KLUTZ (noun, slang):  A clumsy, awkward, or foolish person; uncoordinated.

Years ago, when I bought a house in a new housing development in a San Diego suburb, I had a perfect opportunity to make new friends.  Everybody was new.  Everybody was at least cordial and many were friendly.

We all needed to landscape our back yards and I chose to plant no grass.  Instead, I would have a mixture of flowers and vegetables, with footpaths to give easy access as well as divide it into rooms.  It would have drip irrigation to conserve water.  Soon, it would be an oasis in a concrete desert.

My Backyard Garden
My Backyard Garden

Before long, I had more veggies than I could eat.  I learned that the neighbor across the street had a fondness for beets and beet greens.  The teenage boy who lived on the other side of the back fence did not recognize leaf lettuce and asked what it was.  I gave away excess produce to my neighbors, that they could share in the bounty and understand why I did not have a sprinkler system and lush green grass.

One evening, as I puttered in my garden, the neighbor to one side popped his head over the fence and said something to me.  He had very little English; might have been Filipino, I’m not sure.  Anyway, he said something to me and I smiled back.  Then he extended a plate of food over the fence toward me.  I had just eaten dinner and so I said something to that effect and shook my head and smiled.

It occurred to me a week or so later that I should have responded in an entirely different manner.  I should have accepted the plate of food.  I should have eaten it, hungry or not.  I should have complimented the cook.  I should have said and done so many things differently than I had.  At the time, I just didn’t realize these friendly people were trying to return the favor of the produce I had given them.  And perhaps…  Just maybe…  I had missed an opportunity to make some new friends.

For an intelligent woman, I can be really dense sometimes.  Probably more often than I realize.  You see, that was not an isolated incident.  I look back on my life and wonder how many friends I missed getting to know because I failed to see the opportunity.  At the same time, I recall how many times I have felt so lonely, so hungry for acceptance, so needy of friendship that I would have done anything to change that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was nearly 7 when I started 1st grade.  I grew up on a farm and the only other children I knew prior to entering 1st grade were my cousins, whom I saw only on holidays.  Suddenly, I was one of 30 in a classroom and at least 25 of them already knew each other from kindergarten.  It made me feel like an outsider.  Of course, being the tallest kid in class didn’t help.  Nor did the fact that I already knew the alphabet and numbers.

I wanted friends like the other kids had, but being a misfit, I didn’t know how to go about it.  My first clue came one day, after eating my lunch, when I spent a dime of my allowance to buy an ice cream bar.  Another kid asked if she could have one, too.  I had an extra dime, so I gave it to her.  She sat with me and we enjoyed our treat together.  After that, I started trying to buy friends for the price of an ice cream bar.  One thing lead to another and I took to stealing the spare change Dad sometimes left on his chest of drawers.  Of course, I got caught at that before too long, but by that time, I had learned how to let others see my test quiz papers so they could copy my answers.

I didn’t really begin to understand any of this until I was in my 30s, which was in the 1980s.  At that time, self-help books were all the rage and I read my share of them.  By that age, too, I like to think I had reached a stage of mental maturity that allowed me to start to understand human nature in general, and myself in particular, a lot better than I ever had before.  I got pretty good at recognizing insecurities and over-compensations that others made and that helped me to understand my own.

By the time I was 40, I had gotten pretty good at fitting in to society and the workplace, looking and acting much like everyone else.  Well, not entirely, because I still have no fashion sense or interest, but that is another story.  Anyway, I had learned to fit in well enough to be promoted multiple times, but I was also painfully aware that I simply never would pick up on the subtleties of conversation and interaction that came natural to everyone else.  Only after the fact would I realize what had been meant or implied and how I should have reacted.  In other words, I flunked at office politics.

Oh well.  All that did was to eventually lead me into self-employment, where office politics became a non-issue.  More than one way to deal with a problem.  Right?

Except that I still find myself realizing too late that I have missed an opportunity to make a new friend or to deepen an existing friendship into something special.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, I am of the opinion that there are crucial stages in human socialization just as there are with kittens and puppies.  If a kitten is not socialized to be friendly with humans in the first six weeks of life, it becomes difficult — if not impossible — to “tame” them later.  If the kitten is socialized, it stands a good chance of finding a friend for life.

