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Avoiding the Awkward

Thursday, June 21, 2012
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Dear Miriam,

I go to a lot of Jewish events around Philly and there are always a handful of socially awkward people there. I don't want to spend my night talking to them, but I feel bad ignoring them. What should I do?

Signed,
Avoiding the Awkward

Dear Awkward,

It's commendable that you feel bad ignoring the awkward among us. Throughout the multitude of Jewish events I've attended in Philly and elsewhere, you're not alone. I am always impressed that more often than not, the less socially adept attendees usually seem to have someone to talk to for at least some of the night, through no small effort of people like yourself who recognize the issue and want to be kind. Still, you're not going to events to babysit, and it's not your sole responsibility to look after these folks.

It sounds like you already have the right idea: Talk to them a little bit, then move on. A great way to get out of a conversation is to stop someone else who's walking by and say, "Oh, do you two know each other?" Make the introductions, then excuse yourself. (Disclaimer: I say this at events all the time, so if I've said it to you before or I do in the future, please don't take that as a sign that I think you're socially awkward!  I probably either have to go refill drinks or I'm just trying to make social connections. Also, for the record, at least one marriage has come out of my pulling that move!) If that opportunity doesn't present itself, find another reason to excuse yourself. Go to the restroom or get another drink or, simply say, "It's been nice talking with you. I hope you enjoy the rest of the night," and just walk away.

If there's an event where you feel a little more patient, or there's a person who would especially benefit from your attention, think of safe topics to bring up that allow you to carry the conversation. I would suggest things like, "What's your favorite thing to do around Philly?" which you could follow up with your own favorites, or "How did you spend your summer vacation?" Any questions that are open-ended and not too controversial can work.

Of course, there will be those people who can't carry on any kind of conversation, mundane or not. There will be others who make the conversation too weird, or too personal, or just plain awkward. Then there are those who will stand too close to you or smell bad or always try to sell you something. Empower yourself to smile your brightest, say, "It's nice to see you," and move on. You're not being mean, but you're not sabotaging your own night, either.

The exception to all of this is if you're a woman and the socially awkward person in question is a man trying to date you. If he's making unwelcome advances, stick with a friend, put distance between yourselves at the event and don't get involved in any conversations that might lead him to think you're interested. If the situation becomes unmanageable or you're very uncomfortable, tell the Jewish professional running the event.

This got kind of serious there, huh? Let's end on a light and practical note: Remember that these situations often make great stories later on, so even if you get stuck in a totally wackadoo conversation, your friends will love hearing the details.

Thanks for being a good person, and be well,
Miriam

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