April 30, 2013

Awkward? Awkward...

Good news: The culture of awkwardness at UChicago is nothing more than a self-perpetuating myth.

Look, you’re really not that awkward, all right?

You, UChicago student, remain a vexing conundrum to me, even though, yes, I count myself as one of your ilk. Has it never even crossed your mind that—OK, at least in the overwhelming majority of cases—the only thing vaguely awkward about your social interactions is your persistence in drawing attention to the fact of how truly awkward you think you are?

As with anywhere, I can’t dispute that there are indeed people here who are the real deal—authentically awkward beyond any reasonable hope of recovery. But these lucky few hardly need to mention it; merely demonstrating an awareness of their own awkwardness really doesn’t make them any less awkward. Imagine having a conversation with Stephen Hawking in which he somehow feels the need to remind you every five minutes of how impossibly smart he is; he’d really just be wasting your time in doing so. But don’t get your hopes up anytime soon that you can count yourself among this charmed circle of awkwardness—the fact that you at least left your room to grab the paper isn’t exactly working in your favor right now (God save your soul if you’re reading this online).

And yes, there are a handful of people here who just ooze charisma and social savoir faire. But don’t worry about it—you’re probably not one of them.

Let’s suppose for a second that you’re right—let’s adopt your sweeping sociological thesis that UChicago is indeed the last great bastion of unadulterated awkwardness in American higher education and that you are one of its standard bearers. If we assume a loose definition of awkwardness as any situation in which there is a gross discrepancy between what ought to be happening (according to social conventions) and what is happening, the ostensibly pervasive culture of awkwardness here would have become a memory by precisely...the end of O-Week. You would have realized by then that the social conventions here have shifted sufficiently to make what would otherwise be instances of awkwardness thoroughly normal and, therefore, decidedly not awkward any more. Students at this mythically awkward rendition of UChicago would still be awkward to outsiders, of course, but not among themselves—they would be silly to point it out to each other!

Perhaps none of this has convinced you. “Sure,” you might be thinking, “there are plenty of normal people here, but if you only knew how many awkward situations I find myself in on practically a daily basis, you wouldn’t be so confident in counting me among them!” If so, consider this nifty little paradox—the more socially outgoing you are, the more likely you are in general to run into life’s delightful little awkward moments. The classic lost-in-translation awkward moments only happen to people who go out of their way to meet people who are different from them. You’re not going to awkwardly send a text to the wrong person if you’re not texting people to begin with. That late-night moment when you think it would be a good idea to offer to walk a girl home, but you don’t want to sound chivalrous or sound like you’re enforcing gender stereotypes? Yeah, it only happens if you’re meeting new people late at night.

In case you’re still not convinced, let me try to address your case individually.

To the person who hasn’t showered in a week: We were planning on inviting you to a pity party to lament your hopelessly irreparable awkwardness, but then we realized how bad you smell. Get over yourself, and take a shower while you’re at it.

To the Reg-dweller that no one ever sees: The word you’re looking for is “asocial,” not awkward. Some people have legitimate reasons to eschew social contact.

To the social iconoclast: High five, dude! So many aspects of what we hold to be perfectly normal “social conventions” are glaringly vapid, racist, or sexist. Kudos for defying them whenever possible.

Tyler Lutz is a fourth-year in the College majoring in physics and English.