Tucked In (used by permission of the photographer, "Kim's Pics :)" on Flickr at https://flic.kr/p/8BZq9R)
Tucked In
(used by permission of the photographer, “Kim’s Pics :)” on Flickr at https://flic.kr/p/8BZq9R)

As a young child, I was taught to “be seen and not heard” when in the company of adults.  And since the only time I was around anyone other than an adult was at holiday family gatherings, I learned how to sit still and listen and enjoy it, but not how to interact with others.  My mother taught me so much, but being socially challenged herself, she couldn’t teach me how to get along with others or how to understand social subtleties.  By the time I started 1st grade at three months shy of my 7th birthday, apparently, I had missed the window of opportunity and was forever stuck in the social ineptitude sphere.

found at:  http://geeknation.com/circle-graph-geek-vs-nerd-vs-dork-vs-dwee/
found at: http://geeknation.com/circle-graph-geek-vs-nerd-vs-dork-vs-dwee/

And that brings us to Point #1 of my discourse about being socially inept.  It seems to me that many children today are not getting the socialization they will need as adults.  Their helicopter parents hover protectively over them, keeping them indoors except when a parent can accompany them outdoors.  Young people’s social life seems to exist more on the internet than it does in the real world.  Computer skills are vital work skills and will become more so in the future, but what about people skills?  Are Americans raising up a generation of people who will not know how to interact with each other and the world around them?  It would be wonderful if parents would not only allow but encourage their children to go outside, ride their bikes to the park, play with other kids, even at the risk of a skinned knee or broken arm.  Yes, bad things do happen, but the benefits far outweigh the hazards, especially if you teach your children to be alert and pay attention to their surroundings.

Those of you who, like me, never mastered Human Socialization 101, can still have a life.  It might take a bit more effort than it does for others.  At the very least, it takes a different skill set.  The best advice I can give, using my 20-20 hindsight, is to:  1)  find a way of making a living where your social klutziness isn’t too much of a handicap and; 2) develop the habit of taking a few minutes at the end of each day to review your interactions and learn to recognize any social blunders you might have made.  You can learn from those mistakes and teach yourself to respond in a different way the next time that sort of thing happens.  It’s a long process.  It won’t ever come natural.  But behaviors can be learned.  And sometimes, you can find or make an opportunity to go back to someone the next day and “make it right” by explaining that you were a bit slow to pick up on what was said or done.  Which brings us to Point #2:  you can, indeed, make some friends if you are willing to work at it.

Okay, time to get off my soapbox and go interact with some friends.  I still need to remind myself to do that and sometimes it is hard to get started, but once I do, it’s almost always fun.  And it sure beats a case of the lonelies.

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10 thoughts on “On Being a Social Klutz

  1. I’ve gone through the vast majority of my life with one best friend at a time; the last 18 years or so that person has been my wife. Otherwise, I’m perfectly content to be alone.

    The exception to this rule has been my online presence; With WU, WP, and other message boards, I’ve been able to express my self in ways that are impossible face to face. Will social media transform our society for the better, or will it ruin it? I have no clue. Time will tell, I guess! :’ )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Truth be told, aside from my husband/best-friend, my only friends are those I have met online. I am friendly with a couple of neighbors, but they are not really friends. Going farther back, I only ever managed one real friend at a time, plus maybe a co-worker or two that would join me at street fairs or on daytrips from time to time.

      For those of us who are socially challenged, WU and WP provide a non-threatening place to break the ice that I might not manage otherwise. All things in moderation, of course, and the net should never be a total substitute for face time. That said, I know you and I would never have met in the brick-and-mortar world, but I sure am glad I have gotten to know you in the virtual world.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The neighbor to the left has a green swimming pool. If it had been mine it would been blue, lol. I often feel like I am on a sitcom or a drama when I interact with people…for better or worse. Fortunately, like you and wiley I have a friend (maybe not always the best,) in my partner. At least, his patience for my insanity is incredible. And has been since day one. He is also an incredibly generous person.

    WU, WP and other social media venues have been my lifeline in recent years in a hostile physical environment that I don’t want to be in, (and hopefully will escape from when the time is right.) I am so grateful for the internet as I think I would be totally nuts otherwise. It just started out basically from a love of land and seascapes and trying to capture them for posterity. A way of stopping the rush of time and holding onto magic moments. It also got me out of a deep, deep depression and back out into the great outdoors and the world where I love being. Cyberspace has also allowed me to travel to exotic places and ideas, and meet some really interesting characters, such as you, BC.

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    1. People can say what they will about the interwebz and social media, but they do provide us socially challenged types with connections that we might not otherwise manage.

      “Cyberspace has also allowed me to travel to exotic places and ideas, and meet some really interesting characters, such as you, BC.” Ditto and back atchya, Mike!

      Like

  3. PS…I think it is fantastic how you put that amazing garden into that, what I would consider a very sterile “SoCal” suburban nightmare, environment. There is something very magical about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that we had similar rural upbringing. We did have relations in town, so I wasn’t as disadvantaged as you were. Joining the Armed services, the Royal Air Force, as an aircraft engine fitter was something I wasn’t prepared for, so I got bullied, as I had at school. I had problems with office politics too as I moved up the ranks. I never did understand putting ones own wants before the team. As a klutz, the ‘team’ was a saving grace, as it aligned most peoples endeavours.

    Wonderful blog BC. I enjoyed it very much.

    Like

    1. I find it rather validating to learn that someone of a different gender, born and bred 5000 miles away had just as many difficulties fitting in and getting along. It rather says that neither of us is deficient; we just got an awkward start at life that took some effort to get past.

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