Duncan: Being face-to-face is awkward, but it’s also really good

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Megan Duncan holding up a stapler that she most certainly did not steal.

Standing at Dairy Queen waiting on the Butterfingers Blizzard I’d been thinking about all day, a woman approached me. 

“You look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?” 

We went through previous employers, past residences, and where my kids go to school with no connections. Logan was sure he met her by the gaming section at Walmart.

Then it struck me. My heart simultaneously raced and sang. Maybe she remembered my face from my column or the back of my book or my spots on the Daily Muddy. As my head swelled a little, I dared not mention the possibility fearing I was wrong. 

I also worried after talking to me in person she might never pick up anything I wrote again. 

Face-to-face conversations can be painful at times since awkward encounters are my specialty. I have watched people walk away disoriented and confused after trying to have an impromptu public conversation with me. 

I would rather communicate behind the screen or with text messages. That way, I always have the option to completely ignore the communication until I’ve thought up an acceptable response. That’s the beauty of texting, email, and all other forms of electronic communication–except for Facebook messenger which rats you out the second you open the message. 

Sometimes I just need a few minutes to process things before I say them or get my attitude in check. When someone is hurting, I want to think of the most encouraging response. If someone asks a question, I want a minute so I can look it up and then pretend I knew it the whole time.

Or when someone annoys me in person, it might be considered rude to roll my eyes, walk away, and then return an hour later to respond.

There is no backspace for spoken words. Once something stupid or thoughtless rolls out of my mouth—it just sits there on display like a coughed-up goober no one wants to acknowledge. 

This happened years ago in a job interview when asked if I work well with others.

“Oh yes — in fact, I enjoy having relationships with my coworkers,” I said, and then sat for a moment in silence. “But not like inappropriate relationships, because that wouldn’t be right. I’m very ethical. I don’t even steal office supplies — except maybe that stapler on your desk. Just kidding! That’s a nice stapler though.” 

The entire time, I begged myself to shut up, but my mouth just kept running, and I was helpless to stop it. As my interviewer walked me out–and I avoided eye contact with potential coworkers or office supplies–I could already tell I didn’t have a chance. 

In an email, I would write a well thought out, and most importantly, edited response. When followed up by a face-to-face meeting, or even a telephone call, they are sometimes surprised to find the unedited version of me bumbling with words and doing everything I can to avoid spitting when I talk. 

That’s the beauty of real-life conversation–it’s more honest. Emojis aren’t masking facial expressions, and answers aren’t edited to say exactly what we think we should. Sometimes that is a good thing.   

As a writer, I have a great appreciation for the written word. But, our current method of talking to each other is a watered-down, LOL version of all the amazing things communication is capable of doing. 

Language is meant to be experienced rather than just read and responded to–-animated with sweeping hands and colored with emotions as we exchange thoughts through our eyes and our smiles (or that look I give the kids when they are about to do something I told them not to do for the tenth time.)

Sometimes those are good thoughts, and sometimes not—either way, there is something about good ol’ fashioned eye contact that makes us remember we are talking to another human. And in this high-tech day-and-age it’s often hard to know who or what you are actually communicating with.

So that’s a big part of why I enjoy my weekly Wednesday spots on the Daily Muddy and the podcasts I have been working on. I am forced to look up from the keyboard and really communicate in a different way. These kind of unscripted responses allow us to better know one another, and there’s a vulnerability and spontaneity that leads to heartfelt and sometimes hilarious chats.

It doesn’t mean we’re always going to nail in-person discussions.

Sometimes wires get crossed or sometimes there are people you really just don’t connect with, that is to be expected for sure. But at least it’s real and raw, and you can’t get better than that.

It turns out my Dairy Queen conversation wasn’t real or raw, as I stood in front of this woman who I momentarily convinced myself was a fan. She then proceeded to tell me about the amazing products she sells that I really needed to have in my life.

Then with my blizzard and ego both melting in my hand, I watched her move on to the person behind me. 

“Hello, you look familiar. Have I seen you someplace before?” 

Some conversations are awkward no matter what.

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