We’ve all been through them. Awkward silences pretty much conquer the predominant aspect of social impropriety. People will be exceptionally aware of them whilst trying their best to avoid them (some more exceptional in this task than others). And whether it be asking questions you really don’t care the answer for or taking pretend phone calls, these notorious awkward silences have the habit of mimicking the qualities of persistent deadly killers; not only do they always loom over your every conversation, whether it be with your best friend or the barista at Starbucks, they sneak up on you with no warning: a great joke and a lively round of laughs may quickly be killed by the awkward silence which follows the two laughs that maybe stretched on for a little too long, leaving two people panicked about what to say next.
But I still believe in the awkward silence.
“Hey! Long time no see!” I greeted my friend I had not seen since middle school. We were both juniors in high school now, meeting after 3 whole years. We had both changed immensely since our silly bandz, KPOP wannabe days and I would have not been able to recognize her, had I been anything less than her best friend back then.
“Hey! How have you been?” I could see the genuine enthusiasm in her face.
“I’ve been doing well!” It was an honest answer. “How about you?” And a genuinely interested question
“I’ve been doing just fine…” And that was when the killer had stepped into the room. Our eyes quickly darted around, desperately trying to find something to bring up next. The weather? Grades? Current political events that neither of us were very informed about?
“I-” We both said at the same time, trying to overcome this mortal social faux pas of silence. We made eye contact once more before we both broke into a nervous laugh. “You first.” We said in unison again. I was tempted to yell out “jinx”.
The awkward silence, as its name suggests, is normally unbearably awkward and unbearably silent. But it is only born with the cooperation of two people that want to carry a conversation and only destroyed with their united effort. Although my friend and I had been uncomfortable, nervous, anxious, uneasy, and probably for a few seconds wanted nothing more than to leave, it was only because we were sincerely interested in each other that such an air was created. Without the desire to converse, the quiet would only be “silence,” lacking it’s usual preceding adjective. It is because both my friend and I wanted to continue speaking to one another and wanted to catch up with each other’s lives that this atmosphere was made. With a stranger, this kind of silence would be ignored; nothing odd or captivating about it. But the awkward silence is alluring. It captures you in a trance, keeps you from leaving, and forces conversation. And once that conversation sparks, you learn to bond, empathize, and love.
Some people will make excuses to steer clear of the awkward silence. But if we only focused on avoiding them, we would never speak, we would never share that intimate moment, and we never get to know one another. I believe in the awkward silence because it means that two people care. I believe we should work on fixing them, not avoiding them. I believe in conversing with one another. I believe that this can only be done by overcoming this common enemy. I believe in embracing the awkward! I believe in the awkward silence.
*originally written for This I Believe.