It can seem nearly impossible to talk about seeming creepy and the pursuit of a romantic partner without bringing up the role (or lack of it) that social awkwardness may play. Its role is hotly debated. Some people argue that social awkwardness and creepiness are mutually exclusive and that creepy people always know exactly what they are doing when they make people uncomfortable. Others say that creepiness and social awkwardness are one and the same. Some people from this camp go as far as to say that the term creepy is merely an unfairly mean way of saying that someone is socially awkward or even that the term is a slur against those on the autism spectrum. Still others argue that it’s completely irrelevant and that whether you’re socially awkward or not, coming across as creepy is still your own damn fully intentional fault. I contend that social awkwardness can sometimes contribute to an impression of creepiness, but that it depends on the specific nature of the awkwardness.
Here, I have broken down a few different types of awkwardness.
Clumsy Lovestruck Awkward
If you are this type, you probably find interacting with someone you’re interested in to be enjoyable but a little scary. Taking the step of asking someone out is even more daunting. You probably feel as if you’re just not as good as talking to potential partners as other people are. You’re pretty sure you’re doing the appropriate thing but then you stumble over your words, are left dumbstruck by social curve balls, and always seem to manage to be at your least graceful at all the wrong moments. You aren’t all tongue-tied and butterfingers in other social situations. It’s just this one that seems to bring it out in you.
What you need to learn
Fortunately, if you’re in this category, you probably have the least to worry about out of all the categories in this post. The first thing you may need to understand is that having bouts of social clumsiness around someone you’re into is not some rare defect affecting an unfortunate few. It’s completely normal. In fact, most people will be sympathetic towards you rather than judgmental because this is something most people experienced to varying degrees. Many people in this category understand this and if you’re one of them, that’s great. If not, the person who is being hard and judgmental towards you is probably you.
While this may come as a relief, it may also be somewhat difficult for you to accept. It can seem reasonable to feel that way. After all, you may now be asking why you’re still single if you’ve actually been doing things right this whole time. The thing about finding things to beat yourself up about after being turned down is that while it doesn’t exactly feel good, it can give you a sense of control. “If I know what I did wrong this time…”you surmise ” I can fix it and get the outcome I want next time.”
The truth is, there is no magic in the moment you ask someone out. Lots of people stress themselves out unnecessarily about making this particular moment absolutely perfect. They think that if they don’t use exactly the right words or if they stutter even once, then it’s game over. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s simply a question. Think of it like a marriage proposal. It’s not the proposal itself that determines whether or not your significant other wants to marry you. It’s everything that leads up to the proposal from the start of the relationship that really matters. If the two of you have a great relationship and they want to marry you (and not your money), then they’ll marry you. It doesn’t matter if you propose at a football stadium, if you get down on one knee and do it the traditional way or if you rip the pop top off of a tin can and propose with that. If your relationship is lackluster however, it simply won’t matter how big of a marching band you hired. (This, by the way is also one of the reasons why big showy proposals at football stadiums and grand romantic gestures toward people who you aren’t currently involved with are generally a terrible idea.)
If you really want to have a good idea of your odds of getting a yes out of somebody you ask out, a better way is to have a good idea of what year lead-up is made of. Are you fun to be around or are you rather dull? Is your demeanor Pleasant or are you constantly angry and miserable? Are you well groomed or have you given up on your appearance? If the person you’re asking out is someone you know well, are you their type? Do you have something going for you that you know they would like? Do you get along? These are just some of the countless things that go into a person’s decision to go out with you that are much more important than whether you word it properly and speak it perfectly.
So if you’re holding yourself to the standard of the guy who reeks of confidence walking over practically commanding a woman into his lap with a look and some magic words, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment even if you manage to pull it off. The mask will have to come off eventually. Worse yet you may be paralyzing yourself out of even pursuing anyone under the assumption that you’re not ready and any attempt you make is doomed to failure until you can convincingly play the part of Dom(me) McEmberEyes.
There’s also an advantage you have that you may not be aware of. Even though you may not be intending to, you’re fumbliness is signaling genuine interest and it’s doing so in a very non-threatening way. This actually puts you at a very low risk of seeming creepy and can actually be very endearing. If you embrace it, you can actually incorporate it into your flirting style. This is especially true if you normally have decent confidence in other situations. The change and demeanor can be turned around into a compliment. It can show that you find the person you’re into simply that disarmingly attractive. Just smile, stay pleasant and don’t beat yourself up, especially not out loud to the person you’re talking to. More on that later.
There’s a fair amount of overlap between clumsy awkward and anxious awkward. The difference is a matter of degree of nervousness and how it’s handled. Whereas the nervousness from clumsy awkwardness can be laughed off, for anxious awkward types, it is often consumingly distressing. If you can’t seem to approach someone you’re interested in without acting as if someone asked you to pull the pin out of a live grenade and hold on to it, then this is you.
What you need to learn
Obviously, people are not live grenades. However, depending on your anxiety level, simply being told this may not be very helpful. To be fair, this can be a very difficult position to be in. While most people are sympathetic to a little nervousness, at an extreme, this seems sympathy can become uncomfortable on a very visceral level. When approached by someone who was a little nervous, this usually triggers an empathetic response in their brain that makes sense of the incoming information. ” This person is nervous because they like me.” When the fear and anxiety seems outsize for the situation, you can have the effect of signalling to their brain that there is a threat nearby. The purpose of this largely subconscious reaction is to try to figure out where the threat is. If they believe there’s no way they could be that big a threat, the conclusion that would make the most sense may be to them that the threat is you.
