I was a shy kid. Growing up, I’d let others do the talking first and would always keep to myself in class. I remember only having two or three close friends. I didn’t find this to be too much of a problem though, as being young made my shyness more excusable.
Because of my age, adults would adjust for me; they’d pair me up with others who were more extroverted or easygoing. No one would really bat an eye at a shy child either because they were expected to grow out of it. I believed this in myself, too. With just a little more practice and life experience, I’ll eventually get better at dealing with others.
Then college happened, and my oceans became much more vast. Each class had a roster of different people you would only see for at least an hour each day. It was more difficult to make connections beyond casual acquaintances.
Even if most social interactions had me feeling like my heart climbed up to my throat, I still pushed through. I had no choice. I just had to suck it up and do it. I would think about how much harder my class would be if I didn’t make one friend to ask about homework from or to pair up with on projects. Keeping to myself would result in much more difficulties and even more awkward moments moving forward, so I just needed to get past the initial struggle.
After a couple of months, I started getting closer to my batchmates and classmates. Calling myself a social butterfly would be giving myself too much credit; I was more like a social caterpillar, inching my way through university. At the end of the day, I would be the first and only one to call myself awkward. For me, it was as if I was fooling the whole world that I was doing okay, the perfect example of faking it till I made it. As long as no one could pick up on it then I was good to go.
Even if most social interactions had me feeling like my heart climbed up to my throat, I still pushed through. I had no choice.
Halfway through college, the pandemic hit. It was like being flung back to the starting line. At first, it was easy to stay in touch using social media; we’d all update each other and chat under the assumption that everything would go back to normal soon. But then time stretched on, and the people you’d usually hear from would just stop messaging.
My circle became small again, but this time I felt the sadness of not getting to exchange side comments with someone I’d usually sit beside during lectures, or not being able to eat a quick lunch with someone I had the next class with. I missed barging into the bathroom with a gaggle of other girls and losing my mind with friends when cramming before an exam.
When that stopped, it was as if all the noise was sucked out of my everyday life. It felt lonely. Of course these people were just a message away, but it just wasn’t the same anymore. We’d try to keep connected through online means, and play games or watch movies, but there were just some people you couldn’t reach who seemed to drop off the face of the earth.
Restrictions started easing up at the start of 2022, and my first real outing was getting my graduation photos taken with my closest friends. It felt refreshing to physically be with them again, and I would then hang out with those who lived near me over the next months. I also started going back to school for my thesis, and there I encountered a challenge I hadn’t faced in years: meeting new people. It was terrifying, to be honest. My social skills were extremely rusty, to the point where I felt like I had reverted to my younger self.
With social distancing, I become more conscious of how near I am to others, and this usually takes precedence over everything else.
One time, I was too shy to ask if I could charge my laptop so I waited until the battery was near zero before asking to use the socket. I sent a panicked barrage of messages to my friends going, “Guys, I forgot how awkward I am,” and “Now I need to work up the nerve to ask someone,” for half an hour.
The pandemic has given me brand new struggles when it comes to using my social skills. I used to be able to invite conversations without having to verbally initiate them by sending a quick smile to whomever, but now because of masks, I can’t do that. My voice tends to also be softer when talking to new people so it would always get muffled or I’d have to repeat myself. With social distancing, I become more conscious of how near I am to others, and this usually takes precedence over everything else. Not to mention, the actual fear of getting sick sits heavy at the back of my mind, so the added anxiety weighs me down even more.
Given that I try to limit my hours outside, there’s less time that I can actually share with new people, which also means fewer shared experiences to bond over. Being physically apart from my pre-pandemic friends also resulted in me wanting to reconnect with them, and I think I’ve deemed that as more important than meeting new people. It’s just so much easier, and much more necessary, to catch up with those I was already close to in the first place.
We’re only starting to see the effects of the pandemic on the different aspects of the self. Have I become more awkward? Is there a shift in how I interact with others? To be honest, I feel like a kid again, but in grown-up shoes.
Maybe I am more awkward now, but that’s all right. We’re all struggling to find our footing while navigating this brand new world around us, so I’m sure I’m not the only one adjusting. Things can’t go back to the way they were, just like how we can’t ever go back to being the same people. We change and we adapt.
Apart from the tiny embarrassing moments that only I will agonize over though, I believe that I’ll eventually get over myself and relearn how to operate in social situations. Hopefully this is just a slump, and my gears are just getting used to turning again. I’m optimistic that things really will get better, and if not, then we can all just be awkward together.