#194: “I am so socially awkward that my boyfriend won’t take me anywhere.”

A scene from the movie gaslight, with Ingrid Bergman looking up at a flickering lamp.
Why is the light flickering? And why did I marry this abusive fuckstain?

Hi Captain,

I am a twenty-something girl who has absolutely no clue how to act in social situations. My partner of 5 years refuses to take me to restaurants or pubs, because I always ruin the mood by saying something stupid or embarrassing. I’m big on social media and connecting the conversation to recent events, which is what I presume most people do. I know myself to be very childish and young-minded, I do prefer the company of children, who don’t judge, than to adults.

Whenever my partner and myself are invited to attend one of his work functions, I usually sit quietly at the table and enjoy my food and wine, not talking unless someone directs a question at me, which is rarely. We also attend a ‘work holiday’ once a year, which is paid for by my partner’s boss, and which all members of his work attend. Again, I mainly stay clear of everyone, as my partner does not want me to embarrass him in front of his work colleagues. This usually leads me to sitting alone in the hotel room with a book, while everyone is out at a bar or exploring the sights. This is not a choice, it is what I do to keep my partner happy. I always try to make people laugh, but my jokes come off too offensive sometimes, and I have no filter between my brain and my mouth. I am horrible in interviews and even chatting to people in the checkout queue. I have never been good at social interactions, and I am desperate to know what to do, other than keep my mouth shut.

It’s official: Your letter breaks my heart.

You may in fact be really socially awkward. You may have a diagnosable condition that makes it hard for you to read social cues or causes you social anxiety. You may be too hip for the room sometimes. You may be a practitioner of the ancient Japanese art of Fart-jitsu. Whatever’s going on? You just found your people. Come inside where you don’t have to ever make small talk and we already like you and think you’re great. Because you? YOU ARE GREAT. And the way you deal with social situations, by being quiet when you don’t know what to say but responding when people engage you shows some basic good manners and a decent level of self-awareness. “I don’t have anything to say right now so I will be quiet and listen” is like the pearls-and-conservative-tasteful-dress of behaviors: Sometimes a little stiff and boring? Rarely inappropriate.

Now, if your partner does not have fun going to parties with you and has learned that “fun at parties” is a thing he needs from a partner? Or if you were really introverted and just preferred not to go to parties with people you don’t have a real connection to? Like, maybe these coworkers of his suck and are boring and hard to talk to and it is a huge chore to interact with them? Maybe there would be a solution you could work out together, where sometimes you go with him and sometimes you stay home and let him go have fun. Or maybe you would not find a solution – which is okay. This is a “you get to break up with people for any reason” zone.  Nobody wants to have the “even though I adore you we’re not well-matched in this one respect and it’s a dealbreaker for me” conversation, but it sure beats the way he is gaslighting you into feeling like there is something wrong with you and everything’s your fault!

There is no amount of socially awkward you could be that would justify him treating you like he is ashamed of you and that you need to hide in a hotel room because you’re not fit company for others. It’s insidious and self-fulfilling, right? The more he tells you that you are socially awkward and embarrassing, the more socially awkward you will feel and behave, because he is setting you up to fail. He has made the story of your relationship about how he is ashamed of you, and he gets to be the gatekeeper of your social interactions and dispense or withhold approval based on how well you “perform.” This is abusive, narcissistic bullshit.

I have some good news for you. Your partner’s coworkers and the people in checkout lines and most other adults you meet? They think you are mostly fine. Even if they didn’t? Social skills are something you can learn and improve.

Now, the bad news. People who behave like your partner are notoriously bad about admitting it. Confronting them directly almost never helps. Your partner is an expert at making you second-guess yourself and trust his assessment of events. You could use a script like this to tell him how you feel:

Honey, you make me feel crappy when you tell me I’m socially awkward and forbid me to go to events because you’re worried I’ll embarrass you. I am going to take some steps to improve my confidence in my social skills. In the meantime, as your partner, I get to choose when and how I interact socially with our friends and coworkers, and I need you to chill out and not be my critic.

Unfortunately, I think he would give you back a lot of razzmatazz about how he’s sorry he has to treat you like shit and he doesn’t mean to treat you like shit, but it would be easier if you would stop being so shitty at everything and what do you expect him to do? He will try to spin it so that he sounds competent and logical and you sound crazy and fragile, when really his is the ego that can’t take any criticism at all.

This house is full of evil bees. In my heart of hearts I think it’s time to 1) Take steps to get yourself to a safe place away from him, 2) line up all the love and support you can on Team You – friends, family, lawyers, therapists, 3) Once you’re out and safe, tell him to fuck off and never contact you ever, ever again, 4) rebuild your life among the terrifyingly amazing.

Edited to Add: The reason I feel so strongly that this is an Evil Bees, Get Out Now situation is that the Letter Writer is asking us “How can I be better at stuff so my partner won’t be so mean to me?” There are many possible ways to improve social confidence, and ONE GLARING OBVIOUS GUARANTEED WAY to avoid situations where that dude gets to make you feel crappy about yourself. High-five to the Twitter follower who suggested an Awkward SEAL Extraction team to facilitate removal from shitty Darth Vader boyfriends and blow up their shitty Death Stars.

167 thoughts on “#194: “I am so socially awkward that my boyfriend won’t take me anywhere.”

  1. I don’t even know why he is inviting you to couples/work events if you aren’t allowed to interact with anyone. I don’t know from my own personal experience with such things, but I thought socializing was THE POINT of allowing someone to bring their SO to these things, and that it looks bad on him and you when the employee’s SO has to lock herself away from other humans the entire time.

    I honestly can’t tell over the Internet if you are THAT OFFENSIVE of a human being or not, but I suspect not. Are people gasping in horror at what you say? Did anyone stomp angrily away from the table after you spoke? Are you getting evil glares from people? Or is all of this coming from…your boyfriend?

    1. So that he can show off the fact that he has a girlfriend, obvs. *side-eying this dude SO HARD*

  2. Oh man, LW, HOW DO I FEEL YOU, LET ME COUNT THE WAYS. I have gotten, my whole life, a lot of feedback about how much of a weirdo I am. But I did find my people, and now I get feedback about how I’m interesting and funny and a weirdo in only the best ways. (Which brings me to — besides your boyfriend, do other people seem to find you awkward? Are the incidents where you’ve felt like you ruined the mood varied, or did they always involve the same people? It might be that your interests and social skills aren’t awful, but that you’re hanging out with people who don’t get you/don’t have anything in common with you.)

    Yes to everything the Captain said about social skills being a thing you can work on. I did — I learned to listen more, to not share everything I had to say, to ask good questions. It can be done. And “social skills” is a nebulous concept anyways — most people’s social skills get them by in some situations, but not in others. I am a weird, awkward person and my social skills are best suited to hanging out with other weird, awkward people who don’t mind if have a theory that takes several minutes to explain on who is the best Doctor Who companion or whatever. Even in situations where you feel like a fish out of water — those people who all seem so cool and get along and know what to say, that is true THERE. In a situation where you’re more at home, they might very well feel awkward and uncool. I think lots of people that way sometimes, or go home thinking that they sounded so stupid that night and they regret everything.

    But I try to remember that sometimes people’s self-absorption comes in handy — they’re not going home thinking I was stupid, they’re going home thinking THEY were stupid. No one is interacting with you in order to judge you — and if they are, they have the problem, not you. You are better off being awkward and well-meaning.

    I really liked what Kate Beaton said recently in a Q&A she did: Remember this when you go: you’re fine. You’re not awkward, you’re fine. I’ve had hundreds of the World’s Most Normal Humans stand in front of me at conventions and apologize for being awkward. You’re totally fine, don’t worry, just relax and enjoy yourself.

    1. “I think lots of people that way sometimes, or go home thinking that they sounded so stupid that night and they regret everything.”

      This is very, very true. LW, I am a very chatty and apparently extroverted. I often do a really good impression of being socially ept. And I still often go home and think “OH MY ATHEIST GODS WHAT DID I *SAY*? EVERYONE THOUGHT I WAS AN IDIOT AND WILL NEVER INVITE ME ANYWHERE AGAIN OH MAN OH MAN OH MAN *SHAME* *PANIC*”. But I do get invited back.

      LW, I suspect you are probably a lot less socially awkward than you think you are – hell, if I had a boyfriend who was relentlessly undermining my already shaky sense of my own ability to function in social situations, I would probably crawl under the bed and just stay there. That shit is out of order. And, oh LW, even if you really are the awkwardest person ever to awk, no-one should be treating you how your boyfriend is treating you. No-one!

      1. Haha, YES, me too! I often leave a social gathering thinking, “why the hell didn’t I ever SHUT UP?? They must be so annoyed! I sounded so dumb!” when probably the signals I was getting from them that it was all fine are somewhat more accurate.

        My ex who convinced me I was more awkward than I am wasn’t nearly this controlling about it, so much as vaguely undermining, but it still took a while to get back to the place where I was cool with not being 100% Perfect At All Social Interactions All The Time. It has helped enormously to be away from him and make friends who like me as I am. So I strongly encourage it, and the Captain is spot on as always!

    2. “I think lots of people that way sometimes, or go home thinking that they sounded so stupid that night and they regret everything.”

      I used to try to apologize for those things, and it always went like this:

      ME: Remember at your birthday party when I said [thing] and it was so [weird/inappropriate], and I took over your whole party? I’m so sorry about that.
      FRIEND: I don’t remember that at all. Was that my party last year? That was a fun party.

      So I stopped trying to be my own Retroactive Jackass Police and trust my friends to inform me of jackassery. Very few reports of such, I’m happy to say!

  3. This post makes me want to cry. I’m socially awkward as well and often tell jokes that are inappropriate for most settings (burping/farting/innuendo kind of jokes). My favorite coping strategy was learning to hang out with people who like burping/farting/innuendo kind of jokes. Me and my friends crack each other up, and all laugh our asses off in our own socially awkward way. LW, I know that there are people out there who would love you just the way you are. I hope you find them!

  4. One evil bit of gaslighting that I’ll mention because I’ve received it:

    “That thing you did? That innocuous thing that everyone seemed fine at the time and everyone reacted okay? Everyone was terribly offended. They were disgusted with you. They just didn’t say anything because they are very polite. But you need to know that secretly they all hate you for that thing you did.”

    If your partner says anything like this, know that it is always a lie (or at best, a misperception borne of his own self-consciousness, but probably a lie) and it is a very nasty one and a very clear sign that there are Evil Bees here.

    1. A while back, someone I deeply admired and had thought of as a good friend sent me an email, more or less out of the blue, explaining at length that I was a terrible person, he’d never enjoyed any of the time we’d spent together in the past seven years, and he’d never said anything about it before because I was just too mean and horrible to talk to. And that our mutual friends thought I was awful too.

      Even knowing, intellectually, that this email had more to do with his breakup the day before than with anything I’d actually done, it confirmed all my most horrible anxieties and paranoid fantasies and sent me into a depression that lasted for several years. I’m better now. But not friends with that guy.

      1. Man, I got a terrible email like that from one of my (at the time) best friends, shortly after a group vacation where I had had the terrible luck to get really miserably ill on day 2, which apparently invalidated our years of friendship. Set off a depressive spiral that almost led to me failing my senior thesis.

        And then about six months later she did the same thing to the entire rest of the circle of friends and burned every bridge to the fucking ground, and while it was terrible for everyone involved – sweet vindication.

      2. I got that email once. I had initiated the break-up with the friend, so I was expecting and prepared for some bitter feelingsmail, but it was still hard to roll with, because she hit every single vulnerable, anxious point. And then I realized — well, of course she did! She was one of my best friends, so I *told* her my every vulnerable, anxious point, and it’s like she’s going down a list dinging them.

        That helped me decide not to believe any of that, even for the fun of “hmm, maybe I should consider if I’m actually a cruel and unfeeling person for the duration of this box of wine.” If I have problems with a person, I talk to them about the problems. If those problems coincide with some of their anxieties, okay, it happens. But for every problem to so perfectly align with your worst insecurities, I’m assuming that’s a calculated effort to *go there* rather than an amazing coincidence that everything you’ve ever hated about yourself is 100% true and somebody who cared about you enough to hang out with you all the time (despite all your horribleness?) suddenly needs you to know that.

