There’s socially awkward, and then there’s creepy. It’s an important difference.

I was recently turned onto a blog called Dr. Nerdlove. That latest article (at least as I write this) is titled “Socially Awkward Isn’t An Excuse”. I think this is a fantastic article for anyone who isn’t so great with the social skills. It may help your self-awareness and learning to better moderate your behaviour and interactions.

Believe me, I was one heck of a socially awkward duck as a teenager (I have some seriously embarrassing stories I could tell). It took me 6 months just to build up the courage to talk to a girl I thought was cute (this is not an exaggeration, I swear). I would start classes in September, get a crush on a classmate, and if I was *lucky*, I’d manage to say more than “Hi” to her by April. In fact, I asked out one of my best friends when I was in college, and I was so awkward about it that she had no idea that I was asking her out. I told her later and she was like “you asked me out? when?!“. In her defense, “I’d like to hang out with you more often” is definitely not the same thing as “I like you romantically and would like to go on a date with you”.

As guys, I think we are given the impression by TV and movies (and the often sleazy and creeptastic “Pick Up Artist” movement) that men have to be direct and aggressive (and not take no for an answer, and be really degrading), but when you honestly don’t know what to say or how to say it, it’s easy to make some really epic screw-ups. I have chased countless women away and got really frustrated, until I just forced myself to slow the heck down, and try to be honest (and a little bit of humility can go a long way!). It was definitely hard at first, and I wasn’t sure if it would work. As my friend Heather puts it “make a clear statement of intent, giving them the ability to easily opt out”. Oh, and don’t freak out or be deflated if they say no!

Anyway, this article basically sums it up like this:

Here’s the thing about the socially awkward: they don’t want to trip over people’s boundaries. You can almost always track the exact moment they realize that they’ve done something wrong by the way they desperately try to backtrack, apologize and generally try to reassure the other person that they didn’t mean to and they’re so embarrassed and are kind of freaking out and, and, and…

You know what you don’t see? You don’t see them justifying their behavior. Or turning it around and making it about the person whose boundaries they just blew past.  They don’t rely on social pressure – either through making a scene or through other people justifying their actions for them – to make the other person submit to their demands. They don’t argue that the other person is obligated to forgive him, to give him a second chance or otherwise pretend that the awkwardness just didn’t happen. Creepers and predators rely on other people insisting that their social awkwardness is a mistake because it gives them cover. When the “socially awkward” exception is in play, other people are less likely to call him out on his creepy behavior .2 It becomes a way of isolating somebody from potential allies and tricking others – people who might otherwise object to his bad behavior and assist his target – into being complicit in his actions. The Awkward Exemption teaches other people to tolerate, even expect creepy behavior… and to forgive it because hey, “he means well.” It gives the creeper cover and allows him to continue being part of the community; he’s not “Johnny the creepy predator”, he’s “Johnny the decent guy, a little weird sometimes but harmless.”

Basically – genuinely awkward people are genuinely sorry when they realize they screwed up. Creepers are not, they will try to justify their behaviour and hide behind a fake excuse. They may be a little bit awkward too, but they’re certainly not trying to fix that.

The article goes on to basically say “hey, some people are genuinely awkward, it’s a thing, but it’s a thing you can work on and improve, and you should try”. And that’s absolutely true. I’m living proof!

On a related note – The difference between introversion and shyness.

Care to share your thoughts?