All the awkward phases I wish I had avoided

Those who know me know that I’ve put the ‘awk’ in ‘awkward’ pretty much since I hit puberty. I don’t know what it was about that surge of hormones, but they’ve made me feel like an outsider in my own skin for as long as I can remember, and it hasn’t really let up.

Even in my mid-twenties, I still feel insanely awkward most of the time. The only real difference is I’ve since realized that feeling awkward has more to do with the human condition than anything specific to my personality. Nevertheless, I do feel like I’ve gotten slightly more cool and graceful since my initial awkward teen years (please let that be true) and I’ve definitely learned a thing or two. But here are some of the things that I wish I avoided in hindsight.

Pretending I liked things that I didn’t to sound cool

Confession time: I don’t really like the band Phish. Not that there is anything wrong with them, they’re just not my cup of tea. I did however pretend to like them towards the end of middle school and early high school, because that’s what my friends were listening to. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but this behavior didn’t really go away in high school. There were times when I would pretend to like something my friends liked, because I didn’t want them to think I didn’t “get” it.

What I now know is that not only is everyone entitled to their own opinion, but they’re expected to have one. Difference of opinion is part of what makes the world great. If we agreed on everything, the earth would be a very boring place to live in. So now I stick up for my tastes, no matter how ‘uncool’ they may seem, because cheesy as it sounds, I know there’s nothing cooler than being true to myself.

Being afraid to speak my mind

There was a long time where I would do anything in the whole wide world to avoid conflict. I’d join classes, take trips, and stay in bad situations to avoid making people mad. One year I failed my Spanish midterm, and I spent all spring semester sneaking around doing tutoring and getting extra credit to get it all back up to a good grade, all without telling my parents. I could have probably used their support and would have felt less guilty had they known, but I was so afraid of how mad they’d be I didn’t tell them. Now that I’m older I realized that if I’m afraid of something that probably means I should do it. You don’t get to grow and change as a person by avoiding conflict, and quite honestly all you’re going to do is wear yourself out by trying to do so. It’s much easier to face problems head on then roundabout.

Being afraid to talk to people in real life

As a card carrying shy girl with terrible flirting skills, AOL instant messenger was super addictive to me. I could talk to people I thought were cool and crushes (or both), all with a click of a button, all while hiding in my room. My first ever relationship should definitely be dedicated to AOL instant messenger, because I don’t think I would have gotten the guts to talk to my old flame on the regular without it (and that is not a good thing).

The turning point for me was the tail end of high school when I started messaging a crush without talking to him in person, and he started writing me back. Then one day I was at my friend’s birthday party, and there he was, sitting in her backyard in broad daylight. I totally freaked and didn’t make eye contact with him or talk to him the entire party. To be fair he didn’t make an effort to go talk to me either, but that’s not my take away from that memory. My takeaway is I don’t let myself be afraid to talk to anyone anymore, and if I find myself talking to someone online too much I schedule a real hang out with them instead. Internet friends are totally awesome, don’t get me wrong! But for me, nothing is more real and important than face-to-face interaction.

Taking everything people said or did super, super personally

In my younger and more awkward years, if someone were rude or snapped at me, I would assume they hated me. I had no concept that maybe I caught them at a bad moment, or there was something else going on in their life. Unless they were perfectly happy to see me, any other reaction meant that the person had something against me. One time I saw a friend from another school at an inter-school dance, and when she walked up to my group of my friends, she didn’t say hi to me specifically when talking to the group. Because of this I was convinced she hated me and was my enemy.

The next time I saw her in inter-school band, she said hi to me about three times in a row while I gave her the silent treatment (because she hated me, remember?) before I realized that maybe I should chill out, and maybe she didn’t hear me say hi at the dance or didn’t have time to say hi to everyone individually. I eventually said hi back to her, and learned to give people the benefit of the doubt. Just because you have an off interaction with someone, doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It probably just means anything else.

