The awkward tribe

My husband and I wrote our own wedding vows, and one of the things we vowed was to always protect each other. There are many ways of protecting one another—protection from physical harm, emotional protection, financial protection, and even in the future for whichever one of us outlives the other, protecting the other person’s memory and legacy. But there’s one that I hold as a unique and especially sacred duty: we each protect the other from their own awkwardness.

Being an INTP and INTJ, we are incredibly awkward people. We don’t pay attention to social norms, or we just don’t care about them. We say and do things without being aware of how we’re perceived by other people. We don’t know a lot of common-sense things that everyone is supposed to know, and we make a lot of social blunders.

I often feel like I am the biggest victim of my own awkwardness. When I say or do something awkward in the presence of others, even if they don’t say anything about it (which they often do), a look of recognition will pass over their eyes for a moment, a look that says, “that was awkward, and I feel sorry for you.” That look is my own awkwardness bouncing off of them and coming back to attack me. It magnifies my awkwardness to see it reflected back in the words or expression of others, and it destroys my social motivation. It can happen with anyone and at any moment, and sometimes I dread social interactions because I fear being attacked by my awkwardness.

With my husband, I was never afraid of that. He always absorbed all of my awkwardness so I never had to face it again. He passed by every opportunity to magnify my blunders, and every time he did it felt like a gift. That was one of the first things that made me feel like I belonged with him. And even though we are both awkward, we are awkward in different ways, and our awkwardness cancels each other out because we both want to bring out the best in each other. We protect each other from being victims of our own weaknesses, of which awkwardness is one.

Of course, protecting each other from awkwardness is a fine line because another sacred duty of intimate relationships is making fun of your partner when they do stupid things. So you have to learn to quickly distinguish between awkwardness and stupidity. You have to know when calling attention to your partner’s blunders would cause them shame and embarrassment, and when it would bring great mutual enjoyment.

This intimate navigation of the sea of awkwardness has made me more aware of awkwardness in a wider sphere. I’ve taken it as my duty to protect other awkward people from their own awkwardness, especially other INTP’s, because we are the most awkward people of all. When I recognize someone making an awkward blunder, I try to absorb the awkwardness so they don’t have to be doubly punished for it. If the faux pas occurs in a group setting, I try to intercede so the conversation doesn’t linger over the reflection of their awkwardness in the stagnant looks and comments from others in the group. I resist the urge to say the words that would come the easiest, those that would magnify their embarrassment, and it feels like a sacrifice to give up the witty remarks that for me are so hard to come by.

It’s hard for us INTP’s to belong. It’s hard for us to make witty conversation, to feel a part of a group, and often the easiest way to do it is to seize on another person’s awkwardness and allow them to pay the price of discomfort in exchange for our momentary feeling of belonging. I’ve never found a true place of belonging apart from being with my husband, but when I try to protect someone else from feeling the shame of their own awkwardness, it feels like we are part of the same tribe.

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