Social Awkwardness in Childhood

I was very socially awkward as a kid. I may have had ADHD, even though it wasn’t diagnosed at the time. I’ve had varying diagnoses over the years, so it’s difficult to be certain that that was the cause. I was uninformed about many things that my peers understood. I didn’t understand that some things not said had meaning and some things that were said had a different meaning than what they seemed at face value. I was completely oblivious to the concept of reading between the lines. This led to several humiliating moments. I had little knowledge that certain things were expected of me at a certain age, even though I hadn’t been explicitly told. For example, I didn’t realize that screaming and crying from getting stung by a hornet, getting a cut, or minor injuries now made you a wimp, while a couple years before it was normal. In hindsight, it seems like most kids learned that lesson much sooner than me. If I had known that in the moment, it might have spared me a lot of humiliating experiences. That’s why I strongly urge parents to teach kids these things early enough to prepare them for when it inevitably happens. My older brother tried teaching me this lesson one time when I got hurt and cried. He told me he knew of men who had had both of their legs blown off and hadn’t cried. It took me a bit longer before that lesson stuck, because I was still so impulsive that I wouldn’t recall it soon enough to prevent crying.

Another example of social awkwardness would be not picking up on social cues from girls. I interpreted a lot of girls as being attracted to me who were not. I wouldn’t be able to tell when a girl was uncomfortable around me and wanted the conversation to end or when she was uninterested in something I was talking about and wanted to change the subject. This resulted in a lot of moments I would like to have had another try at. One time I was at the gym and saw a beautiful girl there. She was new and working out there for the first time. I went up to her and struck up a conversation while we were both working out in the free weight area. She divided her time between the free weight area of the gym and abdominal exercise area. When she went to a different area I would join her after finishing the exercise I was currently doing. I did this because, from my perspective, the conversation was going very well and she was enjoying my company. I tried to work up to the point of asking her out. I didn’t do it and that was probably for the best. Sometime later I spoke to the gym manager, who was a friend, and asked him if he had seen that girl lately. He told me she never came back after that first day. I was entirely clueless as to why, at first.

Then, I replayed our interaction that day in my mind and it dawned on me that I was the reason she never returned. I thought about how I followed her during her workout and hadn’t stopped talking to her. I thought she moved to a different area of the gym a couple times because she had a complex workout routine. It never occurred to me until then that she may have been trying to be left alone. I put myself in her shoes and imagined someone was following me around the gym and trying to talk the whole time. I would be extremely uncomfortable and creeped out. And, if it had been my first time at that gym, I probably wouldn’t have returned there either. When I realized this I felt completely foolish and embarrassed. How could I not have recognized this in the moment? If she had gently told me she wanted to be left alone, I would have had this epiphany in the moment. But, she was either afraid to say it or was being kind and hoping I would eventually take the hint. Clearly, I had no clue what the social script was in that environment and under those circumstances. I learned a valuable lesson that day, even though it was the hard way. But, it was a good thing I learned that lesson in my youth. If I hadn’t figured it out until adulthood, I may have paid a much steeper price for it.

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