Just recently, I had a couple of conversations that included someone expressing to me, “This is awkward.”
In each case, I understood why these friends felt that twinge of discomfort. But each time, my internal reaction was the same.
Please, don’t feel awkward. That’s just life. It’s totally OK.
I admit. Not feeling awkward in conversation might come a little more naturally to me because I grew up in a large, half-Italian family where our energetic dinner-time conversations were as likely to be about periods and medical procedures as they were about politics and who had to mow which part of the lawn next.
Plus, I wrote a whole book about infertility and regularly mention my own early menopause on this blog. So yeah, I’ve had a little practice overcoming the tendency to feel awkward about certain topics.
I do get it, though. I married someone whose childhood dinner times were much quieter than mine, and I have since figured out that ours were probably the exception, rather than the rule.
I realize, too, that many times, feelings of awkwardness flow out of a desire not to hurt feelings or step on toes. That is, they are simply a byproduct of being considerate.
They also might come from a place of being burned once too many times—after awhile, maybe bridging the awkward gap just becomes too risky or painful.
Here’s the thing, though.
While I understand that certain topics are hard to bring up, especially out of the blue, I would hate for feelings of awkwardness to keep anyone from telling me something I need to know or from getting the encouragement or help she might need from me.
I want to be a safe place, an awkward-free zone, an unoffendable listener—no matter the subject matter.
I have been wildly fortunate (and I don’t use that phrase loosely) to have had women in my life, at almost every stage, who have been this for me. Some of them have been close friends and mentors. Others were more like passers-by—there for an occasional transparent conversation, and then gone again.
Either way, they shared freely from their own lives as they spoke truth into mine. And no topic was off limits.
It’s probably impossible to make the awkward feelings go away completely. It’s not like we can magically set people at ease by wearing signs that say, “You can tell me anything and I will listen carefully and empathetically, without taking offense or expressing shock, disgust or impatience.”
Maybe it’s not even possible to be this kind of listener 100 percent of the time. I, for one, have a long way to travel before I reach that goal.
I do believe, though, that ready smiles, warm hugs, a healthy ability to laugh at ourselves, and space in our schedules for conversation over coffee goes a long way toward helping people feel comfortable around us, especially when they want to bring up a topic that might feel uncomfortable to them.
Like periods or politics.
P.S. Linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Crystal Storms at Intentional Tuesday, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Lyli Dunbar at ThoughtProvokingThursday, Crystal Twaddell at FreshMarketFriday and Dawn Klinge at Grace & Truth.