Ode to the Socially Awkward

Because in the end we’re all just a bunch of weirdos standing in front of other weirdos, asking for their username.
–Ashley Poston, Geekerella

Social interaction is really not my thing.


Contribute to the conversation, they say. Listen to what other people say and just add your own thoughts, they say.

As if it were that easy. I don’t “do” small talk. I don’t just “add to the conversation.”

You say, “I’ve been having trouble sleeping.”

My brain says, “Have you tried turning off your phone an hour before bed? Research has found that the light from our devices keeps us awake by interfering with melatonin production in our brains. Oh, you could also try a shower–cooling down before bed helps you sleep better The ideal core body temperature for sleeping is 68 degrees Fahrenheit…”

Oh, wait. Too nerdy. I stare at you blankly, wondering what I’m supposed to say in this scenario.

You say, “Not a single cloud in the sky!”

My brain says, “Ah, like that poem, ‘She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies’ … Did you know that the poet Lord Byron was the inspiration for the first vampire story? Oh, and did you know that Byron was also the inspiration for the Byronic hero, which remains the standard of male attractiveness today and also the type of character of every single vampire which is why everyone finds vampires sexy now, even though blood is gross?”

Waaaay too nerdy. I look at the sky. “You can really see the stars tonight,” I say. Lamely. Like someone with no social skills at all. Please don’t let them blame the homeschooling, I silently hope.

Socially awkward people, I feel you. I am one of you. And seeing how my social skills have improved only marginally since I was a teenager despite all my efforts, I’m pretty sure I’m in this club for life. Hooray.

Fortunately for me (because I’m nerdy like that), there’s a poem by a guy who obviously gets what it’s like to be like me. This is the poem that reassured me that I am not alone, that I am not the only person who feels like shoving small talk straight into the realm of Really Significant Topics.

Let me introduce you to…

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

To read the full poem, click here.

Meet Prufrock, who is one of us. Everything in Prufrock’s life prompts him to think deep thoughts. The streets themselves seem, in Prufrock’s mind, to have the “insidious intent / To lead you to an overwhelming question…”

Some people think Prufrock is a pompous dweeb. I think he’s like me.

I really hope that doesn’t make me a pompous dweeb.

Anyway, Prufrock spends a lot of his time going to social events where he has to pretend to fit in. People talk about the same kinds of things at these events—always the same—and by this point, Prufrock has “known them all already, known them all.” He says he has “measured out my life with coffee spoons”—it feels as though his entire existence centers around these social engagements.

Photo by francesco sancassani on Unsplash

And all the time Prufrock is attending these mind-numbing affairs, he is wondering:

Do I dare? Do I dare?

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?

Is he brave enough, Prufrock wonders, to change the focus of the conversation?

“Would it have been worth it, after all,” Prufrock wonders, to introduce an existential question, to make the conversation about a Really Significant Topic?

Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question…

I’ll admit, I’ve wondered the same thing. What if, instead of talking about how we spend a lot of time doing homework, I asked what you want to do with your life?

What if, instead of agreeing that the stars are pretty tonight, I told you that seeing the stars and the galaxy spread out above me makes me think about the vastness of the universe, about the stars and planets and galaxies stretching out farther than I can even comprehend, and yet here I am, thinking big emotions and feeling complicated thoughts and somehow, miraculously, me?

What if I squeezed the universe into a ball to roll it toward some overwhelming question?

But what if? What if? What if I say exactly what I’m thinking, but you laugh? What if you think I’m a pompous dweeb? What if someone

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

So Prufrock chooses safety over daring. “I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be,” he decides. I am not the one who makes the speeches, the one who asks significant questions like “To be or not to be?” I am just there to add another person on the stage. I am “Villager #3” in the program. I am

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous–
Almost, at times, the Fool.

And Prufrock resigns himself to thinking only of mundanities: “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” Let’s not dare to disturb the universe, Prufrock decides. Let’s accept that we were born to lesser things.

Shall we dare?

I don’t want to be “Villager #3” in the story of my life. I do not accept that I was born to lesser things. I was born to shake things up, to take the risk, to ask the overwhelming questions.

I was born to disturb the universe.

How about you?

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