March 18th is National Awkward Moments Day, a time to acknowledge and celebrate this unavoidable part of life. To celebrate, I thought I’d share one of my own awkward moments.
Let’s set the scene.
Years ago, I was visiting my now-husband/then-boyfriend in New Orleans, where he was attending school. We’d been dating long distance for a while, so we liked to make the most of our times together. On this particular visit, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner, and he’d made reservations at a fancy restaurant in the French Quarter. All dressed up, we made our way a bit nervously to the restaurant which was was far beyond our usual budget. The setting was lovely, the service both attentive and impeccable, and we perused our menus, trying to act like we knew what we were doing. The specialty of the house was a barbecued shrimp dish that the waiter explained was meant to be eaten with your fingers. It sounded amazing, so I ordered it, swallowing my pride as a plastic bib was tied around my neck. The food was equal parts messy and delicious and I cleaned my plate, using French bread to sop up every last drop of peppery butter sauce.
I congratulated myself on a job well done, pleased that I’d managed to eat without making a mess of myself. The bib was removed and, after the waiter cleared our plates, he brought me a finger bowl that consisted of a lemon wedge and a bowl of warm water. Probably noting my confusion, he instructed me to squeeze the lemon into the water as the juice would help to cut the oil from the buttery sauce.
I nodded and thanked him. That seemed easy enough. He left and I smiled at my boyfriend. We may have been young, but look how sophisticated we were!
What happened next seemed to unfold in slow motion.
I picked up the lemon wedge with my greasy fingers and, as directed, squeezed it. Did I mention the part where my hands were covered in buttery barbecue sauce? Instead of releasing a drizzle of lemon juice into the bowl, the entire lemon wedge squirted out of my slippery hands, become airborne. The citrus missile arced up into the air before landing on a chair at an empty table. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a couple being led to that exact table.
Before I could jump out of my seat to retrieve the wayward lemon, another waiter (who, let’s face it, probably had his eye on me the entire time for this very reason), crossed in front of them and, barely breaking his stride, scooped up the lemon just as the couple reached the table.
As I sat there, my fingers still covered in sauce, all sorts of things ran through my head. Most of them were variations on the same theme: I am never leaving my house again.
Some days life can feel like a series of awkward moments, an ongoing sequence where you wish the earth would open up and swallow you whole. But being human means that there’s literally no escaping them. (And even if I’d never left my house again, I’ve managed to have plenty of awkward moments in the relative safety of my own home. Like the time I closed the scarf I was wearing in the dishwasher. Or the time I ended ended a voicemail message to a business with “love you”. Or the time I served a friend a lovely organic salad that contained a small slug.)
Given that these are inevitable, what’s the best plan of action when you find yourself in an awkward moment? It’s not easy when your face is red and your heart is pounding and all eyes are on you. Sometimes people try to say Don’t worry, nobody even noticed, but we all know that’s a lie. As hard as it is, you’ve got to own these awkward moments and embrace both the embarrassment and opportunity that comes with them.
There’s a line in the song Dancing Through Life from the musical Wicked that has always resonated with me: “Those who don’t try never look foolish.” Sure, playing it safe brings with it a measure of comfort and ease, but it also carries the weight of stagnation. Imagine limiting your experiences to those things you already know and feel confident about. Trying something new can put you in the position of looking foolish, but the rewards that come with expanding your horizons are so worthwhile. Remind yourself that nobody is perfect, and learn from these awkward moments. It’s ok not to know something. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to make a fool out of yourself as you take that step forward.
… and when life gives you lemons, try not to throw them across the room at unsuspecting diners.