” This person is petrified of their own feelings and maybe I should be too.”
” This person is about to try something dangerous.”
Even if the person can understand you over their limbic system’s alarm bells, you being visibly terrified can make them feel obligated to soothe you, console you or not make it worse, which if they weren’t interested can feel like quite the bind to be in. Hardly anyone wants to be responsible for someone murdering themselves emotionally over a rejection but there aren’t many options aside from either blowing your heart to bits or dating you when they really don’t want to.
So the best thing you can do from a decent human being standpoint is to ensure that you take responsibility for handling your feelings. If you’re on the mild end of the spectrum, that means refraining from using your anxiety to try to emotionally blackmail people into not saying no to you. In the severe end, this can mean getting whatever help you need to be able to manage your anxiety and focusing on getting to the point where approaching people feels more okay. Base your progress on how well you handled it and not on the heavily chance laden issue of whether or not you get turned down.
This is where things start to get really weird. If you’re this type, you probably started out as one of the first two types I listed and decided to construct a different image for yourself that doesn’t jibe well with who you actually are. You may just be new to the whole flirting thing and decided to try it out without first working on your social awareness and/or without a realistic understanding of how flirting actually works. As a result, you can come across as really sleazy, disingenuous or even threatening depending on your approach. If your idea of flirting is uttering every single sentence as if you were saying “Hey baby. Want to have a naked party at my place?” (Or God forbid, using those exact words) then this might be you.
What you need to learn
First of all, and most importantly, if your goal is to be less awkward, acting like a TV character is not the answer. If you’re doing this, you’re making the situation strange from the start because this is not how real people act. Secondly, if you’re focused on a script you wrote for yourself, you can deafen yourself to signals of disinterest both because you are so focused on what you’re doing next and because you fully expected to work if you just keep going with it.
Leery Awkward and Stoneface Awkward (next section) are opposing extremes of awkward that some people find themselves swinging between. Some Stonefaces are repentant Leery Awkward types who have over reacted to their mistakes and vowed to never show any interest ever again. Conversely, some Leery Awkward folks are former Stonefaces who have learned that in order to have any sort of chance at someone they are interested in, they would actually have to show some interest. It’s just that their ways of showing the interest are either overly aggressive and forward, artificial and strange, or straight up inappropriate.
A quick note on a particular version of this approach: Lots of people fantasize about someone being very sexually forward in a dominating sort of way. This is true. This does not mean that this is the magical key for some rando/a to enter their underpants. The key elements of the fantasy is that it’s someone they are intensely attracted to who’s doing that. You would need an extraordinary amount of social awareness to accurately intuit that the other person would be receptive to that with little or no prior contact.
By the way, if you’re getting your ideas of what’s socially appropriate from TV… then you most likely do NOT have that kind of skill.
There’s your key. Spend more time with real people getting a sense for how interactions in general work in real life. Look for someone who is into you and not for someone who you think might be into the person you wish you were.
There’s a lot of overlap between this type and the anxious type. Most people in this group are very very afraid of being creepy and many of them have come across as creepy by accident in the past. The mistake they’ve made in the process is concluding that the thing that made them creepy was showing any interest at all in the first place. Some have globalised their sense of creepiness or decided to head off their perceived sources of creepiness at every avenue. They see their interest as potentially creepy. They see their nervousness as potentially creepy. Perhaps they even see everything they do as potentially creepy and their way of coping is to show nothing. As a result, when interacting with someone they are interested in, they pop it in reverse and hit the gas, becoming cold, stiff and unexpressive. In the fight, flight or freeze triad, this is a more muted version of the freeze reaction.
What you need to learn
As you might expect, many people in this group never even get around to asking anybody out. However, some from this group, believing that they’re doing such a good job at hiding their creepiness (better known as their feelings) will still attempt to ask someone out after putting on this performance of indifference for so long. Whether or not you actually get around to asking someone out, this behavior can come across as rude at best and bizarre at worst. Worse yet, if you try to actively convey disinterest and don’t voice your interest by asking someone out, then this is literally the least likely avenue of getting the outcome that you want. If the person that you’re interested in happens to also be interested in you, they would have every reason to believe that their approach would fail and if they had any thoughts of actually approaching you, then they likely wouldn’t bother.
If you are of this type, then what you chiefly need is to learn that your feelings are okay. Crushes in and of themselves are not creepy, threatening or scary to the person being crushed on. As long as you’re willing to take responsibility for them, people are going to be as okay with your feelings as you are. If you treat your innocent Crush like exactly what it is, they will follow your lead. If you treat it like a nasty, shameful secret they will also follow your lead and find your interest as creepy as you do.
Or your inner conflict about it might drive you to burn down all of Paris.
Chances are, even if someone was a walking hairy pimple, you wouldn’t react with abject horror if you found out that they were attracted to you unless you think that they would take the route of relentlessly pursuing you. Give yourself the same consideration.
Is there a type of awkward I forgot about? Leave a comment for discussion and maybe a future post!