I am socially awkward. Socially I’m somewhere between Rain Man and someone just a hair less socially awkward than Rain Man. Okay, I’m not actually that socially awkward – I mean, not in the way I come off to other people. But most social situations for me are painful. Sometimes people say, “How can you be a preacher and feel that way?” The answer? I read from a manuscript. I write down every single word I’m going to say and by the time I say those words I have thought about them for days. I have had plenty of time to make sure I won’t say anything stupid. This means I only feel stupid about some of what I say instead of most of what I say. It may not show, but if I bump into you on the street corner, or after church, and we’re doing the “small talk” thing, I’m sweating it out.
Terry Scott Taylor, a brilliant songwriter and lyricist, writes of all those times he lays in bed with what he should have said.
With what I should have said I would know in advance
I’m the master of banter the King of Romance
the guy in the center whose leading the dance,
not the kid in the corner with the big pair of pants
And now I’m in bed with what I should have said
Source: Terry Scott Taylor, With What I Should Have Said
This is why I dig blogging. And Facebook. And email. They are writing mediums, and as such, I am easily able to fake it. This new world that is increasingly connected by means of the written word – that world, dear reader, is my oyster. I can be the guy who says clever things and knows what’s up. I can be the one who writes about stuff like marriage and parenting and living in truth, and seem like I really have it together. I get to live out this mythology of competence and expertise. I can take on only those topics where I am confident I can look as good as I want to look.
What is real life? In real life I’m the gomer who doesn’t really know how to talk to people about the weather, and sports, and the traffic on I-69 this morning, and how they’re doing in their jobs. I’m the nutty professor – the guy who can think constantly about abstract and lofty concepts and dizzy you with words and ideas. But I suck at small talk and everyday social life is, for me, constant second-guessing and embarrassment. But there’s a bottom line here. If I am going to convey to people that I care about them (which I do – very deeply), I simply must keep learning how to connect with them, even if I never become comfortable with much of what is required. As much as I’d love to text message people I’m standing directly in front of, it’s probably not a strategy for healthy relationships. Or for avoiding getting punched in the face.
So how do you compensate? How do you set up your life so as to avoid discomfort? How do you insulate yourself from your fear of looking or feeling stupid? Is there a chance you need to expose yourself a little bit more often to the very things that scare you? Remember that it’s okay to drift toward your “sweet spot,” but it’s important to move out of your comfort zone sometimes and engage other people in ways that matter to them. This will keep your relationships strong, and strong relationships make for a happy life.