Superficial Stereotypical Dorkiness Vs. True Social Awkwardness
This is a quick article on an observation I've made. Sometimes we meet people who come across on first impression as very stereotypically dorky. That's a vague term, but I mean things like:
- They wear stereotypically dorky clothes, like a fedora or an oversized anime T-shirt
- They groom themselves in a stereotypically dorky way, e.g., a guy with a patchy beard and a ponytail
- They have stereotypically dorky physical features like being skinny or overweight, or having acne
- Their body language is a bit ungainly or clumsy
- They have a nasal or monotone voice
- They have a high-pitched or snorting laugh
- They talk about their stereotypically dorky interests, like server racks or their D&D campaign
- They have a stereotypically dorky sense of humor, e.g., making lots random pop culture references
When we meet people like this we can automatically assume they're socially awkward. After all, the societal image of dorky people is that they have poor social skills. For some of them the stereotype fits, but it doesn't in every case.
There's a difference between true social awkwardness and outer features that fit into the "dorky" category. In my mind real social awkwardness covers issues like:
- Being shy, insecure, and anxious around people to the point where it prevents you from meeting your social needs
- Having underdeveloped conversations skills (e.g., not knowing how to think of things to say when you meet someone new, being a poor listener)
- Having a tendency to make conversation mistakes that put people off (e.g., interrupting constantly, going on and on about themselves, bringing up inappropriate topics)
- Not knowing how to make friends, or doing things to shoot themselves in the foot when forming new relationships, like oversharing or being clingy
Again, some people are stereotypically dorky, and also socially awkward in the way I just described. They're nervous and inhibited, and their conversations tend peter out or go off the rails. However, some "dorky" people's core social skills are fine. They're confident with themselves and around others. They know how to keep a mutually-enjoyable interaction going. They've got a good group of friends.
Their appearance is "dorky". The content of their conversations is often "dorky". If you're not into "dorky" stuff yourself you may not want to spend a ton of time with them, but that doesn't change the fact that their underlying interpersonal skills are solid. They don't have a social weakness. They're just not to everyone's taste.
Another facet of this "Dorkiness" doesn't necessarily equal social awkwardness distinction is that stereotypically popular or mainstream people are often assumed to have good social skills. Once more, sometimes they do. At other times they look the part of a confident, charismatic person, but turn out to be shy, tongue-tied, or grating once you get to know them.
Some people may argue that things like knowing how to dress and groom yourself in a broadly appealing manner are social skills too, which "dorky" people fall short on. I think fashion sense and grooming is mostly subjective. As long as you're not doing anything blatantly repellent like having bad breath or wearing stained, greasy clothes, no type of outfit or hairstyle is better or worse than another. Yes, most of society may hold the opinion that a well-fitted suit is "good" and a baggy anime T-shirt is "bad". Practically, it may be easier to reach certain social goals if you wear "good" shirts instead of "bad" ones. But in the end they're just different clothes. Watch some old TV shows or movies and you'll see outfits and hairstyles that were trendy at the time that are considered hideous now. The same goes for humor or hobbies. Just because something doesn't have mainstream appeal doesn't mean it's inherently flawed.
So what's the point of all this?
Like I said, this article is just me sharing an observation, though here are a few small things you may take away from it:
- Try to take a closer look at the people you meet. If you're at a party and are introduced to someone who reads as a "dork", don't be too quick to see them as socially inept as well. Their people skills could be as good as anyone else's. If you're not into dorky stuff that's okay, but don't saddle them with a needless unflattering assumption.
- If you're stereotypically dorky, don't be too quick to assume every last thing about you is socially awkward. Sometimes when we've grown up being told we fit a negative stereotype we end up believing it, even if it's not true. Many of your social skills may be better than you give yourself credit for (and others may need work, which is fine, but at least try to have an accurate picture of what your true strengths and weaknesses are.)
A related question is, "What do you do if you have a trait that's not intrinsically flawed, but can be inconvenient because people look down on it?" For example, what if you know there's nothing objectively wrong with your outfits, but realize people would take you more seriously if you dressed differently? That's a call you'll have to make for yourself, after considering your goals and values. These sections of the site should help you come to a decision: