Blogging 101, Day Four: Identify Your Audience – On being socially awkward

Today’s assignment is to publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and include a new-to-you element in it.

Crikey. That’s kind of tough. I don’t exactly have an ideal audience member, and that’s something that’s coming up a lot in the many, many articles and books that I’m reading about writing.

On being socially awkward

People! It’s exciting to meet new people. They have different stories to tell and perspectives to bring, and an abstract concept always becomes more relatable when someone explains it from their own experience.

But people are polite. They don’t talk about themselves unless prompted. Don’t think, however, that it’s okay to ask them about themselves, because it isn’t. An immensely common blog topic seems to be “stuff you shouldn’t ask me, you fucking douchebag”. This is especially confusing when the no-go topics include stuff referred to in the blog’s URL. It’s almost like those Herbalife reps who wear a badge saying “ask me how!” and then shooting you daggers for, you know, asking them how.

Of course, I started off asking horribly inappropriate questions. As someone of unspeakably uninteresting ethnicity, I went through a few years of asking people about theirs. Do you know if your more recent ancestors are African or Afro-Caribbean? Do you feel a mix of cultures within your identity? I know that’s wrong now, and I don’t do it unless I’m appallingly drunk, which would be even more gauche right now than well-meant racism, because I’m 7 months pregnant.

I also managed to offend a girl by asking her what she thought of The L Word. A mutual friend had introduced her to me as “my lesbian friend, Jess”, and any attempts to ask her about her job were shut down fairly quickly, so I’d been at a bit of a loss for conversation. She informed our mutual friend that I was “obsessed with lesbians”.

“What kind of music are you into?” sounds like a date going badly.

“Where are you off to on your holidays?” has too many socio-economical implications and has been done to death by your hairstylist.

Questions about family status are another can of worms. Appearing to have a heteronormative agenda, or inadvertently picking at the fresh scars of loneliness, infertility and domestic strife are all risks best avoided.

I tried a new approach; something along the lines of “I’ll show you mine; then hopefully you’ll show me yours”. That wasn’t much more successful, and the description sounds a lot like some kind of emotional flasher. Oversharing doesn’t always encourage others to open up. In fact, it often seems to make people feel uncomfortable. I didn’t realise quite how much until I read a Modern Mrs Darcy post describing that horribly awkward feeling that washes over you when someone overshares and began to ruminate extensively over how many people I’d made to feel that way. It’s truly a wonder that NICE still recommends group therapy.

I have, therefore, left a trail of not-so-broken hearts in my wake when I’ve realised that the intimacy was not reciprocated. A feeling of foolishness combined with an inability to unsay and undo means that I’ve blocked all contact from plenty of lovely people I’ve been lucky to know because I simply didn’t know how to get back on an even keel.

A lot of my social awkwardness comes down to compulsion, and it’s not until several hours later that I start kicking myself for what I forgot to hold back in the heat of the social moment. My wonderful creative writing teacher, Hilda Sheehan, mentioned in class once that her writing has helped stem her blurting, and I hope that might work for me.

Lovely readers, I will be putting this out to you, if I have identified you correctly. Do you consider yourself to be socially awkward? How do you react (internally and out-loud) when someone overshares? What are your most appropriate conversation starters? And if my oversharing has made you feel awkward, then just pretend that you haven’t heard me and we can rekindle our acquaintanceship with no harm done.

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