Friday, March 12, 2010

The Awkward Silence

Solitary confinement. This is something that brings to mind prison movies with Paul Newman or war dramas with Steve McQueen and his handy tennis ball. It is said that if you take away a man's air; deprive him of his clothes, light and the company of others, you leave him with that most unpleasant of things...himself. And that is just what we are left with when the conversational atmosphere sours and we find ourselves alone in the midst of an awkward silence.

Truth be told, we can all learn a great deal about ourselves and other people by how we react to an awkward silence. Some of us try to fill the dead air with stories, jokes or chat about the weather. Others just wait it out. And some just bail.

I think that we all wonder at one time or another just what would happen if we didnt react, or respond or bail or ...anything! Deep down I think we share a fear that if the awkward silence is allowed to continue then something bone chilling and terrible will occur.

"Hey Bob. Glad we decided to get together."

We begin to wonder if Bob just nodded off or if Bob just doesnt care. Maybe Bob never cared? Maybe Bob doesnt like me? Maybe I dont really like Bob? Why am I here talking with Bob? This was a mistake! I have to get out of here!

"Yeah. I'm glad we did too." Bob answers.

Crisis averted. Train not derailed. Thousands saved. Bob...he's okay with me!

I guess it would be doubly awkward if Bob really did die. And for that matter, how many of us have felt a moment of awkward silence at a funeral visitation when peering into the casket?Admit it! It happens. So we try to say something, or think something in case the ghost might hear it and we can escape that impending rudeness of disconnection.

"So been here long?" Ouch.
"So Bob...the hairs new." Ewww.
"So Bob...why the cold shoulder?" Really?
"So Bob...I've noticed Emily giving me the eye. You cool with that?" Wrong.
"So are things?" Weirdly inappropriate.

We are all motivated to socially avoid awkward silences. And yet they say that 'Silence is Golden.' Can you experience an awkward silence with a monk who has taken a vow for instance? It begs the question.

The universal disaster of awkward silences is based on the breakdown of communication between the parties involved. But again, someone, maybe you, are just reading too much into it. Maybe the communication is just fine. Maybe if you could only read that girls mind across the table. But that's just fantasy right? So most of us just dive into an awkward silence and only make it much worse...

"So do you like the wine?"
"Um. I assumed you would like the red...but uh..."
"You really look great tonight Julia. And sitting there...drinking that red wine...ssshhhwow."
"I just pulled in my bonus from that new job in line dance management that I got. Six figures. Yeah...I'm buying a boat this summer. Gonna have a lot of extra money for more wine for you."
"I have a lot of friends. My car is cool. Kind of purple. I have a cool purple car. Expensive. But I can afford it because of my long as I dont buy too much of that really good red wine."
"Er...not that you wouldnt be worth it. You ...Julia. Wow you are so beautiful. I love your dress. It makes your breasts stand out."
"Um. Geez. This wine is really getting to me I guess. Did I say breasts? I was thinking of my purple car."

Actually, the more that I think about it...the more I like the awkward silence. I think I'm going to go out on a date and say virtually nothing.

It's always better to listen anyway.

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