        My bf put it perfectly once. The ex-friend phrased something like, “Once you told me you felt like you were X, and I assured you that it wasn’t true, you were Y. But now, you should know, you’re totally like the bitchiest X of bitchtown.” He rephrased that as, “Once you shared with me your deepest fears. Today I am going to use those against you because I am mad. You are probably not wondering anymore why it couldn’t work out between us.”

        1. Reminds me of another manipulation tactic a couple of people have used on me: Every time you say something mildly self-deprecating or make a joke at your own expense, I will totally reassure you that you are great. But then I will say nasty, cutting things about you and pass them off as jokes. Bonus points for me if I make a “joke” about something you’ve told me, non-jokingly, you are kind of insecure or emotional about.

        2. Holy poop am I glad I’m not the only one to have received an out-of-the-blue Feelingsmail friend breakup! It sucked and was so surprising but at least I was treated to a special Airing of All Those Times You Did That Thing, which I remembered *so* differently that it was clear that his problem was inside own brain and not with me. I’m so glad to find out I am not alone in this experience though, it’s really validating!

      3. General life advice in order to not be That Person we’re all talking about: If you’re ever going to break off a relationship over email, whether a friendship or a romantic relationship, or whatever, keep it brief. Say, “I’m sorry, it’s not working out, I think we need to part ways.” If you *must* give specific reasons, make them about you, not them (and no, “I feel like you’re an evil monster” doesn’t count).

        And that’s how you avoid being a horrible human being.

      4. Ugh, out-of-the-blue “secretly I have always hated you” friend-breakup-emails. This has happened to me three times (with completely different friend groups, at different times in my life, in different countries even). It hurts every time, and has really ruined my ability to take people’s friendship at face value. I mean, sure, I can tell myself “if they really didn’t like me they wouldn’t keep inviting me to do things/saying yes when I invite them to do things”, but then I go “… but what about X, Y, and Z? They seemed perfectly happy to hang out with me, until they weren’t.”

        (It must be me to some extent, because otherwise it wouldn’t keep happening, would it? But there must be better ways to end a friendship, and also if you don’t actually like a person you should probably tell them early on instead of spending months/years regularly hanging out with someone you’d rather not be around.)

    2. You want to hear something sad? MY DAD USED TO DO THAT TO ME. I am actively GLAD my parents divorced when I was young and he moved far away and I only saw him once in a while because he ALWAYS pulled shit like that when we were together.

      Years later I read “Men Who Hate Women And The Women Who Love Them” (I have a weakness for self-help books, even if they don’t apply to me, and seriously, if you read this comment, LW, that book is genuinely good and not dumb and watered down and go check it out from the library or buy a copy THIS MINUTE, you will not be let down) and even though it’s about romantic relationships, all of the the non-sexual creepy, manipulative shit in it? Was stuff he’d done at one time or another.

      1. My dad is exactly the same way. The whole situation is really similar to yours. I, too, am GLAD my parents divorced when I was very young–and he moved to another state. We would see him every once in a while, but it was always jarring to me, and I did not figure out why until I had a similar epiphany. I thought I was just a bad daughter. I cannot remember what I was reading, but I did have an ah-ha! moment where I realized that he was being manipulative. I do miss having a good relationship with my dad, but at least now I can realize that is his fault, not mine.

    3. My parents used to do this to me when I was a kid. I would go through some situation with grown-ups, where I thought everyone liked me, and then afterwards, they would tell me how much I’d offended everyone.

      I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that I never trust my perceptions of what is going on between me and other people.

    4. I realized about a year ago that my husband’s best friend does this to me, via my husband, J, my husband, is a really agreeable guy, so if D, his best friend, says he was bothered by something I did, J is like “Oh yeah, that’s bad, I’ll let her know!” My offenses? Reading one of their magazines while everyone else was watching TV. Scratching (my eczema had flared and I was scratching my arm kind of absentmindedly.) There’ve been others I’ve forgotten about, but it’s been going on for the whole 27 years we’ve all known each other. It was a relief to realize last year that they were coming from D, because coming from J they sounded so random and cruel. Luckily we don’t see D often. We’ll see him even less now!

    5. Yep. I had the boyfriend who told me that everyone secretly hated me and only tolerated me because I was his girlfriend. It got to the point where I believed him, and thus was utterly isolated when I had to leave him for escalating the abuse to the physical realm. NOT EASY. You feel very alone. Which, I suspect, is the point—demolish your attachment to others so that the price you pay for leaving him is utter solitude. That I had a growing group of friends online that I was meeting helped, though!

  5. Letter Writer- I have no real advice, but your letter broke my heart, so I came to give you jedi hugs and tell you that you’re awesome.

  6. Holy wow, but your boyfriend does not sound like a partner to you. Partners warn YOU about how weird/awkward/boring their co-workers are, not the other way around! They tell you how dull their work events might be and are totally impressed with you when you make the event more fun for them. The problem isn’t you — it’s the person you’re with!

    You’re awkward? Okay. Yup. You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.

    @Allison — I have no theories on the best companion for the Doctor, as I’m still missing most of the episodes prior to the current reboot, but I’d totally discuss incarnations of the Doctor with you! I haz opinions, but mostly, I am happy the Doctor is on my television and that I can find other people who want to have these discussion.

    LW, you don’t say what you’re doing with your life other than being in this relationship. I am hoping there must be other things happening for you.

    1. Yes. Partners warn you about work parties, they don’t warn work parties about you. And if your partner talks shit about you to other people all the time, that is a bad partner.

      1. Partners also try to make stuff easier for you, as opposed to dragging you to stuff that is hard or excluding you from stuff because they think it will be too hard for you. They can:

        – introduce you to people you have stuff in common with or who they think you will like, and telling you what you have in common;
        – gently draw you into group conversations;
        – check in with you about how you are feeling in a possibly-uncomfortable situation (or work out hand signals or code words that mean “It’s time to go,” that only the two of you understand and that are always respected);
        – say, “You seemed a little nervous at the party tonight. I just want to say I know it can be really overwhelming to be thrust into a group of people you don’t know well, and I want you to know how much I appreciate your coming with me. You are awesome. I totally owe you one.”
        – warn you in advance of potential minefields — “Jim was really pissed I got promoted instead of him, so I’m going to try and avoid that topic tonight” — or, if you do cross a line, they tell you, “I was really uncomfortable when you said/did x tonight and I don’t want it to happen again.” They call out specific behaviors and they know everyone makes mistakes sometimes. They do not make you feel like everything you could possibly do could be wrong.

        LW, I hope there is at least one person in your life who loves you for you, who puts you at ease and makes you feel good about yourself instead of uncomfortable and ashamed.

        1. Yes! That is a good list. I used to have *the worst* social anxiety. I always had some, and then I had an abusive relationship where my boyfriend did THE EXACT SAME THING he’s doing to you, LW (LW, by the way, your boyfriend is the WORST — I would much rather hang out with “ha ha I am socially awkward girlfriend oops my joke fell flat” than “I am the guy who berates my girlfriend into social isolation and prefers that she thinks she’s worthless” any day, so I’m telling you, one of you is the more tolerable person in this relationship, and it’s not him).

          I also did the thing where I would, like, read newspaper articles before a social outing so I could have some socially appropriate things to talk about. I thought that was a good way to get started being normal, right? Then I told my abusive boyfriend about that, all proud of myself, and he made this disgusted face and was like, “Do you see how fucked up you are? Normal people don’t have to do that.” Like normal people want to make their loved ones feel like shit about themselves.

          Things my abusive boyfriend did to me:

          — Would interrupt me constantly in social gatherings with things like, “Okay, great, Marie needs to talk all night again,” or, more often, “Jesus, are you talking about that (thing you are passionate about) bullshit again?” Other people wouldn’t call him on it, they’d just laugh awkwardly, and eventually I assumed that he must have been right or somebody would’ve said something. I didn’t realize he had made the situation as horrible and awkward and gross for them as he had for me, so they shut up, too. Nobody wants to get called out that way by a bully, and once he’d revealed himself as one, people just shut their mouths and did their best to get away from the worst couple ever.

          — If I was telling a story, he would stand behind whoever I was talking to and make that “wrap it up” motion, even if I had *just* started the story. He might also make other faces, like the “god you’re boring” face or the “that story again?” face.

          — When I laughed because I was happy and enjoying myself, he would make fun of my laugh, usually capping it off with, “God, you sound like a yokel.” When I practiced other laughs, he — you guessed it! — hit me again with the, “Normal people don’t have to do that,” thing. ‘Cause normal people think the sound of their beloved partner’s bemusement is terrible and grating and needs to be stopped.

          — If he succeeded in bullying me into sitting in a corner sulking all night, he would then come over and “encourage” me to start socializing, because I never do, you know, I always just give up on myself, why can’t I just try? Gosh, he just tries so hard with me, he doesn’t know how to help me anymore.

          — If he didn’t succeed, on the way home he would immediately detail all the horrible things I had done that I somehow hadn’t noticed. It took me a long time to realize that he was never telling me about small, unimportant things, like, “When you asked the bartender for a drink, you were so dumb.” He was always picking the conversations I had obviously enjoyed the most, or the people I had felt I interacted the best with, and telling me that they secretly hated everything about me and I was too stupid to notice. If somebody hits you in every vulnerable place you have, they are doing that shit on purpose.

          — AND bonus round (and trigger warning), if he succeeded in bullying me at the party until I sulked, or made me cry on the way home, sex had to happen once we got there. LW, if your boyfriend telling you you’re shit at interacting with people ever has to conclude with absolute and pleasant agreement from you, and then the hugs, kisses, smiles, or sex, GET THE FUCK OUT and if you can set him on fire as you go that would be a pretty functional social interaction to start building on.

          Things my not abusive boyfriend does!

          — If I laugh SUPER awkwardly or make a SUPER awkward joke or otherwise look like I’m feeling SUPER awkward and anxious, he speaks privately with me about, “Are you feeling okay? Do you want to stay? What’s going on? Do you want me to hang out with you?” HE DOES NOT TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE ME FEEL WORSE, is the thing I am trying to say. ‘Cause normal people don’t want their loved ones to feel badly, and will try to make them not feel badly if they can.

          — If he has some legit constructive criticism to give me, HE WAITS UNTIL WE ARE NOT AT THE PARTY, explicitly so I will not be embarrassed. And he phrases it like, “I saw you doing this, and I thought maybe it didn’t go off the way you wanted. What were you looking for? Is there something I can help you with so you get the reaction you want?” BECAUSE HE WANTS ME TO BE HAPPY, is the thing I am trying to say, not because he wants me to shut up or feel bad. He wants me to feel the opposite of bad, which is why he is helping me find ways to NOT FEEL BAD instead of locking me up in a YOU ARE BAD tower.

          — If in the middle of his legit constructive criticism I tell him I thought I was fine and I don’t need help, HE STOPS. Because I am an adult and I get to conduct my own interpersonal relationships as I see fit. AND HE DOESN’T SULK ABOUT IT, because that shit wasn’t about him, it was about him loving me and wanting me to be happy, and when I am like, “Hey, guy, I am loved and happy,” mission is accomplished.

          — If I am feeling like I am a social pariah and will never conduct a functional adult friendship ever again, he will either talk to me about it, hug me about it, or leave me alone about it, whatever I tell him I want to do. But he damn sure will not tell me that I am right, I am the WORST at talking to people, it would probably be better if I just NEVER WENT OUT AGAIN. He loves me, so he does not think I am somebody who must never show my face again. He thinks I am awesome.

          Look, here’s the main point. Anybody who tells you something about yourself is just utterly intolerable — to the point that you have to go into the BAD YOU tower and stay there hopelessly and forever — but also tells you that they love you and want to be with you, is lying about one of those things. If you were so bad, he wouldn’t want to hang out with you. If you’re not so bad and he says you are, it’s because his definition of love is super fucking different than yours (and that’s the charitable way to say it — the non-charitable way is: he is purposefully abusing you so you will become more socially isolated and dependent on him, because he does not care about your feelings). Someone shouting “YOU ARE THE WORST DON’T EVER LEAVE ME” is somebody who wants you to stay because you feel too shitty to leave. When was the last time you wanted somebody you hated being around to hang out with you all the time? That’s right, NEVER. You want people you like to be around you. You want people you don’t like to go away. Somebody who tells you that you are unlikeable and then wants you to hang around all the time is somebody who is trying to con you into thinking you can’t do any better.

