Step 39: Are you "Annoying?"

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Dear Auntie,

Okay so I am just gonna state it loud and proud: I'm an awkward caterpillar. I have basically no friends (only online friends, do those count?).

Whenever I talk a wave of eye-rolls crashes on me. People say I'm annoying with my random facts that I spew only to start a conversation. I feel as if everyone has a club where they throw darts at a picture of my head. And to add insult to injury, I am bullied and it hurts. Nobody talks to me first and I am afraid I'll annoy them if I speak because I don't want them to hate me more. I am sick of this. How do I get people to stop thinking me a nuisance and for me to finally have more than two contacts on my phone (my mother and father)?

Ugh, this is rough, Sparkler. I'm sorry. And to a certain extent, the best advice I can give you is to hang in there, keep your head down, and wait for things to get better. And they will! Even if you never become the best or most intuitive social scenester—and hey, not everyone does—there willnevertheless come a day when you can choose how and with whom you spend your time, and when you don't have to spend it in daily continuous contact with people who don't like you, and who don't understand you, and with whom you have nothing in common except a class schedule and birth year.

Which is, of course, the primary reason why high school is actually the worst. And until you're out of it, there's not much you can do about the sad fact that as an awkward kid without good social instincts, you might as well have a target painted on your back.

HOWEVER. There's a big difference between being lonely and awkward and unpopular, which many people are, and being irksome and irritating to the point of alienating literally everyone you've ever met. That's particularly awful, and what's more awful is that people who experience this tend to have something in common: they do certain things, consciously or not, that make them really, really hard to like.

And if you're really and truly loathed by everyone you know, then unfortunately, you need to start by examining your own behavior to see where you're going wrong.

Because as nice as it would be if your peers were more tolerant of your quirks, the fact remains: when something you do is annoying to people, people will get annoyed if you keep doing that thing. And while I've never seen you in action, and I can't say for sure whether you're flouting the rules of human decency or not, spewing random facts at people in the hopes of starting a conversation is annoying. It's abrasive. It's impolite. Basically, it's against all the rules that govern the way people interact with each other. And if you don't know those rules, then this might be a good time to sit on the sidelines and watch the game for awhile.

So, if you're up for it, consider a little experiment: spend a week or so looking really, really hard at the way your peers interact. Observe how friends take an interest in each other's thoughts and feelings; see how people respond to questions like "What did you do this weekend?" or "Have you seen that movie?"; note the total absence of random fact-spewing as a conversation starter. (Of course, this observation period only applies to people you'd want to be friends with in the first place; if someone bullies you, feel free to set aside any/all concerns over social acceptability and tell him to go pee up a rope.) And as you do this, compare their behavior to your own, and see if you learn anything about where you might be misstepping.

That's part one. Part two, if it's available, is this: find a place where you can start at zero. Sign up for a class outside your school, run crew for a community theater, ask your parents to send you to summer camp. Find anything that'll put you into contact with people you've never met, and who have no reason to roll their eyes at you, and see how you do when you're not preceded by your reputation. And if people don't seem to like what you're doing in your efforts to befriend them, then back off, and do something else. Picking up on those cues—seeing and understanding when a person is annoyed, or uncomfortable, or hurt—is a skill we all need in order to make and keep friends. Some of us are born with it; some have to develop it. And if yours need a little practice, then now's as good a time as any.

Let us know how it goes.

Are you friendless? How did you handle it? Tell me in the comments! 

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