I had an awkward encounter at a cafe the other day. Unfortunately, it was no one’s fault but my own and it seems to be happening more frequently as of late.
I’d ordered my usual large soy latte when the barista asked me a question. This would’ve been fine if WAP hadn’t been blaring in my ears, blocking any chance of me being able to decipher what they’d said.
Instead of politely asking them to repeat themselves, as a normal human being would, I decided to let out one of those generic ‘haha, yeah’ nod-and-smile combinations — which turned into more of a grunt resembling the sound my childhood dog would make after accidentally swallowing a sock.
After a slight pause, and Cardi’s mention of that li’l dangly thing swinging in the back of our throats, I shuffled away in shame.
Walking back to my apartment at a fast pace, I then caught up to a trio of slow walkers who were taking up the entire span of the footpath. I asked myself a lot of questions in this testing moment: Do I try to overtake, or squeeze in between? Do I make myself known? Say excuse me?
Naturally, I did none of these things, choosing instead to adopt their uncomfortably slow place for the remainder of my two-block walk home.
As I entered my front door, incredulous at how a quick five-minute outing had been so damn painful, it dawned on me — ‘Rona, 2020 and a lack of travel beyond my local Woolies, had turned me into a socially awkward human being.
Social etiquette? Nope. A basic understanding of human interaction? I don’t know her.
Panicked, I googled ‘how to not be awkward’. The top tip told me to ‘be myself’, which was painfully unhelpful given that awkwardness had now become my natural resting state. Being myself was being awkward.
Another tip suggested I travel and explore the world. This was also painfully unhelpful, given that while I love to travel, for the majority of the past year my main source of interaction had been with my sea monkeys.
I’d moved into a studio by myself a couple of weeks before the pandemic with the expectation of being able to socialise with the outside world, but grandiose plans to travel inevitably morphed into grandiose travels solely to the kitchen, bathroom and bed. Sight-seeing was confined to Google Maps street view. The most IRL exploring I achieved was in my pantry after 1 am.
Judging by my recent encounters, this solitude has had some lasting ramifications when it comes to my day-to-day interactions.
It’s not from a lack of trying, though. Part of me has definitely wanted, and tried, to dive head-first into socialising again — making plans with every friend, travelling, drinking 27 margaritas. It’s just that, there’s a part of me that also wants to do precisely none of that, and to stay in bed and binge Netflix for the rest of my life. It’s what I’ve now become accustomed to, after all.
I know I’m not alone.
I’ve had many-a-conversation with friends about having this desire to travel, mixed in with trepidation about heading back out into the big, wide world. Two conflicting desires, constantly at battle.
So, as Australia begins to open up once more, I reckon it’s time to acknowledge that we might all need some more time to rid that isolation-induced social awkwardness.
With this in mind, I’ve created a trusty toolkit of tips to help you out if you’ve been bitten by both the travel and social anxiety bugs:
- Stare at yourself in the mirror before stepping outside. Tell yourself you’re a bad bitch. Bask in subsequent bad bitch energy. An important first step, indeed.
- If crowded venues and busy locations seem a bit daunting for now — which is more than understandable — start off by meeting small groups of mates for coffees and lunches. Ease your way into the social scene at your own pace.
- International border closures shouldn’t equate to a lack of holidays. If anything, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the plethora of diverse vacation spots we have on our own shores. So why not check out what options there are in terms of cute, little weekend getaway spots that are only a short road trip away? Following the chaos of 2020, it’s more important than ever to treat ourselves.
- When looking at local holiday spots, prioritise destinations that will still give you space, be it in a quiet beachy town or a Cottagecore bush setting. This’ll ensure you experience a change of scenery without feeling overwhelmed (and also ensure some very aesthetically-pleasing shots for the ‘gram).
- Stare in the mirror one more time. You’re a bad bitch.
Godspeed, my fellow anxious travellers.
(Lead image: Pexels / Cliford Mervil)