          1. Oh jesus wow, I’m sorry about this, Marie. This is a really good post, with a lot of fantastic examples/lessons.

            Um, since I’ve kind of fallen in love with you from your previous comments here, I really need to awkwardly tell you that I think you should write a blog (that contains your continuing thoughts on BEES) and I think that you should link to your blog in your user profile, so that I can read your blog, because I really like your head-thoughts and would like to roll around in them more often. So yeah, you should do that.

            SEE LW, *THIS* is what socially awkward looks like. ❤

          2. Marie, you have hit it out of the park. I so hope that LW comes back and reads your comment.

            LW, there is no easy way to break this to you, but your partner is an a-grade asshole who needs his abusive ass dumped. Another tough pill to swallow because he has so effectively bullied you into internalising this abuse, is that you are great. Really really great, and he is not. I am not by-proxy embarrassed by awkward people in social situations, I am however mortified by abusive assholes who lock away their girlfriends in the YOU ARE BAD tower in social situations, and i’m pretty sure that his co-workers feel this way too but are unsure about if or how to tackle it.

            You don’t need to ‘fix’ yourself and there is no way to ‘fix’ him, so please please just find a safe place to get the hell away from him.

            And please please please write back and let us know how you are

            Jedi hugs galore

          3. Marie, every time you post, I feel like you must be the parallel-universe version of me, because SO MUCH of what you describe is stuff I’ve experienced. Your descriptions of what your abusive ex did are so, so close to what mine did, and your descriptions of what your non-abusive boyfriend does are almost exactly what my non-abusive, terrifyingly awesome husband does. The former issue just sucks on every conceivable level, but the latter is good and heartening and I’m really glad for both of us.

            And LW, I hope you will take all of this as an example of why your boyfriend is very bad for you and why you need to move him out of your life and find yourself again. The shit he is doing is Not On, to wildly understate it, and you do not deserve any of it (no, not even if you are the most hideously awkward person who has ever lived–isolation and degradation are never acceptable in a relationship). You deserve to realize how awesome you can be, and I hope examples from those of us who have gone through this and come out the other side will help you.

          4. Wow, this sounds the sort of thing that makes me a complete prick and not just socially awkward. If someone is abusing and humiliating his girlfriend with the “are you boring people again” type of shit I will get in between them, especially when I can tell there will be physical or sexual abuse to follow. I have been known to kick people out of other people’s parties without checking with the hostess. You don’t have to be an asshole about it you can just set boundaries and meet nice people. By all means go meet nice people. You have every right to a partner who will talk to you kindly. Mine will tell me when I am being over the top and need to tone down a bit(or *a lot*) without ever telling me that I am a horrible violent person and should stop defending people altogether.

            The LW’s partner and many others on the thread are what I would call a Lord Domly Pants. (thank you Matchstick and Holly P for the term, I love it). Men who non-consensually dominate you and make you miserable. There is a reason I try to be their bane.

  7. My friend’s boyfriend is actually horrible, he gets into heated arguments with near strangers over pedantic things like the name of a party game using a vocal tone that makes it sound as though he is 95% sure everyone else in the room has only two brain cells. All her family and most of her friends dislike him to one degree or another. But he still comes out, he still goes to family and professional events with her. And most importantly, SHE DEFENDS HIM, and she tries to help him improve himself.

    The point of my anecdote is that you deserve to be defended, no matter how awkward you may occasionally be. You deserve love that protects you and helps you be the best person you can be. Whatever this is that is keeping you silent, you deserve better.

    Also, I seriously doubt that you are as awkward as you think, here is my evidence:
    1. If you were really that awkward you probably wouldn’t think you were awkward. You would think you were THE MOST AWESOME and you would continue to do and say awkward things without caring. The fact that you even care means you are totally not that bad.
    2. You like social media and are up on current events, this makes you at the very least someone with something to talk about besides her 35 cats.
    3. What the captain said about being quiet and listening.
    4. You notice when your jokes don’t make people laugh. (Sadly, not all jokes are winners. I have told quite a few deeply awkward jokes in my time. But that doesn’t make you embarrassing, that makes you a human, and a human who is at least TRYING to be entertaining.)

    Please take the Captain’s excellent advice. You deserve better than this.

    1. “If you were really that awkward you probably wouldn’t think you were awkward. You would think you were THE MOST AWESOME and you would continue to do and say awkward things without caring”


      While I am not an especially awkward person myself, I am an awkward magnet of awkward people at the awkward end of the awkward table, largely because the actual biggest assholes are the people who are all OH FACE when awkward people show up and therefore miss all the great things awkward people have to say, so I always like to OH FACE those people back by being like you know what? awkward people? here is the table for you guys.

  8. D: I just want to give you jedi hugs, LW.

    One thing that I noticed from the letter…”I know myself to be very childish and young-minded” — do you know that (and why??), or did he tell you that?

      1. I would also invite the LW to sometimes think, to herself, “You are wrong,” when her boyfriend tells she messed something social up. And just see how that feels, or makes the world look.

        When I was in such a nightmare place with my abusive ex, my head kept abusing me when he wasn’t around. So I would have a perfectly normal interaction with a barista, and walk away telling myself, “THAT WAS WRONG HORRIBLE WRONG YOU ARE BAD.” I had to start practicing telling myself, “That was fine. Everything is fine.” And suddenly all the little details I saw that confirmed how awful I was just started melting away, and I could see that yes, indeed, my interaction with the barista was completely unremarkable, and completely normal, and completely fine. And anybody who told me different had to be lying through their teeth, or living in a world I did not inhabit.

        1. LW, here’s another coping technique. You could try thinking “you think” when he says ugly things. Like, if he says “You are so awkward” repeat it in your head as “You think I am so awkward” This is a powerful tool for me, it might be for you. It reminds one that most of what people say isn’t fact, it’s just their opinion. This can help put ugly ideas in their place- usually their place is the time out chair.
          Also, I like to remember this tip. All the ideas in my head aren’t mine; I don’t have to own them. They may have been planted there by advertisers, enemies, media I’ve consumed etc. I can sort through them and decide which ones to nurture and which ones to weed out.
          If I use these tools consciously and consistently, my life is so much better. I hope they might help you as well.

  9. LW, reading this made my stomach knot right up, and I so hope things get better for you.

    There’s so much good advice here, but reading this made me remember my own efforts to try and improve my social and conversational skills via a comprehensive study on How to Be Funny (which consisted of a summer watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 and stealing all the best/most versatile quips).

    Holly touched on this above, but one thing I doscovered is telling a bad story or a dumb joke that causes an awkward pause or doesn’t get a laugh is not going to lower people’s opinion of you–they probably won’t even remember it (the human mind is excellent at remembering the extraordinary and forgetting the mundane, and bad jokes are mundane). Don’t let people tell you that you “ruined everything” with one comment that got blank stares or a groaner joke. A big part of living life is learning to be awkward in public and not letting it ruin your whole evening (if it does ruin their evening, awesome, hopefully they’ll leave and go cry about it).

    You need to be less hard on yourself, and your partner needs to CHILL (after FUCKING OFF. The order is important)!

    1. Yes, agreed. The only thing I can even vaguely imagine justifying this sort of behaviour is if the LW spews out racist/sexist/homophobic/ablist stuff? And that’s just really not sounding likely to me (not that the boyfriend is handling the situation at all well even if that is the case!)

  10. Um… not to be daft, but if you’re such a social misfit, however did you meet such a pinnacle of socialization? I mean, seriously. If you’re such a bad catch, how did you meet this person and manage to keep them coming back for 5 years?

    Hint: the answer has to do with you NOT being a social misfit. And if this person tries to imply that they’re with you as some form of charity or benevolence, well that’s all the more reason to get gone.

    1. That was my first thought too. Your boyfriend does not seem to follow the “Don’t date anyone who isn’t as cool as your friends” method of dating, since he seems to think you are way less cool than all of his friends. Evidence that he, actually, might not be cool enough for you.

      Breaking up with someone sucks, especially when you feel like crap about yourself. I definitely agree with the Captain in terms of getting yourself to a safe place and loading up on Team You. That might mean meeting people through hobbies, it might mean spending more time with your friends and less time with his friends, it might mean talking to a therapist or your family. Once you’ve done all of that, you might be able to have a frank conversation with your partner about his behaviour and maybe he’ll change it. But if that doesn’t happen, you’ll probably have at least a slightly easier time telling him to screw off.

  11. LW, has anyone other than your partner told you that your conversation and behavior is socially unacceptable? You seem to have internalized it – describing yourself as childish – but it’s not clear whether this is a real problem between you and the outside world, or just something that makes him unhappy. (Most of my social circle’s interaction is based on dick jokes, so an offensive sense of humour is no impediment to getting on with people.)

    I would be really worried about being with someone that controlling who seems to have very little respect for you.

    I wonder what he tells people when they ask why you aren’t joining them.

    1. Another option is that you are picking up on some real social discomfort, BUT YOU ARE NOT THE ONE CAUSING IT. Anybody who bullies their girlfriend into such low self-esteem that she calls herself childish and young-minded and then voluntarily absents herself from the world because she’s so worthless, well, that person is not going to be loads of fun to be around. For anybody.

      After I left my abusive ex, I realized that *he* had been the one making every social interaction unbearable. People didn’t get nervous and make a pained face around me because I was just so terribly awkward — it was because he was barreling up, interrupting me, berating me, and generally being such a shit that NOBODY WANTED TO BE AROUND HIM. And since I was always with him, nobody was ever around me, either.


      Me: Blah blah blah, normal human words.
      Other person: Oh, that’s cool.
      Him: GOD are you talking about your STUPID THING again. You are always TALKING, isn’t she ALWAYS TALKING? Look, I told you nobody wants to hear this.
      Other person: I’m gonna go.
      Him: See, people are so bored, he took the first chance to leave that he could. It’s a good thing I saved him from this stupid conversation.

      And I would buy his version of events, because I was so “socially retarded” (that’s what he and I called me — me in my head, him in public, to other people, to explain why my joke wasn’t funny) that of course it had to be me. It couldn’t be that he just interrupted a conversation to abuse his girlfriend, which was so horrible to watch that the other person ran the fuck away.

      1. For a couple years I was friends with a woman who once called me “the queen mum of awkward” and was constantly critical of my (and others’) social skills. Once I asked her what she meant when she called people awkward and it seemed she used it to describe people who are quiet or reserved (which I usually am when I first meet people — like the Captain, I think that’s polite, not weird) but also people who seem uncomfortable in social situations. Which, I think I’m just fine, always have. Then I noticed that I WAS almost always uncomfortable around HER. Because she was really fucking rude. And also made me second guess myself in just about every conversation we’ve ever had, and that eventually earned her a lovely African violet.

        Your story reminds me of a small party I went to years ago where no one really knew each other, and everyone was telling jokes. I started telling a joke, and this guy stopped me and went, “NO. NOT THAT JOKE. EVERYONE HAS HEARD THAT JOKE. I HATE THAT JOKE SO MUCH. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP.” A couple of people were like, “No, I haven’t heard this, let her go ahead. Anyway, what’s the big deal?” I mean, dude was REALLY upset, PERSONALLY OFFENDED I would tell a joke he’d heard before! Because, um, sitting politely for 60 seconds or getting up and hitting the john were not options? I felt really nervous and embarrassed but went ahead. Several people came up to me that night and said, “I don’t know what that guy’s deal is, but I’m sorry he went off on you. So crazy.” I’m sure people thought your ex was the weird one, too, and were just like, “Um, this is weird, I have to go.”

      2. Marie, like (I’m sure) many people here, I get excited every time I see a comment from you because I know it’s going to be funny and true and possibly about bees. I can’t even comprehend the mindset of someone who would try to make you feel bad for making those comments. I’m sure that in many places he’s still remembered as The Guy Who Killed Every Good Conversation in the Room.

        1. My ex did sometimes concede that I was very “witty” and “clever.” I think, even as much as he now hates me and says all kinds of exciting things about me behind my back, he probably still concedes that, because, I guess, it is too obvious not to concede to the people who knew me. Of course, bracketed on either end of that compliment was “you can’t interact with humans like a normal creature” and “you are stupid and nobody likes you,” so I wasn’t witty and clever enough to see through that. But I did make clever, scathing puns anyway, so I kind of consider that the triumph of the human spirit through adversity.

