Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Learning to Embrace Awkwardness

Awkwardness is just a part of our lives. Witness:

A friend farts loudly while giving a public speech. What is he to do? Ignore it? Apologize? What are you to do? That sh*t is awkward.

You see an ex walking toward you and your new boy/girlfriend? Do you stop and chat? Just smile and move on? Awkward.

You’re on a first date. Finally, the conversation is going well. Then a pause…a long pause.

You slowly exit a conversation, say “goodbye” and all, and walk away. Then see the person two minutes later. What do you do? Awkwardness all around.

Let’s loosely define an awkward situation in the following way: an awkward situation is one that is not easy to handle, that requires great skill to manage. In this way, we can see awkward situations as similar to awkward packages or furniture. It’s hard to move a huge star-shaped mirror as it is hard to manage an awkward social encounter.

Awkward situations are those for which we have not established rules of behavior. When someone sneezes in public, one is to say “bless you.” But when a friend farts in public, it’s not clear what one is to do. Awkward situations make us uneasy, they make us sweat and feel really silly.

Many people work hard to avoid awkward situations. We don’t want to be left to talk with weird people (remember George begging Jerry to not leave him alone with Elaine’s dad). We sometimes take alternative paths home in order to avoid awkward encounters with certain folks, we try to recreate fart noises with our chairs in order to fool others into thinking we didn’t just fart out loud.

Isn’t all of this avoiding just cowardly?

Sure, awkward situations are not governed by rules. But why not take these awkward situations as opportunities to make up your own rules? I won’t quote Nietzsche here, but check “On the Way of the Creator,” in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It takes courage to insert oneself into a potentially awkward situation and push through it without the help of rules.

If you need help getting started, here are a few suggestions: When there’s an awkward pause, just say something crazy. When you run into your ex, say “I know you, we used to date.” When you fart out loud in public, say “Yea I did it!”

Have courage, embrace awkward situations as opportunities. That which does not kill you will only make you stronger.


  1. Here's one. Years ago I faced the ultimate awkward situation for a woman who may not have washboard abs.

    A jerk in line at the supermarket asked me if I was expecting. Everyone looked at me and instead of being embarrassed, I embraced the awkward encounter and said, "Yes! I'm expecting the call that I made partner any day now! Thank you for asking!"

    And went on about my business.

    (I did throw out the flowy blouse I had on that day as soon as I got home.)

    Love your blog, mean it!


  2. If the wind-breakin' thingy happened to myself, I'd perhaps pray.
    Of course my pray goes,
    "Our Father who art pond scum
    hallowed it be Thy farting of oxygen."

  3. Actually, now that I think about it a lot of the humor of Seinfeld seems to come from the realm of human action where social convention runs out. It is (for much of the same reasons you mention in the post as creating awkwardness) their comedic goldmine of ways in which modern life throws people into situations where they have no idea what to do but have to do something. (Other times Seinfeld is also more plainly about flouting existing social conventions, but I do think the first category is a large one over the life of the show.)