Two years ago I woke up one morning, sat up on the edge of my bed, and announced to myself and all the world that I was from then on through with awkward moments. Never again would I find myself wanting to sink through the floor or bolt for the nearest exit. Never again would I force myself to stand still through an excruciating conversation, to go on a date with someone who made me uncomfortable, to attend parties full of strangers, to make eye contact with fellow riders on the Metro or in the elevator. I was done. I’d had it up to my eyeballs, and I would retire into the safety of myself and just stay there. Forever.
Two years and many life lessons later, I’ve had to come to grips with a most painful truth: there is no such thing as a life without awkward moments. Awkward moments–like, well, everything else–aren’t something we can control. We can only learn to laugh at them.
In a rare scholarly moment, I checked out Webster (and then Merriam’s online dictionary). Awkward: 4a. Causing embarrassment or distress; b. marked by embarrassment or unease. Etymology: Middle English awkeward: in the wrong direction, from awke: turned the wrong way, from Old Norse ǫfugr
I find the etymology here particularly interesting–“Turned the wrong way.” Awkward moments are excruciating most of all because they are moments in which things don’t fit correctly; I picture puzzle pieces being forced to fit together the wrong way, which inevitably ends badly. Who hasn’t suffered through many awkward moments? Moments when the other person and I can’t seem to make any headway in a faltering and clumsy conversation. Moments spent standing alone holding a beer at a party full of strangers and wondering whether the best response is to pretend not to care, to walk up to that circle of people and insert myself in their conversation, or to slip quietly away, back to the safety of my own quiet living room… And those are the “mild” awkward moments (you know, the ones you get over quickly, the kinds you can shake out).
How about these doozies? Walking into a party of friends to discover your ex (whom you haven’t seen since you called it off three months ago) standing in the other corner of the room. Or agreeing to go on a date, only to discover upon arrival that you are inexucsably underdressed–and everyone else notices. Engaging in a long series of emails with a potential guy/girl, only to be told after several weeks that they’re seeing someone else. Biting the bullet and asking for help, only to be turned down–sometimes repeatedly. Sending around an invitation to a party at your place to which one person RSVPs…and no one comes. Discovering after seven months that your living situation is beyond intolerable, and then breaking that news to your roommates.
The list, at least in my experience, is endless. I have lived through countless moments when the pieces just didn’t fit, and I find myself faced with two uncomfortable alternatives in handling them: 1) I can succumb to the nasty sick feeling I get in my stomach, feel massively sorry for myself, and continue to retreat to the safety of my quiet living room alone; or 2) I can laugh…laugh at the moment, laugh at myself, and remember with humility that these moments remind me it’s not just the world that isn’t perfect–I’m not perfect, either.
So here’s to 2011, a blank page on which, I have no doubt, many more awkward moments will be written. I’m already laughing.