          Not long after I left him, I was talking to a mutual friend (before I dropped all our mutual friends) who was telling me that he was “totally macking” on some girl at a party. I laughed uproariously and said, “No, he wasn’t. He was making an ass of himself, right?” And we went back and forth like that for a while until the mutual friend finally admitted that, “Okay, he was trying to mack but he ended up telling the girl why her choice of drink made her weak and her favorite band made her banal.” So yeah, he is still carving out his territory as Shittiest Guy With Whom To Have a Conversation About Thoughts, Opinions, Feelings.

          1. Your ex was trying to hit on a woman by “telling her how her choice of drink made her weak and her favourite band made her banal” ? I’m pretty sure I know that guy.

  12. LW, socially awkward != “always ruin(ing) the mood by saying something stupid or embarrassing.” And as laggedy pointed out above, if you’re THAT terrible to talk to and be around, then why is your partner still with you? I smell a rat. A controlling, gaslighting rat. But if you are TRULY concerned that you might be just THAT BAD at conversation, ask your friends. Tell them what your partner says and say “You know guys, if this is true, I really need to know. If not, well, I need to know that too.” I would bet dollars to donuts that they will tell you that you are just fine in social situations, and your partner is Darth Vader. Jedi Hugs to you, LW!

    Also, holy crap, I JUST watched that movie Monday! And let me tell you, it was CREEPY. And AWFUL.

  13. Oh LW, so many Jedi hugs heading your way.

    You’re a 20something, you say, so let me let you in on a secret: people twice your age are still trying to figure out how to behave in social situations. Most people (who follow a high school -> college -> job trajectory at least) don’t run into a variety of social situations until they get into their 20s. You’re in school, then you’re learning a work environment and a lot of other social situations that didn’t come up before. So you have to learn, and learning by definition is generally not easy. NOBODY IS BORN KNOWING HOW TO DO THIS. Sorry for shouting, but from my view, you and your partner are being way too harsh on your social skills.

    And even if you’re awkward when you get to your 30s, so what? Being awkward doesn’t mean you have to sequester yourself away from the rest of adult humanity, or that you’re undeserving of face to face human contact (if that’s what you want). A good heart is much more valuable than people who say suave shit but have no compassion or empathy.

    And that your partner is treating you this way is unacceptable. You deserve to be treated better than this.

  14. I know a person with a girlfriend who has absolutely no clue, social-wise, and who makes inappropriate remarks constantly and always tries to make every conversation about how great she is. She is seriously narcissistic and childish. No one likes her and people choose not to go to events that she’s at because they don’t want to deal with her.

    Her boyfriend brings her with him wherever he goes. There have been situations where she wasn’t invited because she’s obnoxious, and when she’s not invited, he doesn’t go either. This includes his family events, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. He puts her first because he loves her even though everyone else finds her horribly odious. His point of view is that we should all just deal with her. He doesn’t tell her to stay in a room. He doesn’t apologize for her. And over the last 7 years all of this time she’s spent hanging out with us she’s gotten better.

    You may actually be as odious as she is, though I doubt it. However, not knowing you, I don’t know. But I will say one thing – if your boyfriend makes you isolate yourself FOR ANY REASON he is abusing you. If your boyfriend isn’t proud of you, if he isn’t willing to stand by your side and accept censure from his peers because they don’t like you, he doesn’t love you. I don’t like that girlfriend, but I do respect how he stands up for her. And you will never learn to be less socially awkward (if in fact you are awkward in any way) without interacting with other people. At the very least, if you do actually have problems, he is preventing you from getting better. People who love you don’t try to prevent you from getting better. They support you every inch of the way.

    1. Yes, this 100%. Even if you are super annoying and make everyone feel uncomfortable, the way your partner is treating you isn’t cool. If he doesn’t like you, he shouldn’t be with you. If he does like you, he needs to treat you like someone he likes.

    1. Off-topic, but whoa is it a weird feeling to see a blogger one follows comment on an entirely unrelated blog one follows too.

  15. Yes, I’m with everyone else. This guy sounds like an abusive nightmare. Nobody is so socially unpalatable she can’t sit quietly in a bar with a group of coworkers. The alcohol and music are there so that people don’t really have to interact with each other. The LW should get away from this guy as soon as she can.

    Also, listen, there’s no such thing as the right way to behave in all situations, or the right way to appeal to all people. I’ve met people who think I’m dull and annoying; I’ve met people who think I’m fabulous. I hang out with people in the second group.

    I’ve also had friends who made a point of telling me that I was dorky and weird, and it never accomplished anything but self-hatred. It also made me much more anxious–and left me, years later, with the lingering sense that I am bad at life and friendship. Don’t hang out with those people. They’re probably wrong. Find people you get along with. They’ll teach you how to appreciate yourself.

  16. Dear LetterWriter, your post broke my heart as well. I came to offer more Jedi hugs and promises that you are wonderful and deserving of love and support and all the things you seem to think aren’t meant for you. You have suffered terrible emotional violence from this man, please be gentle with yourself!

    Also, I’m concerned that you seem to be isolating yourself? To appease him? This is a sign of an abusive situation. Please listen to the Captain and other commenters, there is a lot of good advice here.

  17. I’m so sorry you’re going through this LW. The way your partner is treating you is not fair and not okay. You deserve a partner who is proud to have you on hir arm, not someone who acts all “ashamed” of you and put who down.

    *Jedi hugs* if you want them, and welcome to the Awkward Side! We have cookies!

  18. Ahhh, wankers are wankers. My ex husband didn’t like me to go places with him because I was better at being social than he was and somehow that made me the bad guy. I can tell a joke, put people at ease, and, while I am not usually the life of the party, gosh darn it, people like me (you go, Stuart Smalley!) So, apparently, because he had bad breath or perved on EVERYONE in the place (it shows if that is ALL you are interested in, people can tell, believe me) or whatever he did that skanked people out, I was the bad guy because people would tell him flat out to his face that they liked me better than they liked him. Oh, yeah, he couldn’t take a joke either.
    Wankers will get you one way or the other. Take the advice offered here, please, before you waste anymore time.

  19. It may be worthwhile to check in with a professional, to give you a reality check and to help you with social skills. It’s true! These can be learned. I wish you luck.

    1. Second this! My ex frequently shamed me for being “awkward” (read: introverted, analytical, and very direct about things). It was *so helpful* to talk to a therapist, who could explain that being introverted was a normal and okay thing, and did not make me a horrible broken person!

  20. Can’t second enough the piece about getting people on Team You. Those things your partner doesn’t like about you are probably the exact same thing other people LOVE about you.

  21. I do not often comment but I also feel compelled to pipe up and offer you love words and jedi hugs ❤

    I have no advice as all that has been given is spot on, but I do have an anecdote that adds to the "you are not alone" sphere:

    My Dad is a terrible-joke-teller and generally-awkward-person (runs in the family?) – and all of his family, friends, local supermarket service people and bar tenders love him and think he is awesome. BECAUSE he makes them feel like he knows he's kind of off beat, but he's in on the joke.

    FOR EXAMPLE. When we go into a restaurant, he will say something silly to the waiters like that I am recently out of jail and that it's probably best if security keeps an eye on me – I am small and polite-looking and the waiters always kind of squint at me, then back at my dad, then back at me, not sure WTF he's going on about. Growing up he embarrassed the heck out of me (what Dads don't) but now I am grown up(per) I totally play along. "It's true, 10 years in the clink. Pint of beer please. Want to see my tatts?" – the waiters will walk away smiling and nodding politely and we giggle our asses off.

    We are so not funny to anyone else but each other, but we have a hilarious time. What I love is his ability to just be his dorky self and not apologise to anyone for it.

    So in conclusion – Embrace your awkward. If it is part of who you are, find the people that love you *for* it, not this dickwad trying desperately to convince you he loves you *despite* it.

    1. “FOR EXAMPLE. When we go into a restaurant, he will say something silly to the waiters like that I am recently out of jail and that it’s probably best if security keeps an eye on me – I am small and polite-looking and the waiters always kind of squint at me, then back at my dad, then back at me, not sure WTF he’s going on about.”

      OMG. If I was the server, I’d either pee myself laughing or play along with the joke. “Yeah, I hear the quiet ones are the most dangerous,” or “ZOMG! You were the ones collecting bets in the cellblock football pool, right????”

  22. LW, maybe your partner isn’t as evil as we all seem to think he is. I hope he isn’t. I recognize some of myself in him. I used to get all stressed out with my boyfriend in social situations. He didn’t seem to have any filters! Years later, I now recognize that what was really going on was that *I* was the socially awkward one. From a rather young age I got it into my head that nobody was going to like me (kids can be cruel). I had this careful balanced fear all the time that I had to be careful or people wouldn’t like me. And my boyfriend didn’t seem to have that at all! How on earth could he function in polite society by, gasp, just being himself! Even if I handled things poorly at the time, at least I had the good grace to realize that it was kinda mean to be berating him about his social skills and try to be apologetic about it.

    LW, I’d like to point out that if you’re in your 20’s, and have been dating this guy for 5 years, that’s somewhere between half and all of your adult life. Do you really know how awkward you are or aren’t when you aren’t around this guy?

    Maybe this guy is downright evil, and you should straight up leave him. But that can be really hard, especially when you’re young and you’ve been together for years. If you’re not ready for that, try to take care of yourself in other ways. Know yourself, and know its ok to be awkward and say stupid things. Decide what you’re going to do about these social activities and set boundaries. Maybe for the work things you’re too afraid you’ll get your partner fired, but at non-work things you decide to just be your awkward self. Then if your partner is negative about it you do the whole setting boundaries thing and say things like “please don’t interupt me when I’m talking to people”, or whatever he does when he thinks you’re being awkward.

    Its just that going from the limited information in your letter you just strike me as the kind of person who might not have the self worth and common sense to straight up walk away from a bad relationship (and maybe its not as bad as all that anyway!) and I hope if you don’t walk away you take care of yourself and can start to make things feel better.

    Jedi hugs!

    1. Maybe this guy is downright evil, and you should straight up leave him.

      I like the rest of your advice, but LW needs to know that someone does not need to be evil in order to deserve dumping. Every person who engages in abusive behavior also has a good side to them. That good side is not worth staying for.

  23. Dear LW, you say “I have never been good at social interactions, and I am desperate to know what to do, other than keep my mouth shut.”

    Most of the responses I see are about your relationship with your partner, but I wonder if you’re asking about that.

    I am not particularly socially skilled in groups, but I’m getting better, and here’s roughly what I’ve found works for me.

    My suggestion for how to get both rapidly better and more confident at social interactions is to join an social group without your partner or current friends. Try to find a group that’s likely to have the sort of people you’d like to get better at interacting with (professionals in their 20s and 30s? recent retirees? high-powered managerial types?). Whatever type of group it is, if there is an organising committee, volunteer.

    (I joined a professional networking organisation or two, without the more experienced colleague who had been ‘mentoring’ me in a ‘you’re kind of socially inept so let me save you by telling you not to do things’ way. Oddly, that person’s really pretty socially good and was genuinely trying to help me. They just aren’t the best social tutor in the world. They’re showing signs of being really happy spending time at events with me these days and have cut out the criticisms that made me feel bad.)

    Make it a group where if you stuff up completely, it won’t really matter too much, because the people aren’t your current friends or work contacts.

    See how you go. Practice being social without your partner’s help or hindrance (and attempts to help that actually just hinder because they don’t let you really learn for yourself). Chat to people and don’t worry too much about creating any kind of real friendship – what you’re there for is to learn successful light, surface communication. If you actually make a friend, that’s nice, but it’s not the aim of the whole thing.

    I think you may surprise yourself, but even if you don’t, you’ll find out a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

    Look for models among the group for how you’d like to appear to others, and see what they do. Copy some of their methods of getting along with people.

    Good luck! And remember, there are other groups. You can find another to learn in if the first gets difficult.

    When you’re feeling ready in six months or a year, you might then want to start seeing if you can include your partner, if you’re still together, into a couple of *your* social events. Since you will already know the ropes for these events, and any bridges you burn are your own, not his, you’ll be able to start getting some experience in spending time at social events with him without his fear for his connections getting in the way. He can thus learn a bit about how people respond to you without his own fears overwhelming him. Or you could just be busy with your own events while he’s at his.

    1. When I was a teenager, I found volunteering at a geriatric hospital’s games night was very instructive. In particular, a lot of the more gregarious patients there had alzheimer’s, and conversations could be repeated almost word for word each week, if I presented the same inputs. That was very freeing to deal with – I knew that as long as it was light and friendly, the actual content of the conversation mattered very little, and a flubbed joke or awkward pause would be forgotten just as thoroughly as my name and face. I would experiment with what questions to ask to get a good story, or which compliments are most appreciated, etc.

      I have a neighbor in a similar state, and the challenge of talking to her has been to give myself permission to say, “oh, look at the time! I’ve got to go!” when I feel done.

      I recall they also had a really good training video for us, that outlined specific strategies for talking to someone hard of hearing, and showing appropriate empathy to a distressed or sad patient. But for the most part, the patients that came out to the games night were happy, gregarious, and quite willing to start the conversations.

  24. Oh! Just realised. The other thing is knowing that in work-related social events, it’s pretty much always socially correct to pretend interest in the career or work of the person sitting near you. A potential script runs a bit like this.

    Hi! My name’s [name].

    [Pause for them to say hi.]

    Do you work for [name of company or organisation hosting event?]
    What do you do for [company, if you already know they work there?]

    [Listen a whole lot and smile.]

    It’s not a scintillating start to a conversation, but repeated with four or five people, it usually results in a decent amount of polite chit-chat.

  25. LW, one thing that stood out for me was that you feel like you are unable to even successfully carry out a conversation with a checkout operator. This is probably the one thing in your letter that most makes me think your perception of yourself is being warped by someone (and, yes, like others commenting here, I’m suspecting the partner).
    How on earth are you messing up these conversations? Interestingly you don’t give any examples of your faux pars – do you shout OH YOUR FACE IS UGLY! at people? I don’t think it’s possible to fail at chatting to the checkout operator, even if you do nothing but grunt that’s pretty acceptable and if you squeeze in a ‘hi’ or a ‘ta’ I think that’s probably outstanding.

    1. I used to feel like I was failing at these types of interactions, and I was never abused into it. Some of us just grow up feeling totally unacceptable as a human being because of… idk, naturally bad self-esteem? Horrifying brain chemistry?

      Finally I actually got a job working at a cafe and realized that the only unpleasant interactions I was having with customers were ones where they were actively unpleasant and unfriendly. Shy or quiet customers didn’t bother me at all! So all those years I was probably never bothering anyone!

      1. Yeah, the big secret with interacting with people is that sometimes people are jerks and no amount of wit and charm on your part can undo that.

        Also, I realised I had misread the LW and in fact she has problems interacting with other people in the queue, not the operator. All I have to say about that is, if you can make friends in the supermarket queue, send me your number.

    2. I’m someone whose “social awkwardness” set-point moves around a lot, and I second this wholeheartedly. I always know I’m in a weird funk of some kind when I start thinking things like “why didn’t I say ‘I’m doing great, how are you?’ when the cashier asked me how I was doing? Why did I just nod and say ‘hi?’ That’s weird, right? I should have said ‘Hi!’ OMIGODI’VERUINEDIT

      Then the next time I go through a line I’ll be totally charming and I’ll be thinking ‘this cashier probably thinks I’m some sort of important person, like maybe I work for the State Department. Or I’m a fireman. I’ve been working out, I’ll bet I totally look like a hot fireman. Yeah, I’m awesome.”

      What the cashier is thinking, in both instances? “Is it break time yet? Crap, did this guy want paper or plastic? God, my feet hurt. I can’t wait to watch ‘Glee’ later.”

      People are usually not paying that much attention to you and you can act however comes naturally and it will be fine. If you’re hanging out with people who get off on making social interactions seem like some sort of constant high-wire act, you may need to trade those people in for people who aren’t so, for lack of a better term, socially awkward.

      1. So much this.

        I also sometimes take the general rudeness of service people personally. I grew up in the mid midwest where everyone is so friendly and nice. I spent some time further east and now live in a big city, and regularly have to stop myself from going through the crushing “Even the CASHIERS hate me” spiral.

        They don’t hate me, they are just not very nice. That’s okay, they are not getting paid enough to be nice to me. I will just continue to be SO nice to them until they eventually give in and smile.

        1. I had to adjust the opposite way. I grew up in the east so making chit chat with a cashier wasn’t something you did much. I was getting the stink eye from some cashiers in the midwest for a while before I realized they expected at least a “how are you?” or a comment about the weather.

          And having worked in food service in high school, let me tell you, any customer who isn’t being a raging asshole to you is a good one. Quiet people are far preferable to the Not Always Right style garbage nightmare customer. I never took quietness from a customer as an insult. What was more insulting were the actual, you know, insults. :\

          1. Oh my god, yes. I think this culture that’s grown up where adults can have tantrums like giant children and then BE REWARDED FOR THAT BEHAVIOR BECAUSE THE STORE WANTS THEIR BUSINESS is incredibly damaging. I work in food service now, and I’ve had people literally throw things at me because it was too cold when they wanted it hot or there wasn’t enough cream cheese or whatever. I’ve had people call me a bitch because I didn’t let them use all of their “limit one per customer” coupons. And I have to smile and say I’m super sorry about that and can I remake it for you?

    3. Hey, everyone. I like a lot of the things people are saying to the LW. I think this is a loving and encouraging atmosphere but I think there’s something I see in the tone of a few of the letters I wanted to point out.

      I fail at talking to checkout cashiers. I assure you it’s possible. I can’t go grocery shopping by myself. I tried to today and finding the food was overwhelming, I had to keep turning back for things I’d forgotten, and by the time I got to the cashier I could barely speak, and then she wanted to do small talk and I just don’t get why anyone would want to talk about the weather because it’s a pointless conversation. The reason behind part of my problem is actually verbal abuse from multiple people (including bullies) who made me feel worthless, but that wasn’t the only factor. The other is autism. My friends are nice to me and I think most of them genuinely like me but they say I’m socially awkward and eccentric and things like that. One of my friends, when he met me, assumed that I had lived a life where I was extremely oppressed and sheltered, like by having extremely conservative religious parents who home-schooled me. I repeat phrases (sometimes randomly; this is called echolalia) and I stim in public (rock, flap my hands and arms, hum), I have less that 20% accuracy reading facial expressions, I can’t understand instructions unless they are really clear and nothing is left unstated or assumed to be implicitly understood. That tends to make me very odd in public. People have thought I didn’t like them before because I fail to start conversations or word things incorrectly and so on.

      It’s possible to be socially awkward and still be in an abusive relationship. My awkwardness is real and diagnosable, but I’ve been abused. I don’t know whether LW might have autism or some other condition that explains some of what she’s experiencing. Honestly it doesn’t matter if she has a condition or what it’s called because our reaction should be the same.

      It just kind of worries me that so many people are insisting she’s not awkward and it’s all stuff the boyfriend is making up. It sounds like she might honestly have some issues in that area and I don’t think negating those issues is helpful. When I try to explain my condition to people sometimes they’ll negate everything I say, like below….

      “No, there’s nothing weird about your behavior.”
      “I’m not saying it’s wrong or anything, just that I stim and I wanted to explain to you why that happens, or when I don’t realize I’ve annoyed you because I can’t read your face…”
      “No, you don’t have trouble with that. You’re normal.”
      “Well, okay, I know you might think that but I’m trying to explain that I actually have a disability–”
      “Stop putting yourself down!”
      “I’m not putting myself down. There’s nothing wrong with disabilities and I just happen to be autistic.”
      “Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. I mean, how do you even know you have autism?”
      “Because I was diagnosed…”
      “I can’t even tell! Are you sure you have it? Well, don’t worry I can’t tell and you’re lucky you don’t have any problems related to that.”
      “…I just tried to tell you all those problems…”

      …and so on. It doesn’t come off as comforting. Obviously people mean it to be but all it tells me is that I’m not being listened to and people are arguing with me about aspects of my disability (social skills, echolalia, stimming, coordination, meltdowns, possible seizures, sensitivity to external stimuli, panic attacks, literal-mindedness, talking non-stop about interests. unable to live independently, can’t talk on the phone, and so on). Well-intentionedness doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come off as if someone is telling me that my problems aren’t real. Sad thing? Most of these people are people whose help I need. My teachers, doctors, friends, and family do this to me too.

      This applies to more things than just my disability. Like, I’ll make a casual comment about my weight. I’m fat. That’s not a negative term to me, just neutral. I’m 5’2″ and 270 pounds. I say I’m fat and people rush to argue with me that I’m not and it just winds up making me feel weird that people are so eager to convince me a trait I actually have is a trait that I don’t have.

      TO THE LETTER WRITER: I’m sure you’re probably awkward, although I’m not sure to what degree. It’s not something that’s necessarily negative. There are a lot of wonderful awkward people out there. But I am sure you’re not pissing people off everywhere you go based on the information you gave. If you are, work on that. If you want better social skills go for it. Some other commenters have given you some ideas on how to do that.

      But honestly? It scares the shit out of me that someone would make you feel bad about awkwardness the way your boyfriend is. It scares me because it reminds me of how someone else in my life (not a romantic partner) would talk to me as if my actions were incorrect. This person made me feel like shit every time xe had an opportunity. My apperance was wrong, my behaviors were wrong, my attitude was wrong, I said thank you the wrong way, my voice was too high pitched when I said that, I made the wrong facial expression when I did that, I didn’t say the right thing that was never mentioned to be expected of me before, ad nauseum. I lost my sense of self-worth. It took me years to realize that I had not done a single fucking thing wrong and that this person was wrong to tear me down like that. Even if you were as awful as this guy thinks you are, he does not have the right to treat you that way and you don’t have to take it. Start working to get away from him. Put a plan into action, get people on your side, get out, get therapy to deal with all the trauma he has clearly caused you.

      Awkwardness is not a crime worthy of abuse. I think some part of you deep down still knows that and I hope you listen to that part of yourself and that it will help you endure through the painful process of getting out of this situation. I hope that you gain more confidence and resilience so those little mistakes awkward people make bounce off of you. And I hope that if you want it to happen you will one day find a partner who adores your awkwardness, who is helpful and kind when pointing out something that could have gone differently, who supports you and never says you embarrass them. I hope your situation gets better. Big Jedi hugs.

      1. Thanks, this is a very important perspective.

        I tried to get at in the answer – the LW might in fact be awkward for any number of reasons! But the partner is not helping and may be actively making it worse. And shutting up and listening isn’t by nature awkward – often it’s very GOOD manners to do that.

        Also, as a fat lady, I also get told “But you’re not fat!” by people. What they mean is “You are not the unpleasant prejudices I have about what fat people are like.” Awkward.

        1. I just read this out to my wife with a resounding OH MY GOD THIS, and she gave me a rather horrified look and said “Well, that put years of being inexplicably skeeved out by that comment into perspective!”

          Awkward indeed.

        2. Totally this. Whenever I say, “I am X,” where X is a word that I know accurately describes me but that sometimes other people use as an insult, and someone replies, in a sympathetic and understanding tone, “Don’t say that. You’re not X,” what I usually hear is, “Don’t say that. I don’t want to think/know about you being X because I don’t like people who are X and I want to keep liking you.”

      2. Yeah, this, too. I mean, I wrote in with a HUEG list of things someone could do to help LW with the awkward, because (and not to minimise your stimming, because that’s rather different from a set of nervous tics, which is what I have) I have the weird mannerisms too, and grew up being told I was awkward a lot. And I WAS awkward, really, but not half as much and half as badly because of my social skillz fail as much as because I spent all evening dreading the neverending “But you’re sweet! Charming! A social delight! Now let me tell you for half an hour how everyone there hated you because of your FACE!”, and then experiencing it. I’m still awkward and loud and odd, but it’s getting better now I don’t have to expect and experience the diatribes.

        The relief will probably deal with the worst of the anxiety, and then all you have to face, LW, is the actual mannerisms and behaviours, and those aren’t half as tough to change as the anxiety is to get rid of.

      3. Yeah, thanks a lot for this perspective, and reading back over my comment I can see how I was pretty flippant with the cashier comment. I’m sorry about that and glad to be corrected.

        I guess I was going on an assumption, since the LW doesn’t mention anything specific like autism or asperger’s. And I kind of feel like she probably would have, if she did have issues like that.

  26. LW, you wrote a mature, amusing and heartbreaking letter that made a group of smart, funny, mature, sexy Awkwardeers wince and cry and want to hug you and share their tender stories about their own personal experiences.

    Yet you seem to think that you can’t communicate with other adults in a meaningful and productive way.

