Embrace the Awkward

Last night, I was having a cocktail with one of my (very insightful) friends when we began to discuss an unexpected trial of adulthood: friendship.  We both agreed that forming close new friendships has become much more difficult as we’ve gotten older.  While I used to take my close female friendships for granted, I now find myself cherishing every opportunity to connect and still feeling like I’m missing something.

My theory is that childhood, coming-of-age, and college tends to provide a cocoon of shared experiences that nurtures naturally close friendships.  For many, the friendships we form before we turn 20 are the most important of our lives.  I recently had a chance to travel back to the midwest for my 10 year college reunion.  I spent the weekend happily ensconced in a group of people who seem to just know me the way I know them.

We laughed, we partied, we reminisced.

I felt comfortable.  I felt nurtured.  I felt like I never wanted to leave.

But the weekend ended and the time came for me to hop my flight back to Portland, a city I love but that still doesn’t quite feel like home even though I’ve lived here for 10 years.  And so I found myself talking (ok, complaining) to my friend about my current social insecurities.  I told her that I sometimes don’t reach out to others because I don’t want to create awkwardness and risk rejection.

“I think you should just embrace awkwardness”, she said.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, being vulnerable is awkward and you can’t get close to people without being vulnerable.”

O. M. G.

I told you that she was insightful.

Embrace the awkward…how’s that for a good motto?

I think sometimes we are afraid to let others look inside us because we’re afraid they won’t like what they find.  I’ve been reading a novel by Zoe Heller called “What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal” (there was a movie version too) in which the protagonist is a somewhat lonely older woman.  I can’t help but smile in recognition at her self-described insecurity.  When invited out for dinner, she spends the entire day worrying about how her new shoes were going to look.  She buys flowers but almost returns them when she decides that they aren’t stylish enough.  She describes a previous instance of having a friend over to her own house in which

I cleaned the place scrupulously in preparation for her arrival; I even groom Portia [the cat], for God’s sake. And still, I had the most terrible feeling of exposure when she waked in.  It was as if my dirty linen basket, rather than my unexceptionable living room, were on display.

Can anyone else relate?

The thing I’m beginning to realize, though, is that you cannot authentically connect with others unless you are being authentic.  And not in a hipster Barbie hashtag kind of way.  We have to invite others in to our imperfect lives or else we risk living alone.

I listened to an inspiring podcast today interviewing Sarah Harmeyer who felt a calling to gather people at her table.  Over the course of one year, she managed to have 500(!) people over for simple, imperfect meals and she now sells large tables to encourage others to do the same.  She (brave soul) started her journey by simply putting invitations into her neighbors mailboxes.  The result is that she has made hundreds of people feel welcomed and connected.

So with that in mind, I’d like to encourage all my fellow shy, reserved, introverted friends to go ahead and relax a bit.  Have some people over for dinner or ask that person at the office to do something fun outside of work.  The worst that can happen is a bit of awkwardness.  But the best is so much more.

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