The Awkwardinator

We all have one.

You know, a person around whom you become unbearably, uncharacteristically awkward?

I am highly experienced in the realm of Awkward–some of my friends and I joke that my superpower is to insert or withdraw awkwardness from any situation at will–but I’m usually able to channel that awkwardness into a warm and disarming presentation which I am told makes people feel comfortable (probably by comparison).

But everything shifts around my Awkwardinators. Around them, I become a fumbling idiot seemingly hell-bent on destroying any hint of rapport or relationship that might otherwise be building between us.

Some of these people fit into easily understandable categories, such as gorgeous men, overbearing girls, anyone who holds my future or paycheck in the palm of their hand, and Jeremy Lin.

But occasionally I come across Awkwardinators that don’t make sense to me. They are genuine, warm, non-threatening people whom I would like to get to know, but I can’t seem to bring myself to behave like a socialized individual around them.

Take the current Awkwardinator in my life, a certain gentleman whom I encounter every Tuesday at noon. (And no, said run-ins are not intentional–it’s just the way our schedules roll.) From the little I know of him, he seems to be a normal, socially skilled, generally nice guy. I like nice guys. They’re very well represented in my population of friends. They rarely, if ever, intimidate me.

And yet this specimen of nice guy has such a powerful effect on me that each time we speak I turn bright red and start yammering about any topic that comes to mind, sprinkling my rapidly-wrecking train of conversation with the piercing giggle of the truly ‘ninnyotic’. Our topics of conversation range from bizarre to inane, and generally end with us talking about something in our immediate environment, like the floor tiles. I’m willing to hazard a guess that he has as little interest in floor tiles as I do;  yet when we converse about such matters we become manically enthusiastic, each trying to one-up the other’s level of excitement about this nutrient-free conversation; it’s like a cheer-leading competition from Dante’s fourth circle of hell.

Then, just as the conversation reaches such a fever pitch that one of us is at risk of bursting a blood vessel from floor-tile-inspired joy, the conversation ends. Just like that. One moment, it’s speeding along at breakneck speed, the next, its neck is indeed broken. It’s a fatal hit. Conversation down. We’ll stare at each other for a long moment in tense silence, then break eye contact and shuffle our feet and look all around the room until we find something else to discuss. Coffee mugs? YES! Oh my goodness, how we each love coffee mugs!!!!! They fill our lives with meaning! And joy! And hope! And so our conversational cycle continues until we’ve finally been drained of our last vestiges of idiotic dialogue, at which point one of us mumbles a vague something about having to be somewhere to meet someone or do something, the other assents in relief, and we part ways, only to repeat the exact scenario the next week.

Because I’ve seen him interact in a positively suave manner with other people, and because we have such a history of blundering run-ins, I’ve decided that I must be his Awkwardinator, too, and there-in lies a dilemma. This can’t ever end. Neither one of us can pull out, because if we did, it would be akin to admitting that we were the problem, whereas if we pretend that we can’t sense the discomfort blanketing us, any awkwardness can be blamed on the other person. “Awkwardness? What awkwardness? I was fine. . .that poor boy must have an awkwardness problem.”

And so we’re stuck having ridiculous conversations ad nauseum because neither of us will be the bigger person and admit, “Hey, you seem like a genuinely interesting, likeable person, and I would love to get to know you and I think we’ve put in a lot of good effort, but it looks like the Forces of Awkwardness have decided that we are not to be friends–wouldn’t you agree?”

Perhaps one day I’ll find my misplaced gumption and manage to convey that thought, but until that point, I’ll spend my Tuesdays mornings brainstorming a list of topics to keep our conversation going. Next week: Rodents of unusual size, bunions, and whether ‘Kleenex’ has become more a general descriptor of product than a brand name, thus rendering it socially and commercially acceptable to refer to Puffs facial tissue as ‘Kleenex.’

Do y’all have any Awkwardinators?. . .please tell me I’m not the only one!

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