    I do not think you are being a loving mirror to yourself right now.

    I would like to tell you a story and ask you how you feel about it.

    I describe myself as “socially awkward, but I own it.” I ask other people strange questions about themselves (“Wow! What’s it LIKE, being you?” and “) . If somebody else is the Victim of An Awkward Silence, I sympathize and jump in to rescue them.

    I have a friend who describes herself the same way. She thinks that she’s very awkward, and that I’m very popular and beloved. We each secretly believe that the only reason people are hanging out with us is because they like the other woman. And we are open about this and accuse each other of being the Cool One, and demand that the other one help us analyze OUR awkwardness, and the other one goes “NO! It is YOU who was cool! I was the Awkward One! How much did they hate me when I made that horrible geology pun?? On a scale of one to ALL THE HATE.”

    Anyway, I was at the pub with Awkward Friend, my husband (her bff) and her boyfriend. We are all sitting around, and I’m tearing up a beer mat with my fingers. Given scraps of paper (labels, coasters) I like to unconsciously shred them into small fluffy piles, like a mouse making a nest. WE ARE ALL ADULTS HERE and we are capable of dealing with Elodie’s Mouse Nests, okay?

    But Awkward Friend is side-eying me increasingly. Finally, she says “I know this is crazy, but…” (SIDENOTE: IF FRIENDS START CONVERSATIONS WITH “I KNOW THIS IS CRAZY, BUT” THEN THEY ARE USUALLY NOT CRAZY. THEY HAVE A PERFECTLY NORMAL PROBLEM, AND OTHER PEOPLE HAVE MADE THEM BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE CRAZY.) She says “I know this is crazy, but I have a weird problem with wet paper. It will really bother me if your paper pile is damp, and you’re playing with it while sitting next to me.” She looks like she is about to commit seppuku on the spot for exhibiting such friendship-ending levels of Awkwardness.

    I drop all the paper and go “Tell me everything about this problem.”

    So she has a problem with damp paper. Handling it, hearing it, looking at it. FAIR ENOUGH, right? She doesn’t like moist beer mats, used napkins, paper placemats that people have spilled water on, or any other kind of paper that has gotten damp. Okay! That’s fine! It is not even a tiny molecule of a problem for me to make sure that the paper I tear in her presence is clean and dry. In fact, it doesn’t sound crazy to me at all. I have friends who won’t sit down at sticky tables; my husband needs a clean glass every time he drinks; my former roommate would not tolerate the smell of artificial coconut scent. I believe that dishes can sit for a week and it doesn’t bother me, my mother leaps up and washes everything immediately after dinner. I don’t like to be touched in public, but I have made lasting friendships with people whose eyes I’ve met in the rain. None of these things are crazy. Like Wash says in Firefly: “Hey, some people juggle geese.”

    Here’s the thing: Awkward Friend’s ex-boyfriend teased her about this. He told her she was crazy. When they went out, he drew everyone’s attention to her problem with wet paper. He would deliberately create wet paper by pouring water on paper, which made her very upset in public, and he laughed it off as a joke (“Look at my crazy girlfriend! Look at this trick she does! So socially awkward she goes to pieces over a wet beer mat! I am such a saint for putting up with her CRAZAYNESS, huh?”) when no, in fact, she was rightfully upset because her boyfriend was deliberately demonstrating his control over her mental state in front of their friends.

    Sometimes he would crumple wet paper and hide it in her purse. When she put her hand in, not knowing, she would scream and drop her purse. Then he would laugh at the prank.

    Does that sound familiar? Does that sound okay to you? Does it sound like “Whoa, check out how CRAZAY my girlfriend is” is a nice thing to say, or a cruel one? Would you let someone treat a friend or sibling this way? Would you feel comfortable being invited to laugh at someone who has been made this upset?

    Anyway, she told this story, and I thought she was normal and that her ex had been crazy and manipulative, and my husband thought she was normal and that her ex had been crazy and manipulative, and her boyfriend thought she was normal and perfect and lovely and he would never, ever pour water on paper just to torment her and in fact, when other men have accused her of being crazy (crazy bitch, loud bitch, mean bitch, cold bitch) in public, he has gone extremely cold and sexy and English in her defense and challenged them to duels.

    TL;DR. But you are loved.

      1. Especially the part about the duels. I’m picturing Daniel Day-Lewis in a ponytail and lacy cuffs.

    1. OMG. I have never wanted to kick someone in the shins so badly based only upon a description of that person in an internet anecdote.

      It’s true, some of us can’t deal with soft-boiled eggs, some of us hate loud noises, and some of us have issues with wet paper. ALL OF THAT IS OKAY. LW, you are loved and you do not deserve to be treated this way by your partner.

      1. Melted cheese. I have a serious aversion to it. Freaks me all the heck out. I have no explanation for this, but it’s there. Anyone who made fun of me for it, or tried to force me to look at it, I would get the heck out of Dodge and away from that person.

    2. Everything about this story is amazing! (Except the ex-boyfriend, who sounds like he sucks, but now they’re broken up so that’s kind of amazing.)

      We all have weird things! People who make you feel crummy about your weird things are not people you want to spend a lot of time with.

    3. THIS. SO MUCH. I think this illustrates very well the difference between how her boyfriend is handling a problem and how he could be handling a problem. LW’s awkwardness should not be an issue at all. Abuse is never acceptable.

    4. Wet paper, OMG. So much yuck. Just *thinking* about the texture of a used napkin makes my teeth feel all funny and my hands start tingling in a bad way. I get so icked out when I have to dry my hands with paper towels. Apparently I am not the only one!

      Also, I have left and right socks. I never even knew this was weird until one day I saw my best friend just putting her socks on all haphazardly, without even checking which one was which, and I said something about it, and she was like, “What the hell are you talking about?”

      I also hate loose hairs (like, clinging to my sweater or whatever) and mouth sounds (I can’t even say the word “saliva” without gagging). So yeah. Awkward. And people love me anyway.

      LW, you deserve to be loved for exactly who you are.

      1. Wait, wait, how do you tell which sock is left and which is right? I have maybe three or four pairs of fancy socks and toesocks where this is true, but most of my socks are cheap socks from Target and I cannot see any difference.

        (This is not mocking, I’m just REALLY CURIOUS and maybe hopefully my cheapo socks will magically fit better if I learn the secrets of Right and Left Socks.)

      2. I am also totally freaked out by wet paper and I’m glad I’m not the only one.

        sidenote: I am a papermaker, at that. as in, I make paper. with water and stuff. it took me over a year into my program to realize OH MY GOD WET PAPER EVERYWHERE.
        but it’s a totally different texture and environment.

    5. Just FWIW, as a geologist, I totally support the making of awful geology puns. Never take that schist for granite is what I say.

  27. Another thing, LW, sorry I keep noticing stuff!

    You mention you are good at getting on with children – how did I miss this? This suggests you are in fact very socially apt; ever heard non-parent adults complain about how they can’t get along with/ don’t like kids? It’s basically a platitude it’s said so often. Getting along with kids takes patience, kindness, enthusiasm, inventiveness and a sense of humour. You sound like a better and better person the more I read your letter.

    1. This is a really good point. It takes a lot of empathy and great skills at reading non-verbal cues to get on well with kids, which points to the exact opposite of social ineptitude.

    2. Indeedy! I find the main reason I have an easier time interacting with kids is that I’m not as self-conscious. I always found it easy to interact with kids younger than myself because they weren’t judging me like my peers were. But that had a knock-on effect: it made me feel like kids were easy to get along with so I wasn’t stressed and self-conscious about interacting with them, which made them a lot easier for me to interact with than my peers because I wasn’t second-guessing every word and action and trying to identify and emulate whatever was “cool.”

      I have been friends with many many awkward adults (OHAI oversharing housemates with nerdy hobbies and offensive senses of humour!) for the last ten years or so, but it took several years of that to escape from the lingering self-doubt left by being “the weird one” all the way through school. Interacting with kids I automatically dropped all that baggage.

    3. This. So true.

      Some of my favorite friends are the ones who get along well with kids because they still retain some childish zany-ness or random-ness, or the ability to jump into everyday activities with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.

      LW, if you are good with kids, you are golden.

    4. To be fair, one can be good at getting along with kids while being somewhat pants at getting along with adults, or at least finding getting along with adults a stressful minefield of Hell. I know this, because I’m totally like that, which is why my preferred job is “nanny”. Everybody looks at me funny, and I am like, but kids are *easy*! Kids make sense! They are logical! It’s adults who are completely out of the blue wtf is wrong with you I do not even know where that emotion came from why are you yelling at me aaagh. Well, adults and teenagers (who are not heavily into sf/f literature. *solemn*).

      But you’re right that it absolutely takes patience, kindness and the ability to find anything amusing. It’s just somehow way easier to be patient with a three year old having a tantrum than with a thirty year old being mean.

  28. Oh, LW. I’m sorry your boyfriend is a gaslighting asshole. I wish I could let you look into my head and see all the ways that I’ve told myself I’m not ‘good’ at socializing. That I’m awkward, and that I overshare about strange things. It’s only now that I’m realizing that those quirks are part of what makes me special.
    From your letter, you seem to be articulate, and friendly. You seem to care about others, what they think, how they feel. Right there, those are the things that make people want to be around you.
    I’ll agree with the rest of the commenters who suggest a therapist. They can help you work on your fears of being inappropriate, and give you a good feeling for whether or not it’s a reasonable thing to be concerned about. My guess would be no.
    One of the classic signs of abuse is that the abuser will try to isolate their prey. It sounds like he’s not only isolating you, he’s making you do it for him. And worse, he’s making you feel as though it’s your fault that he’s doing it. That’s not the actions of someone who loves you.
    That’s the action of someone who wants to control every aspect of your being.
    I hope that you’re at the right place to hear all of these things. I hope that you’re ready to hear that you’re awesome, and wonderful, and deserve to be happy.

  29. Sorry for the multiple posts! I just wanted to recommend this site to the LW (I think it might have been linked in CA before?) as it does a good job at outlining non-physical abuse tactics. Knowledge is power and this site is a good first step to recognising that what she is experiencing from her partner is far from normal and in fact in the (((alarm bells))) category of interpersonal relationships:


  30. I’ve been waiting a long time to post this as a response to a letter on here, cuz, you know, it’s called “The Captain.” It’s about a relationship that hopefully isn’t going on anymore. People shouldn’t make you feel like this.


    LW, You may be the most socially awkward person in the universe (doubtful, BTW–I held the title for a long time and finally someone else took it from me. . .I WUZ ROBBED.) But your BF is a shit for making you feel so unworthy and horrible. If he’s with you, he needs to accept you as you are. He’s not accepting of you, however. He doesn’t have to like things about you, but if those things bother him that much he should have ended things and not use you as a scapegoat.

    Also–I doubt very much that you ARE as awkward as you say you are. I’m willing to bet that you are probably just fine, but that your boyfriend nags you and nitpicks you and creates Dramatic Situations from innocuous things you said because that is what emotionally abusive pig hemorrhoids do. I dated a dude like him. It was horrible.

    Why do I think you probably aren’t as awkward and socially inept as you think you are? Because it seems that the only person who has a problem with you is your boyfriend. So he convinces you that you are horrible, and isolates you by saying you just embarrass him and embarrass yourself. People who isolate their romantic partners, family members, or friends are not doing a nice thing. That’s actually a red flag for abuse. And your BF sounds emotionally abusive.

    I want to hug you, LW. You don’t deserve to be treated this way.

  32. ALSO, LW–

    At a friend’s wedding, I cracked a joke that horrified one of the ushers and one of the bridesmaids, who backhanded chided me about it. The thing is, two other bridesmaids (and one of their husbands) thought it was funny.

    So fuck that “there is one way to be at all times” bullshit. Seriously.

  33. There are social graces, and nuances that one should probably learn as one progresses in life, to fit in at a work party, or some sort of other professional function. F’rinstance, which fork to use (hidden tip- work from the outside, in!), or which glass/bread plate is yours. (bread’s left, glass is right). Those are learnable skills that some people care about, and that will help in such settings.

    That ain’t what’s going on in the letter, though. To borrow from Dan Savage, DTMFA. If one partner is more versed in social interactions, it’s that partner’s responsibility to assist the other in getting through the deal. You’re supposed to be a team, for Pete’s sake. This guy’s got to go.

