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Awkward: That Feeling You Get When Caught Staring at a Broken Friendship

I've heard my children, especially my 13-year-old daughter, employ the word "awkward" on a regular basis. For the most part, she -- along with her peers and her brothers -- has used one of the three acceptable usages of "awkward" accurately, albeit in excess for the last couple of years.

Recently, I said the word. It came right out of my mouth without thought or reflection, and "awkward" perfectly encapsulated the moment. But in the case of my employment of word, I hit on all three shades of the adjective:

  1. Not smooth or graceful, ungainly
  2. Causing (or feeling) embarrassment
  3. Causing difficulty, hard to deal with

Let me set the scene: The location was an indoor sports complex in WASPy suburbia; the time was late afternoon.

The background characters were various anonymous parents watching (or waiting to watch) their child play 6 v 6 soccer in an enclosed playing area.

The main characters were Myself, my spouse Rob, a peer couple who reside in the town east of where the sports complex is located. They were there waiting to watch their son play; we were leaving having seen ours play.

Rob and I have known this couple since 1996. We were at their wedding; they were at ours. In the photos from our wedding reception, she was seated to my right for dinner. While our collective six children haven't spent all that much time together, they have always enjoyed their company and reminisce fondly about the times our families have spent together.

So after a year and a half of not having seen them, despite several invitations from us to them (more accurately, me to her) suggesting that our families get together -- we're only two towns away after all -- her reaction was pretty "awkward," i.e., not smooth or graceful, ungainly, when we bumped into each other.

She saw us first and said "hello." I got the quick sense, by the stiffness in her body and the stilted tone of her voice that she wished she'd simply kept her mouth shut and let us pass. We might not have even noticed they were there. She could have waited and let us go by, or let us say "hello" first. I think her "hello" was a knee-jerk reaction. Once it happened, we were forced into an interaction.

This interaction was "awkward," i.e., causing embarrassment, to both of us. I think for her/them for having found explanation after excuse for why they couldn't carve out an afternoon for their "friends" of close to two decades; I think for us for not having gotten the hint after the first few declined invitations and continuing to ask, in so many words, "Don't you want to be friends with us?"

The chance meeting was "awkward," i.e., causing difficulty, hard to deal with, because afterwards Rob and I pored over what we might have done to offend them -- or what the children might have done to upset theirs. Rob and I couldn't come up with anything definitive from our last get-together; our children didn't have a clear memory of the afternoon/evening.

Ultimately, for me, the hard to deal with part is not knowing why there's a gulf between us and not knowing how to ask. Should I take their "no thanks, we're busy" reply on its face? Or should I take a hint and move on?

Walking away from the encounter, I said quietly over my shoulder "awkward," thinking Rob was right behind me. He wasn't. When I looked back for him, I saw he was just breaking from the hug he'd offered to the man/his "friend"/her husband.

When we were out of hearing range, I asked what led to the hug.

Rob said he boldly interrupted the conversation his "friend" was having and stepped up for the hug, which was reciprocated.

I asked why.

Rob said, "Because I'd like to think he's the sort of person who'd like to have a friendship with me."

"Even if he's not?"

"Yeah, even if he's not."

Usually, I'm the optimist. Recently, I was not; Rob was.

And even today part of me hopes I'll hear from her either with an invitation or a pronouncement of their disinterest in having any more invitations extended to them.

Because having to say "we're busy," when they might prefer to say "leave us alone" can only lead to feeling "awkward."

And that's no way to feel. Trust me. I know.

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