. His mother was a selfish woman with alcohol issues of her own. My father and mother met and married each with a moving van full of pain. The had no communication skills. The only way they knew to deal with their problems was to drink or fight or both. Their rage permeated out of their pores, and many times was directed at us.
My mother was cruel. She once told me she wished I hadn’t been born. How do you respond to that? “Sorry. My bad.” I just didn’t learn to communicate, at all. What I did learn was anger, rage, sarcasm and withdrawal. I learned them well.
I can remember in grade school just not knowing how to communicate or talk to the other kids. My home was a nightmare. I couldn’t discuss moms. Their moms went to mass everyday. My mom stayed home and drank. I couldn’t discuss our fathers. Mine had begun to “wrestle” with me and it was very uncomfortable. We didn’t take family vacations or go to the lake. I remember desperately wanting birthday sleepovers but then being terribly embarrassed when my mom did or said something that would embarrass me.
I never learned the delicate art of conversation. I didn’t ever play with other children until school. At home I wasn’t allowed to play with the neighborhood children and my siblings were out of the house by the time I was 7. I never learned what a friendship entailed. In fact all I knew was that I needed a “best friend” because 1 person I could handle, but more than that might see what I really was… broken.
I can remember in high school all the “popular” boys and girls. I so wanted to talk to them and be friends. But I had “broken” written all over me and “broken” kids repel the normal ones. They could see me coming a mile away, fumbling for words or asking stupid questions. They sized me up pretty quickly. I was never cool. I was lucky if I ever made it to average. I tried out for cheerleader in a desperate attempt to be normal. I was awkward at best.
Even as an adult I struggle so much. A ladies luncheon is enough to give me hives. Not because I don’t want to be there but because I don’t know how to be there. Everywhere I go I feel like there is a huge sign over my head that reads “broken.” Small talk is so painful for me. After I get through, “hi, how are you?” I don’t know what else to say or how to end it without awkward silence. I am a big girl now. I really should know how to do this. I don’t even like to talk on the phone! I would rather have someone text me than call me. I can’t carry a conversation. I panic.
My daughters were asked to be debutantes in high school. To me it signified that I had finally moved past my terrible childhood and had made something better. It didn’t have the same significance to my daughters. They were annoyed by the parties and the gown and all the ceremony. My daughters, who take after their mother, would say things like “these are just rich people trying to show off. Why do we need to do this? We hate it?” “Do it for me,” I said. “Please.” Don’t get me wrong. I have the most amazing memories of my daughters being presented by their father and my friends gathered around. It was an amazing night. But there are a series of “parties” you have to attend with women who are lovely but were not in my social circle. Of course no one is in my social circle. These women could smell my “broken” sign a mile away. I had to try to make conversation with them. They would ask about my parents. What could I say? My parents didn’t create any big conglomerates or invent something. So I would try to talk about my own accomplishments. Oh wait, I didn’t have any. Sitting through those “parties” was absolute torture.
Don’t get me wrong. I have girlfriends. But we don’t talk about the weather. We talk about out lives and I can do that. I can sit with someone and talk about their kids or their hurting marriage. But when it comes to the end of the conversation I never know how to eloquently finish it. I usually say my usual, “well I better get going.” Sometimes at very awkward times.
I wonder to myself, where do you go to learn how to be socially competent? There really should be a class and it should be taught by a lovely southern woman who teaches you how to be gracious and talk about the weather for hours and keep people engaged In the meantime, I think I will just stick to texting.