Foot-in-mouth syndrome

Man Under Bridge

God have mercy, doesn’t he know people can hear him? He does, but sometimes words just slip out. Such is the plight of that guy, suffering from the occasional bout of foot-in-mouth syndrome. It happens to a lot of people, but it doesn’t make it any less awkward. The faces reminiscent of Keystone Light’s bitter beer ad campaign, the ensuing silence and the avoidance of eye contact — three parts of a tragic scene.

For starters, FMS isn’t controllable. It’s humiliating, and adding insult to injury, it’s an unintentional form of self-humiliation. The foot just finds its way comfortably north of the neck, and voila — a conversation is ruined or egos are hurt. Meanwhile, that guy feels like a moron in a moment of self-realization: Holy shit. I am … that guy.

What sounded in the brain like the wit of the Bard lands like something on Page 3 of the Daily Cal. Whether you’re trying to be funny or simply trying too hard, the words produced miss their targeted meaning completely and slip through any of the filters you have up as a safeguard. No edits, just raw embarrassment.

It gets worse. FMS happens at all the wrong times. Of course there is no right time for it, but in my studies I’ve found that a compelling percentage of instances occur at the moments you find yourself praying for things to go perfectly.

You’re out with a group of friends, trying to be the funny guy, then you insult someone terribly and an uncomfortable silence falls. Desperately, you look around for at the very least a sympathy grin — all you get are Keystone Light faces. Conversation slowly reconvenes, but you’re still coming to grips with your new role as that guy. Just as FMS is ready to claim victory, you pull out your phone and proceed to send an apology text to the person you offended. Then you remember your principles and feel ashamed for texting in a group (you wrote a column about it).

Try as you might to put your phone away, the feeling lasts. And that’s the worst part of FMS: Long after the awkwardness blows over for everyone else, you dwell on the feeling and can’t help but obsess on your dip into “that guy” territory, and the effect ripples down the line.

At that point, the best thing is to hope the situation turns into one of those “remember when Andrew said this thing in front of so-and-so,” at which point everyone but so-and-so (who is hopefully absent) laughs wholeheartedly. But it’s harder than just willing yourself to embody that mentality. In the moment, nothing feels more present or real than the foolishness you have brought upon yourself.

Suddenly, any joke you want to make, any teasing you hope to accomplish, falls under the microscope, and you become effectually mute. Did someone really find a way to misuse the word “appropriate”? Unfortunately, you’re feeling like Lebron in the fourth quarter, and there’s no way to muster up the courage to take that shot. Your first miss still stings. Another airball, and your legacy is ruined.

If you’re a nervous sweater, better hope you’re in a well-ventilated area. Pores open up, and it’s not just awkward because of a bad joke anymore; it’s weird that someone is sweating profusely in a group of friends. No one’s put you on the hot seat, but they might as well at this point.

Once you’ve hit Stage Four Sweat Overload, you will probably show symptoms of a supplementary condition to FMS: the Spotlight Effect. The whole world is watching, waiting and anticipating your next move. Better choose wisely. Of course, no one really cares, but you don’t know otherwise. At that moment, the pressure is heavy, and the risk great — at least to you.

So you continue on in silence. What is there left to do? Risk another embarrassment? I’d rather not. Regardless of whether you were going for flirty, funny or flippant, you landed on awkward. And now that you’re sitting in silence, having recognized your transgression, the instinct is to get up and leave. Don’t leave. This too shall pass.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for FMS, and it continues to wreak havoc on conversations across campus. It happens to nice guys, assholes and everyone in between, so don’t think you’re safe. In my professional opinion, you just have to weather the storm and sit tight. Symptoms eventually fade, and hopefully, at some point in what feels like the distant future, you will be able to rejoin society in a similar capacity.

Meanwhile, the best you can hope for is friends who know you’re not coming from a malicious place — people who know you well and know you think the world of them (or something close to it).

I get pretty caught up in making light of situations, and sometimes it’s pretty tough to get these next few words past the size 11 foot in my mouth: Forgive me, forgive me.