Convincing myself that my body was gross

I spent most of middle and high school hiding my body, because I thought it was gross, disgusting, and not to be seen my the general public. I was wrong. Looking back I was actually a pretty gorgeous, normal teen girl and yet I spent all that time worrying for no reason. I had classes where I was worried about how my stomach looked when I sat down instead of the lesson that was being taught. Pool parties where I wouldn’t get into the water with my friends since that would mean taking off my cover up and people seeing my legs. Weeks where I wouldn’t take off my sweatshirt since it felt so much better than the alternative of anyone seeing what I looked like underneath.

To be clear what I looked like was a normal, healthy, teenage girl. All this self-consciousness was manufactured by society and put straight into my head. So that’s why I’m done with all that. Yes, I sometimes have days where I don’t feel the best about my appearance for any number of reasons, but instead of moping I remember that girl sitting on the side of the pool and how much she missed out on life for not just jumping in. So now I suck it up, and let myself be seen. Because I don’t want to waste any more time feeling bad that I’m a person with a body that exists in the world.

Judging people’s character based on the music or movies they liked

I remember sitting in my middle school history class, and glaring at all my classmates. They didn’t understand me. I was on such a deeper level than them. Why, you may ask? Because I had listened to Jimi Hendrix, and I knew that most of them hadn’t. It sounds silly, but I truly used to think that way when I was younger and more awkward. I really thought that liking a musician, band, or movie was akin to have moral fortitude as a person. It took a romantic misstep in high school to get out of this.

One day I started to have feelings for a boy just because he also liked the musician Brian Eno, and I decided that was all I needed to know to know that he was a great person and we were meant to be together. He wasn’t, and it was not. I quickly learned that someone liking the same musician as you just means that that person likes the same musician as you, nothing more, nothing less. Now I judge people on who they are as a person, not their taste in anything. And I have a much richer, happier, friend base because of it.

Pretending I understood references that I didn’t to sound cool

If I had top 10 hits for most embarrassing moments of my life, right at the top would be when I pretended I had seen the movie Die Hard. I hadn’t, but I was talking to my cousin about action movies, and I wanted to seem cool so I said I had seen it and loved it. Don’t do this. It was soon really apparent that I hadn’t, and I had to just own up to being totally lame and insincere.

I recognized it as a behavior I thought I had grown out of long ago, when someone mentioned a thing I had never heard of and I would pretend I knew what it was to sound cool instead of being honest and learning about it. I know now all it does is make you seem fake and makes you miss out on learning about a lot of new, cool things. So don’t say you’ve seen Die Hard if you haven’t, admit that you haven’t and go see it.

Being too worried about saying something stupid to say much at all

Part of my shyness comes from a weird brand of perfectionism where I wanted to sound like the funniest and coolest person all the time, and if wasn’t confident that I can do that I didn’t say anything at all. This grew exponentially when I was around new people. In the past if I wasn’t confident that someone would think I was the best or they didn’t know me well enough to like me if I wasn’t, I was way less likely to talk. As a result, I only really talked to people who were already my friends in my teen years.

It’s weird to think about, because now that I’m older I have to talk to people for work, I tell jokes on stage for standup, and I’ll find myself chatting up random strangers in public all the time. It’s strange because in a lot ways I almost feel like a totally different girl than I was a few years ago. However there is really only one difference, which is that I no longer worry about sounding dumb or awkward when I talk, I just say what’s on my mind. Yeah, sometimes I stutter or stumble, or laugh weird, or make a joke that doesn’t land to several people at the same time, but I don’t care anymore, because I know everyone is saying stuff they regret all the time too, so they’re not that worried about what I’m saying.

So that’s a sampling of behaviors that I’m super glad to have made it past. Reflecting on it I realize the awkward years are never really over. I still slip up or do strange things, or look back on past years or memories and cringe. However I don’t worry about as much now because I know that it’s all part of changing and growing up, and that I’ll still have plenty of stuff to embarrass myself with for years to come. I just don’t know what it will be yet, and that’s okay.

(Image via Fox)