    1. To my mind, the which-fork-who’s-bread-plate stuff is rarely an issue (maybe that’s just my life though? I don’t exactly hang out with dignitaries or ambassadors) but even if it is an actual requirement, a smile and asking politely usually assuage any awkwardness for me. What kind of person is offended by being asked “is that my bread plate or yours?” ?

      Literally, the ONE time I was called out on this kind of thing (I’m British, but use my cutlery like an American) it WAS super awkward! I was really embarrassed, and no one knew what to say. Now I realise that it was awkward because some dickface was criticising the way in which I put pasta into my mouth; My manners were fine, theirs were the problem.

      Everyone knows what it feels like to be awkward or tongue-tied or not know what to say. Nice people will be fifty times more embarrassed by someone being deliberately horrible than by someone being accidentally awkward.

  34. This may have been said already, but I’mma say it again, and then read the rest of the comments.

    If your boyfriend says people think you’re annoying, what he’s really saying is *he* thinks you’re annoying. Unless he has some magical power to know what other people are thinking, or polled his friends and co-workers, which I doubt.

    To paraphrase one of the Desert Fathers, If he thought that they thought it, then he thought it.

  35. LW, last year I essentially ran across the world to my wife (then my fiancee). I have terrible, terrible social skills (lifetime of growing up in Crazytopia, rural India, and a gloriously emotionally abusive family). When I moved out of serious Crazytopia, I was convinced that I had better sit at home and never ever interact with anyone because ohgodohgodohgod I am a horrible hopeless useless person who can’t interact with anyone without fucking up somehow. I get where you are, believe me. But the thing is…I’ve made friends, here. I’m on good terms with most of my professors in college, am managing somehow to do a decent job step-momming my wife’s child, and you know what, I’m not that fucking awkward anymore.

    The difference was my wife telling me that I was going to get out there and be JUST FINE, that people didn’t think I was half as awkward as I felt, that I was never going to get over the anxiety of talking with people without actually, uh, talking to people. She supported me, took over when Awkward Silences hit. Changed the conversation when I got that panic-stricken look that said I had no fucking idea what to say to you OHGODIAMTHEWORSTEVER IAMWORSETHANTHEWORST pleasejustkillme. Kept a hand on my back when I started freaking out, so I’d feel anchored to something. Gave me a heads-up when people we knew were around, and refreshed me on names and relationships and facts (all of which I have a slippy memory for) so I wouldn’t have to do the “who the fuck are you again?” finger-twiddle-sidle-away. Warned me about who was sensitive about which topic, so I’d know not to bring it up. Held my hand so I’d feel less desperately alone in social gatherings. Didn’t randomly desert me at said gatherings unless I felt confident enough to talk to people by myself. Let me be when I struck out on my own, so I’d have a chance to build independent friendships within the same circle of friends, or make new ones. Told me after gatherings (and ONLY WHEN I ASKED) whether I’d made any gaffes, along with constructive ways to state the same things/do the same things without causing awkwardness. Reminded me (ONLY WHEN I ASKED) if I needed to keep an eye on aspects of my behaviour (biting my nails right off or scratching at my arms in anxiety). Told me gently if I was being inappropriate – hi, I’m another bad-joke-person, nice to meetcha. Answered clearly and constructively if I asked her about social protocol, including whatever other information she felt was relevant to the situation.

    If your boyfriend were really concerned about your social skills, this is the kind of thing he would be doing. Constructive shit. Helpful shit. Shit that works, and at the end of the day makes my memory of whatever social event more “huh must remember that” than “ADFHKDFDFKLHGDFGLKDDGDFG I SHOULD LIVE UNDER A ROCK, EXCEPT THE ROCK WOULD HATE ME”. Shit that makes me feel, after just eight months in a host of new situations – college, friends, step-parenting, being in a live-in relationship – way more empowered and confident and smart and energised.

    TL;DR: Tips on how he can help you, I haz them. That is, if he wants to; but he sounds kind of like an abusive fucknut, if you don’t mind my saying, and you should probably DTMFA with extreme prejudice. But hey! Once you get away from his demoralising, self-aggrandising, condescending, gaslighting douchebaggery, this is the kind of stuff you can ask a trusted friend or sibling to do for you. It helps, I swear, and you won’t need it half as long or a quarter as much as you think you will, because you are articulate and sympathetic and considerate and frankly seem quite awesome! ^__^ You can do it, I promise.

      1. You’ll have to refresh me on what that was, but I’m glad to know it.

        And that was a great comment, so constructive and detailed. Thanks!

  36. So, is it clear?

    1 — You’re probably not as awkward as you think you are.

    2 — To the extent you are awkward, it’s because you’re trying to socialize with the wrong people. Not necessarily evil people, but people who have a different sense of humor (if any) and a narrow sense of what is “correct,” acceptable behavior. That happens a lot at professional “social” events, where people feel like ANY personality is taboo, and even more open-minded, laid-back people can become conservative and conformist. Because, of course, the whole thing about that kind of event is that they are a LIE: no one enjoys them, really, no one is comfortable at them, but you’re all supposed to pretend you’re having a grand, relaxing time with your pals.

    3 — No matter how freakin’ awkward you are, your BF’s way of handling it is way, way outside the realm of acceptable boyfriend behavior. I agree with the person who said that if people really are feeling awkward around the two of you, it is a lot more likely it’s his belittling behavior they are uncomfortable being around than anything you have said or done. And that’s just the public part of his unacceptableness. What he does behind the scenes is even worse.

    4 — You need to go out and find people who don’t think there’s one correct, acceptable way to be, who will love you for who you are, laugh at your off-the-wall comments, count themselves lucky to have you in their lives. Do not think “but I am so awkward, if I can’t make it work with this BF if I let him go I’ll be alone always!” Think, “I’m going to go get me some happy!”

  37. Hey there, LetterWriter. There’s a lot of comments about your partner, and while I’m pretty sure they’re on the right track, the advice you asked for was actually about how to be at parties. I think I can be of some service.

    You may have gleaned that I am a gregarious motherfucker. What you may not know! I am equally introverted, and sometimes need to be alone in the silence. Meyers-Briggs does not know even what the fuck to do with me. “Do you prefer to be at a party or alone reading a book?” Would you believe that they won’t accept “Yes” as an answer? ANYWAY.

    My inner turd-heart is scared, shy, and awkward as hell, and for the longest time was convinced that no one would want to talk to me under any circumstances. After long, difficult years of forcing myself to be chipper to the point where now I have chipper at my fingertips, I want to give you some Gregarious Motherfucker Actions that I’ve found work for any – ANY – social situation where I’m required to speak to strangers, or even just mild acquaintances:

    1 – Admit you can’t remember someone’s name right away, EVERY time you can’t remember it. Like, even if it’s only been five minutes. “I didn’t catch it the first/second/third time, and I’m awful with names. I may ask you again!” And I guarantee you, they will chuckle, because – true fact – 95% of everyone is terrible at names.

    2 – Compliment and ask advice. When in doubt, compliment and ask advice. Classic? “What are you eating/drinking? Should I try it?” This puts them in the position of having a little knowledge, and everyone likes to feel smart. They might ask what you think of the thing, in which case, huzzah! Conversation achieved! Also! If you feel the conversation heading south, you can say “I’m going to try that thing you have! Thanks for the recommendation!” and gracefully exit.

    3 – Avoid bringing up: bodies (“did you lose weight? get a face lift?” this is a false compliment. don’t go there!), sex, religion, race, or politics. I know that sounds restrictive, but you will never go wrong avoiding those five topics, or if they are brought up, turning that conversation around with compliments and advice-seeking if you can.

    4 – Pursue topics that the person sounds interested in by just asking questions. It’s easier than you’d think.

    So, like, you’ve complimented their purse or watch or shoes, right? “Where did you get that?” “Oh, at STORE!” “I’ve never been to STORE. Do they have a lot of nice things?” “Yeah! And there’s a STORE right next to Independent Bookstore, so I’m there a lot.” “What are you reading?” “LET ME TELL YOU.”

    In Chicago, it’s super easy to start conversations by asking what neighborhood someone lives in, why they chose it, and what’s their favorite thing about it. YMMV

    5 – Have a natural exit that lets the person know you liked talking to them. “It’s been great talking with you, but I need to refill my drink/find a shawl/check on my Word With Friends game (it’s the new “powder my nose”)/say hi to person over there in case they leave/etc. See you around the party!” And then go do that thing.

    If you are already doing most of these things (and I fully suspect you are!) then congratulations! You are officially Not Awkward at Parties and probably an excellent conversationalist. All the Jedi hugs are yours.

    1. I agree w/ this.

      I would also add that people communicate for different reasons, there are people who want to have deep interactions and people who just want to exchange symbolic phrases, “How are you doing?,” “Nice weather,” “Have a nice day,” etc, but don’t want to *talk.* If you’re trying to mingle outside whichever you are, or are in the mood for, it’ll always feel awkward.

      Sometimes I drop a little teaser phrase, just to see where people are like, “That shadow looks like Africa.” If the response is *blank stare* then I can go on to, “Nice weather.” If it’s, “Ha! That shadow does look like Africa!” then it’s probably safe to continue with whatever is actually on my mind.

    2. Love all of this. Quick piece of advice about remembering people’s names — I think this is actually taught in sales type trainings, but don’t let that dissuade you. When you first meet someone, saying “Nice to meet you, [Name]” can help cement them in your memory. Also, most people like hearing others say their names and it makes a good impression. But yes – if you foul up, don’t sweat it.

      1. I am supremely awful with names. I’ve learned to do this:

        Me: Hi there! I’m Marie.
        Person: I’m so-and-so.
        Me: That’s cool, I will never remember that. No offense! I don’t know my coworkers’ names, and I’ve been there for two years. Is, ‘Hey, guy!’ cool?

        And you know what they usually do?

        Person: Ha ha, yeah, names, me too.

        And sometimes they make awkward face and wander away and I laugh to myself about how I just released a supreme awkward bomb into the room and that is the hilarious spice of life. They get to go home and tell a funny story about the super awkward girl they met, and I get to go tell my friends, “You guys, I just made the biggest dork out of myself.”

        In professional contexts, a coworker of mine gave me a great tip. I can remember names, and I can remember faces, but I can’t match the two. So whenever I need to know somebody’s name, I say, “Now, remind me again, how do you spell your last name?” Works 99% of the time. 1% of the time, I get a “Johnson” or “Smith” and a queer look, and I laugh and tell them, “That is my secret trick for people whose names I don’t remember, but you Smiths see right through me.” And they laugh and say, “Good trick! I’ll have to remember that!” and then I laugh and NOBODY PUTS ME IN THE BAD PERSON DEPRIVATION CHAMBER unless I am having some kind of fatpants day and put myself in there. I swear, man, that is how it is almost always gonna go.

    3. Meyers-Briggs does not know even what the fuck to do with me.

      Speaking as an introvert with strong social skills, I feel ya! M-B does not do well distinguishing between “I am good at doing this” and “I enjoy doing this”.

      Great list of tactics for socializing! I’d add to #2 (compliments) that specific compliments (“I like those earrings/that necklace/your shoes”) work better than vague ones. (“You look nice!”) And a huge + to #4: getting people to talk about the things they’re passionate about makes them feel good. And they’re much more interesting to listen to.

    4. Aha, I’m also an M-B clusterfuck, kind of a photo negative to you: I am kind of awkward and can be really shy BUT I love talking to people I know well and can do it for ages without getting tired of it at all. It’s one reason I like jobs where I have to interact with people, actually, it’s a way of building in something I might be too awkward/shy/let’s be real lazy to secure for myself on a regular enough basis (in college I never socialized with anyone which is how I discovered that not socializing with people makes me completely lose my fucking mind).


      1. OH MAN. I got a E-I.N.T.F-J on one of my reports. and that N and T were just that close to being split, too. Really annoyed the beshits out of that counselor. It’s come to the point where I feel like M-B is your Science-y Horoscope. Sure there are people who EXACTLY fit the mold, but I suspect that most of us are an uncomfortable category fit at best.

        1. I am an introvert that was raised to be a Nice Polite Girl Who Puts Other People’s Feelings First and then I went through sales training, so I have been passing as an extrovert since I was about 9. I live in New Jersey so one never-fail conversation starter is “Did you hit traffic getting here tonight? or “I’ve got to go to ______, do you know any back ways?” It’s better than weather for getting people talking animatedly.

