I’m the first person to admit I can be socially awkward.
But one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is that a conversation isn’t awkward unless you make it so.
Some people might consider a quieter conversation as something undesirable, or indicative of a struggling relationship. Depending on the situation, that could be true, but I believe an integral part of any relationship is comfort in silence.
And that’s something I’ve only recently realized the value of, whether I’m meeting someone new, catching up with friends from high school or talking to my best friends every day.
In high school, I had a constant fear of being overlooked. In the years since, I’ve been cognizant of that fear and I’ve started overcompensating by speaking up whenever I can.
But because simply being social is not a one-way ticket to being everyone’s friend, that came with mixed results. That didn’t stop me from continuing with my talkative tactic.
Sometimes, if I’m talking to someone new, whether or not the conversation is going well, I’ll feel like I should prolong a conversation just for the sake of trying to leave a lasting impression, just because I don’t want to be forgotten, or overlooked.
But I’ve realized that’s not an excuse for forcing conversation.
Here we are, seven years later, and I still sometimes feel the urge to fill any silence with conversation. While it doesn’t necessarily get me into any sticky situations, I know when I’m speaking just to fill dead air in a room and, on the whole, it’s a disservice to me and the person I’m talking to.
If I’m not sure what to say when catching up with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, my go-to is usually to start rambling about something pertinent to my life at the time. Sometimes that goes well. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Naturally, any kind of ramble runs the risk of making a conversation even more awkward. It only gets more uncomfortable once I realize I’m not making any sense and the story is going nowhere.
And with my close friends, even though we talk frequently, I tend to run into a similar kind of pressure — don’t have an awkward conversation, my inner saboteur will say, or else the friendship might falter.
Being comfortable with another person’s silence is a pretty significant step in being comfortable with them as a person. It’s healthy to be able to leave someone alone with their thoughts for a moment. Let them breathe. Let yourself breathe.
Also, someone talking all the time can be annoying! Case in point, pejorative phrases like “Chatty Cathy” exist for a reason, and while I don’t think that the phrase “oversharing” should have a negative connotation, it does, and it’s something I just have to deal with.
Humans might be social creatures, but we’re not meant to always be chatting with each other.
The song “Learning to Be Silent” from the 1998 Footloose musical talks about adopting quiet behavior as a way to appease the egos of those around you. While that shouldn’t be an ideal for anyone to pursue, it might be beneficial to learn to be silent in order to give yourself and those around you a break from conversation. From constant stimulation.
We live in a world full of stimuli — there’s always something flashy to see, something interesting to watch, new music to listen to, different places to spend your time, new people to meet — and it’s hard to run out of concepts to pay attention to.
And with the (albeit convenient) advent of the smartphone as an essential item for young people, there’s always someone to talk to, social media to look at, information to consume, something to watch that can fit in your pocket.
So it’s okay to take a break from constant interaction, from constant conversation. Let yourself have a moment. Let your friends have their moments.
Enjoy someone else’s peace.
It’s only awkward if you make it awkward — so let’s learn to be silent instead.