5 Awkward Social Situations and How to Handle Them with Grace

Fighting friends and forgetting someone's name.
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Fighting friends and forgetting someone's name.
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I’ve always considered myself an introvert, so awkward social situations are my kryptonite. Just thinking about tripping over my words at the wrong time is enough to give me anxiety, but these experiences have made me realize how helpful it is to have a plan in place. Here are some of the most frequent situations I run into and my go-to methods for handling them with grace:

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Last week at lunch, I fell into an all-too-familiar panic. As a friend-of-a-friend recognized me and approached the table to say hello, I realized that I had no idea what her name was. Nothing worse than all but saying: “Oh hey, you!” Shortly after “the incident,” Geoffrey and I agreed that whenever he’s with me, he’ll swoop in with a quick, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” Since it’s already happened since that lunch (I’m the worst with names), we were able to test it, and it worked. The mystery person gave Geoffrey (and me) her name without hesitation.

For moments when I’m on my own, I try to be overly friendly so that even if I still can’t remember their name at the end of the conversation, at least I didn’t come off as cold. Then, I’ll reach out to the mutual friend and say something casual, sweet, and identifying, like: “I ran into your friend from college today, the pretty one with red hair—can you remind me her name? It slipped my memory.”

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When I first moved to Los Angeles, I only knew a handful of people, so I frequently found myself flying solo at get-togethers. While it can be painful, I learned that the best tactic is to break the ice with one person. It’s like tearing off a bandage, but as soon as you start talking to someone (it can be anyone and about about anything), they’ll be your gateway and social lubricant to others. Trust me, as challenging as it can be to jump in, it’s better than the alternative of standing in the corner pretending to answer work emails.

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I’ve been at double dates, dinner parties, and family events when friendly banter escalated into an argument—I’m sure we all have. When this happens, you essentially have three options: to ignore the fight (if you can), address it, or join in. In most cases, the safest option is to address it without joining in. Depending how heated it is, I’ve found it’s best to make a self-effacing joke to lighten the mood, then switch the conversation as quickly as possible to something neutral, like a popular television series, a restaurant I’ve enjoyed recently, or a funny anecdote about Sloan.

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Now that Geoffrey and I have been together for eight years, we rarely run into our exes and when we do, it isn’t a big deal, but I still have flashbacks of when it was the worst possible scenario. When G and I first started dating, we ran into an old college boyfriend of mine with his new girlfriend at a bar. It was too late to turn around and pretend we didn’t see them, so we started chatting with them. Geoffrey and I made every effort to be polite, but I was shocked when my ex’s girlfriend made a jab at us. When we walked away, I felt proud of G for displaying so much kindness and patience, which is a good rule of thumb when running into exes—or even ex-friends: Always be kind so that you’re able to walk away from the situation as the bigger person, which is worth much more than getting in a few petty comments.

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Even if you expect that the other person is paying, offer to cover it. Nine times out of ten, they’ll decline, and the one time they accept your offer is a small price to pay for insurance against being considered rude. Alternatively, if you expected to split dinner and the person you’re with is silent when the check comes, it’s okay to say something along the lines of, “Should we split it?” Chances are they didn’t even notice it on the table and will rise to the occasion.