Dedicated to people who find the very notion of awkward silences very awkward- at least, when it’s between friends.
You haven’t seen each other for years and years.
The last time you spent quality time with each other, you were children.
Yet for the past few months, you re-connected virtually, either through Facebook, LinkedIn, somewhere, somehow- and since then you’ve both been (in vain) struggling to set a time to physically meet up. However, it seems that something keeps popping up at your or their end, and fate simply won’t let it happen.
And then it does, finally, at long lasts. A time clicks; you both cancel anything and everything that tries to set you apart.
And what happens when you meet up? Instead of the fireworks of friendship you and she/he were clearly expecting, an unexpected guest shows up to this reunion: he tends to go by the name of
“The Awkward Silence”
Now let me give you a little run down about these two friends’ – you and their- backgrounds:
- You USED to go to the same school, took the same classes, had the same teachers, hated the same bullies and stuck-up snobs. You used to have this in common.
- You USED to have the same social circle, watched the same movies, played the same games, bought the same toys. You used to have this in common.
- You USED to have the same interests and priorities in life- it was all about getting good marks, right?– and gifts, of course, be they for holidays or birthdays. You used to have this in common.
- You USED to have the same sense of humor, and laugh about things you didn’t understand, and giggle away uncomfortable incidents that were immediately forgotten. You used to have this in common.
Those were the days that The Awkward Silence never for a moment intruded. There was too much to talk about, too much to do, too much to agree with one another and too much validation needed to enlarge one’s self-esteem. Now that you’re both all grown up with unique personalities, you start noticing things when you finally meet up you did not consider previously.
You notice that
- Ever since you went to different high schools and post-secondary institutions…
- Ever since that once-seemingly-permanent mutual circle of friends disintegrated and people found new friends more compatible…
- Ever since your interests changed in drastic ways- one preferring hot celebrities and gossip and worldly pleasures while the other delved deeper in faith and spirituality…
- Ever since your sense of humor changed- one enjoying random outbursts of unusualness while the other preferred a sexualized, degrading form of lower humor…
- Ever since your priorities in life changed- one preferring to live according to a higher Being’s pleasure and the other wanting nothing more than to be accepted by others like herself, also waiting to be validated…
Now that you sit across each other holding your cups of coffee, both of you wear the tightest of smiles because suddenly there is nothing to talk about.
The Awkward Silence takes over (naturally).
But why is it awkward?
Here is my personal theory. Many of us are conditioned by society’s norm to always be moving, acting, talking, in motion, be it in body or tongue. The notion that the words are moving at an alarmingly fast rate in one’s mind while they never leave the lips is not considered socially comfortable. Below is probably the conversation unraveling in the two friends’ minds while the well-known beast called The Awkward Silence thoroughly enjoys the scene.
For sake of simplicity and lack of confusion, let us call arbitrarily call the two people You and I.
Both you and I sip our coffees, pretending to be immersed in the flavor of it while really, we do anything to fill up the time. When we accidentally catch each other’s eye, we quickly exchange smiles but avert our eyes away, as though afraid the other will see the nervous thoughts you are thinking… they go something like this:
YOU: Wow, my friend has really changed. I’m interested to know more about her… but she’s barely doing any talking. She probably regrets agreeing to meet up with me, I probably scared her with all my spirituality obsession. I don’t want to annoy her with questions; let’s just drink this coffee and get it over with.
I: Wow, my friend has really changed. Her new unusual lifestyle intrigues me. I want to know more about it. But she might think I’m being all racist or something. Best to stay away from matters like these.
YOU: It’s really too bad this silence is so awkward. I’m enjoying her presence as it is, I feel like a careless kid again.. but she probably thinks the reason I’m quiet is because I wish she’d go away. This is embarrassing. Why can’t I think of anything to say?!
I: Honestly, this is ridiculous. At this rate we will never meet up again. But I have really good memories with her and I don’t want to ruin a friendship just because we have no common grounds! I’m sure we have lots in common we don’t know of. We just need to talk about it. But she’s not talking! Probably disappointed in what she sees. Shame, because I appreciate the person she is, not what she does…
YOU: It’s what she IS I appreciate, not what she DOES. I wish I can tell her I’m so glad she’s sitting across of me… but then she’ll think I’m being cheesy or sarcastic. Just keep my mouth shut then.
I: She’s not talking. Clearly she regrets meeting me.
YOU: She’s not talking. Clearly this was a mistake. She won’t look at me. Well, I mean… we have nothing in common.
I: I actually don’t mind silence. But she probably thinks it’s awkward. Knowing she thinks the silence is awkward is exactly what makes it awkward.
YOU: I don’t MIND silence for a bit. But she probably thinks it’s awkward, which is making it increasingly awkward, and I don’t know how to break it.
I: I can’t break the silence; it’s like ice now. I’ll just keep sipping coffee.
YOU: Must… keep sipping coffee to fill the silence!
*slurp slurp slurp*
*The Awkward Silence slapping his knee uncontrollably and shouting LMAO!*
This, folks, is what makes a silence awkward. Each member assumes the other is taking it as such, and in thinking this way, it becomes so. Truly your thoughts have power over you.
Now this didn’t actually happen to me recently, though I foresee it to as a long-ago childhood friend and I would like to connect and meet up in person. She was the closest thing to me in my early years and it’s such a shame that we live in the same city yet have not had a decent conversation for the past, oh, I don’t know… past decade? We’d been Facebook friends for a while and we both undoubtedly saw the very different lifestyles we were each pursuing. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about her anymore; her lifestyle and her being are two different things.
I don’t find silences awkward, but I know she might. It’s good for me to sort of brace myself for what might happen, to prevent it from doing so. Maybe I’ll start the whole thing off by telling her how glad I am we’re finally seeing each other, and to point out in advance the truthful fact that I have the bizarre habit of either speaking as though I swallowed a radio, or that I enjoy simply listening in rapt attention with no words on my part. (I should be a little bit more moderate, I know…)
Interestingly, one of the ways I determine how strong my relationship with someone is is actually through a very simple test. I wait for a moment when words are lost between us, and see how it plays out. If it’s all nervous smiles, lip biting and hand fidgeting, I know they’re not completely comfortable with me: they may be assuming I’m thinking negatively of their inability to keep up the conversation, or I might be thinking that of them. However, when I can spend a solid 5 minutes with a dear friend and casually mention, “by the way, just to let you know, I actually like moments of quiet; I really do enjoy your company!” and the other bursts out, “Me too! Oh my God, finally I find someone that relates!” – well, I know it’s a friend worth keeping.
Long story short: silences are not awkward. They are beautiful moments in time in which you both embrace the fact that sometimes, silence is louder than words. A silence can either be a very direct way of saying ‘I don’t like you, you’re not worth my time so don’t even think of getting on my good side’ – or it may mean ‘I’m so comfortable with you I don’t need to pretend to have something to say right now when I don’t’. Silences among friends are not awkward unless you think them… then they become it.
Elliott Kay summarizes it most eloquently:
“Silence is beautiful, not awkward. The human tendency to be afraid of something beautiful is awkward.”
Wishing you a day of beautiful rich silences filled with depth and meaning. 🙂