          1. You guys, Introverts aren’t BAD AT PEOPLE or necessarily more socially awkward than extroverts.

            It has nothing to do with how well you function in a given environment. It only has to do with how you FEEL – are you energized by being with other people? Or do you need a lot of alone time to recharge after being with them?

            I test between E and I – half the time I’m one, half the time the other. I’m a teacher and love being with students and feel great when I’m teaching! I love going out and seeing friends! I am decently fun at parties! I can keep many different tracks of interaction and conversation straight in my head at the same time! But afterwards I crash and need to be alone for a good while.

            That’s all it means.

          2. On the Captain’s response above, it’s also worth keeping in mind that one of the big criticisms of Myers-Briggs as a system is that the personality types aren’t bimodal. Or to put it non-technically: most people are like the Captain, and fall in the middle.* (On E/I and the other 3 axes too.) I am also middle-of-the-range on E/I.

            It can be important to keep this in mind because it’s easy to get a picture of the world in which there are introverts Over Here having extreme alone time and extroverts Over There who can never be left alone for a second or they will melt from sadness and it’s pretty much Mars and Venus. However, most people are in the middle, sometimes finding alone time energising and sometimes finding socialising energising, and also able to have too much of either.

            * The reason this is a criticism is that the system talks about them as bimodal more or less. There are X people and Y people and they are very different! And should be in different careers and conduct relationships differently! Whereas on all of their axes actually most people turn out to be a mix of both sides.

          3. Actually, the asking about traffic/transportation is not only useful in Jersey. I grew up in Pittsburgh and it’s always a reliable conversation; similarly, in places with big public transport systems, it’s usually a good way to strike up a conversation (e.g., “it took me forever to get here because of some “scheduled track maintenance,” don’t you hate that?).

            Another tip for work events is to chat with other “plus ones,” who don’t work at The Company. They will probably feel similarly awkward and maybe more likely to be forgiving of nervousness or awkwardness than someone who is there to schmooze 🙂

  38. So. When Barack Obama got elected (I promise I’m going somewhere with this) my husband was at work. I got drunk and called him a few (several.) times singing improvised songs about our new president. When I retell this story to people they usually are appalled (I live in the bible belt) but my husband thought it was the funniest/cutest/sexiest thing that anyone has ever done because he is so biased about my objective awesomeness. I don’t care if you ARE out of line in your weird jokes. Go find someone who loves them.

  39. Wow, I was reading this thread, and Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” came on my playlist. And the lines “He wants me, but only part of the time, he wants me, if he can keep me in line” struck me most. “Gaslight” came out in the ’40s. “Voices Carry” in the ’80s. The cycle of abuse never ends.

  40. I so totally could have written this letter a couple of years ago… and like everyone else here, I’ve got loads of Jedi hugs for the LW.

    I do have one minor, minor disagreement with the majority of posters here, though. Possibly. Maybe not. I notice that this letter is full of assertions about Crummy Boyfriend’s feelings… but nothing about what he’s said or done. I also had a Crummy Boyfriend, who noticed how terribly, terribly uncomfortable I was in social situations, and responded by taking me out less and less. Let me clarify: this was a bad response. Instead of talking to me about my feelings, and letting me tell him what I needed for myself and from him, he unilaterally decided that I just shouldn’t be exposed to situations that he thought would scare me. We’d go to a few big, important events, like family birthdays or holiday parties, but just hanging out with friends? Nope. He didn’t know how to be supportive, and he didn’t try, either… and, eventually, I dumped him. So I am totally on board with dumping the LW’s Crummy Boyfriend, if that’s what they want and/or need to do.

    What happened in my head, though, with my Crummy Boyfriend, was that I started imagining all the ways in which he was judging me. Like the LW, I was sure he was embarrassed by me, and didn’t want to be seen in public with me, and that he was judging me every time I tried to interact with his friends. It wasn’t a big stretch for me to make those assumptions… after all, a huge part of my anxiety in social situations stems from how quick I am to assume that everyone from the checkout cashier to members of my own family is secretly wincing just how badly I screwed up whatever encounter I’ve just had. I once had a major meltdown because I was certain that I’d just completely blown a handshake with someone I’d never seen before, who I’d never see again, who obviously would hate me forever. For the most part, though, that’s all in my head. My mom loves me even if my jokes aren’t funny. My coworkers aren’t that concerned if I say something dumb in a meeting. And my Crummy Boyfriend, I later found out,** was more worried about how bad he could see that I felt than embarrassed about his stupid, handshake-messing-up girlfriend.

    Which is not to say that crummy boyfriends, who aren’t able to support you in the ways you need to be supported and who try to decide for you how to fix your problems, shouldn’t be dumped. They should, and the LW’s boyfriend sounds like he fits the bill to a tee. Also, if the LW’s boyfriend is the one telling her that he’s embarrassed? In that case, disregard this whole comment, because that is some super-abusive bullshit behavior right there, and she needs to get away sooner, rather than later. But if he’s not actually telling her–verbally or non-verbally, directly or indirectly–that he’s embarrassed, I’d caution her against “knowing” that she’s an embarrassment to him, just as strongly as I’d caution her against “knowing” that she is a buzzkill at parties. We socially awkward gals are often sure that others think we’re awful… but we’re also often wrong.

    I could be totally off the mark here, but yeah… just a thought.

    **I found this out quite a bit later, after Crummy Boyfriend became Crummy Ex-Boyfriend, and somewhat before he became Much Less Crummy Friend. He was legitimately dismayed to know that that was the impression I’d gotten from him, and genuinely sorry for making me feel so awful. This was, of course, long after my feeling (and his need for defensiveness or excuses) had passed. I would absolutely agree with the Captain that this kind of conversation between the LW and her boyfriend RIGHT NOW would most likely be not at all helpful.

  41. This thread (ok, all the threads) are making me scheme about throwing the most awesome AwkwardCon Meetup of the TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING ever. Games for the gamers! A kissing booth where all the people who have never been kissed take care of that (Intern Paul has volunteered to…uh…staff that). A compliment booth where Commander Logic just tells you you’re great and you shouldn’t feel guilt about that! An advice booth where Feministe’s Jill tells you to DTMFA! Comedy by Marie! Two circles painted on the floor about 6 feet apart – participants stand inside the circle and think nice thoughts at the person in the other circle (Jedi Hugs). T-shirts! Small cards with mad libs on them that you can hand to people who seem interesting. “I like your ______. Would you like to ______?” Friend speed dating! Hiring Rory Lake to host karaoke.

    We need to meet some rich people who will fund this thing.

    1. Oh my, sounds fantastic Captain! Posters of various geek icons – Mal, The Doctor, Jareth, Aragorn, etc, under which to gather to discuss geekery of choice. Also, the DTMFA booth should also have a poster of those Ill-Fitting Pants, you know, these ones: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_9cvLDPPuQJw/S4L0cJLHj4I/AAAAAAAAGP4/3sDIosYSERk/s640/Isabel-MastacheTrouser2.jpg
      to remind us, that we don’t need an open-and-shut case for breaking things off with someone who doesn’t quite fit.

      teehee, now I feel evil…

    2. If this happened, I would totally go.

      If you cannot find benevolently eccentric wealthy people to fund it, perhaps you could ingratiate yourself with whatever network of wacky people run and organize the already existing Ren Faires and conventions and things out where you are and sell them on the idea?

    3. WANT! My husband and I make beer and wine. We will make some and give it an awkward name! I’m in Pittsburgh. Anybody else near here?

    4. I didn’t win the Euromillions last night, but if I do in the future, I’ll be the benevolent rich person…

    5. How much do I want an AwkwardCon? SO MANY MUCHES. Thinking about an entire hotel/whatever filled with people Using Our Words makes me RAPTUROUS.

  42. Thanks to internet issues I’m way late to this party, but I’m with everyone else. You might be super awkward (probably not, you sound fine), but your boyfriend isn’t a very good one.

    What stood out to me is that on this work holiday people go out and see sights and you stay in the room and read a magazine. I find that so sad! You’re missing all the good stuff! For your own knowledge, it’s almost impossible to be awkward when you’re out sight seeing because you’re doing the same thing as a bunch of other people so you all have the same thing to talk about. ‘Do you know where the next site is? Oh, check out this cool bit or art/architecture/item in shop window! Oh no it’s raining, let’s find a cafe!’ etc etc etc. Also, there’s a decent amount of people in the group so it’s easy to be quiet without people noticing if you’re worried about saying the wrong thing. As long as you stay away from the subjects other people mentioned (sex, religion, politics, etc) you’ll be fine.

    If you want to start somewhere in feeling better about your interactions, that might be one of the easiest and best confidence boosters.

    Also, I think the best way to test if your boyfriend is actively an asshole or just dealing with your maybe awkwardness badly but not a bad person is to tell him you’ve been trying to improve yourself. Tell him you’ve got some techniques you want to try out, maybe say, oh, next time we’re at such and such place, I could try some of them out see how they work, could you help/what do you think? Badly handling it boyfriend should be relieved/encouraging, asshole boyfriend will discourage you and tell you nothing will ever help.

  43. My ex used to do this to me.

    I want you to stop a moment and consider something. Pretend he’s right. Pretend you’re even worse than the worse thing he says about you. Now imagine meeting yourself. What would you think of yourself?

    You’d think, “My, this person is socially awkward. Poor dear. I’ll go to the buffet and avoid her.”

    Or, you might think, “Socially awkward, eh? I know how to deal with this type. I’m gonna be nice to her.”

    Or, you might think, “God, she’s kind of boring and weird. And my shoes hurt.”

    Notice that no one is horrified. No one is scared, or upset, or angry, or even really that annoyed. As long as you’re not telling racist jokes and keeping your pants on, even if you’re awkward as hell, no one really gives a fuck. They’ll probably forget you the next day. It’s not that big a deal.

    It’s your boyfriend’s JOB to love you for being awkward and defend you to anyone who talks shit about you. If he doesn’t do that, he’s being a shitty boyfriend. If it’s YOUR job not to talk it’s his job to be your protector from snotty asses, and right now, he’s being a snotty ass.

    He’s being mean, hurtful, and ultimately unproductive. He’s caring about the passing feelings of strangers and acquaintances over the feelings of the person he’s supposed to love. That’s not okay. He’s not even fucking helping you with socialization exercises or offering solutions. He’s just being a dick.

    Whether you want to talk to him about it is up to you. It might be worth it–people can exhibit cruel and abusive behavior without realizing it, and will respond to being corrected. Some people don’t. My ex insisted it was “for my own good”. But I didn’t feel good. I wasn’t gaining anything. You’re not gaining anything. Do you feel “good”? Are you improving as a person? No, you are not. It is not for your good, it’s for his ego and convenience. And if he’s convinced himself that HIS ego being stroked is good for YOU… yeah that’s what abusers do.

  44. Super super super late…

    Like another commenter, I’m autistic. And I’m not going to assume you aren’t actually That Awkward, because I have actually been That Awkward and it sucks when people assume that ha ha but that’s just everyone because it’s not! (Most of the time I am no longer That Awkward, generally only A Little Awkward and very occasionally Not Really Awkward At All, but it cost me a lot and is still costing me a lot.)

    Now, here is the thing I want to tell you.

    Even if you are genuinely That Awkward? You still deserve friends. You still deserve to have fun, to talk to people, to not have people mock you or treat you like dirt for being That Awkward. Lacking social skills does not make you a horrible person. The way your partner is acting, that’s what makes someone a horrible person.

    For the years after I discovered I had no social skills, I essentially told myself I didn’t deserve to have friends. Not in so many words, but – because, you know, I was weird. I couldn’t expect anyone to like the stuff I was interested in, I had to pretend to like the stuff they were interested in. I couldn’t expect anyone to take into account my limitations when planning stuff. If I made no friends because everyone socialised at the pub and the noise made me want to burst into tears after five minutes, that was my fault. For being weird. I had to always be pathetically grateful that they were willing to be around someone so weird.

    It took until graduate school for me to realise, really, truly, honestly, realise, that there were people who liked the kind of stuff I did. Further, that there were people who genuinely thought I was cool and fun to be around with, who LIKED ME. That friendships are reciprocal, and not just me trying desperately not to infringe on others with my weirdness and them graciously tolerating it.

    Please. Don’t make that mistake. I deserved better than that, and so do you, and I don’t care how awkward any of us are.

    (Also, failing-at-talking-to-cashiers high five! :D)

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