She’s just a girl, stand­ing in front of a boy, telling him she’s awk­ward and proud of it.

How Sarah Sahagian learned to em­brace her in­ept dat­ing style.

ELLE (Canada) - - Content - BySarahSa­ha­gian

I RE­CENTLY MET A CUTE GUY AT A

party. We shared a drink by the fire. Un­for­tu­nately, rather than bat­ting my eyes se­duc­tively, I ges­tic­u­lated too wildly, spilling a glass of Ch­ablis on his wool cardi­gan. I fol­lowed that faux pas by dis­cussing my most re­cent uri­nary tract in­fec­tion. So I was flab­ber­gasted when, the fol­low­ing morn­ing, the man from the party reached out over so­cial me­dia. Was I smoother than I re­mem­bered?

That week­end, my new flame made us reser­va­tions at a ro­man­tic res­tau­rant with non-plas­tic table­cloths. Af­ter din­ner, he es­corted me home. Then, right be­fore our good-night kiss, he whis­pered: “I’m glad I asked you out. I knew you were too awk­ward to make a move.” I was baf­fled— and more than a lit­tle in­sulted. He was ba­si­cally call­ing me a hope­less dork. I’d like to tell you I slammed the door in his face. In­stead, we ended up mak­ing out in my hall­way. (I blame the wine we drank on the date.)

The next day, I awoke with a slight hang­over, ate half a jar of Nutella and started ru­mi­nat­ing on the en­counter. To me, the word “awk­ward” has long been an in­sult­ing syn­onym for “unattrac­tive” or “un­like­able.” But per­haps I was pro­ject­ing my own in­se­cu­ri­ties onto my make-out buddy. Maybe my ad­mit­ted lack of poise—which I had al­ways felt was a per­sonal fail­ing that I should re­press— wasn’t the ob­sta­cle that stood be­tween me and find­ing a per­fect paramour. Like Won­der Woman’s im­mor­tal­ity or Su­per­man’s abil­ity to fly, maybe awk­ward­ness was my own per­sonal su­per­power. And maybe it was time I started own­ing it.

I have, af­ter all, been dat­ing since I was 14 (I’m now 31), so I’ve def­i­nitely in­vested the req­ui­site 10,000 hours Mal­colm Glad­well ar­gues it takes to be­come ge­nius-level at some­thing. And yet the only game I pos­sess is a 1990s edi­tion of Monopoly. I’ve al­ways iden­ti­fied as more “hot

mess” than “hot.” When I char­ac­ter­ize my­self as gauche and grace­less, that isn’t coded self­dep­re­ca­tion about some sort of un­der­ly­ing cute­ness. I am not awk­ward in the “adork­able” way Zooey Deschanel fronts as on New Girl. Sure, Jess some­times snorts when she laughs. But mostly she looks like a Re­nais­sance paint­ing clad in a plaid shirt. Nor am I awk­ward in the way of Issa Dee on In­se­cure, who may prac­tise con­fronting her ex in the bath­room mir­ror but usu­ally has the best one-lin­ers in the end. No, I am awk­ward in the way of a woman who splurges on a chic lit­tle black dress for a date at the opera and then sits through the en­tirety of Tosca un­aware that she’s wear­ing it back­wards.

It sounds fool­ish, but my teenage self thought her awk­ward­ness would dis­si­pate like a bad per­fume when she fin­ished pu­berty. I spent most of my ado­les­cence pray­ing to the ghosts of Dorothy Parker and Nina Simone ( my own per­sonal god­desses) to mirac­u­lously make me JLo lev­els of cool. I’m a mil­len­nial, so Lopez is the first per­son who comes to mind when I think of a sexy woman who’s in con­trol of her des­tiny. I spent years watch­ing the su­per­star work her game all over the pages of glossy mag­a­zines: She starred in The Wed­ding Plan­ner, she cre­ated a velour-track-suit em­pire and Ben Af­fleck lit­er­ally kissed her per­fect ass in a mu­sic video. She glides through life with an aura so smoul­der­ing it could light a sod­den pile of fire­wood. Mean­while, I feel like the frizzy­haired girl who helps Jen­nifer Anis­ton find “the one” through 90 min­utes of movie fun. This feel­ing was ex­ac­er­bated last year when I reen­tered the dat­ing scene af­ter the demise of my first-ever do­mes­tic part­ner­ship. I hadn’t been sin­gle since age 26, so I was ex­cited to trans­form into a new, soignée ver­sion of Sarah—like I was Laney Boggs in the sec­ond half of She’s All That.

Guess what? That didn’t hap­pen. I was so des­per­ate to con­vince po­ten­tial part­ners I was cool that I lied about plan­ning a trip to Coachella (crowds make me anx­ious) and pre­tended not to be­lieve in ghosts. (I’m con­vinced my high school was haunted.) Then came the fate­ful kiss that in­spired all this in­tro­spec­tion.

Be­cause I’m a nerd who reads aca­demic jour­nals on the beach, I de­cided to seek out cel­e­brated psy­chol­o­gist Ty Tashiro to help me work through th­ese feel­ings. He’s the au­thor of the very aptly ti­tled book Awk­ward: The Sci­ence of Why We’re So­cially Awk­ward and Why That’s Awe­some. Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, Tashiro made a point my 13-year-old self would have found revo­lu­tion­ary: Awk­ward folks aren’t bro­ken—we just see the world dif­fer­ently. Yes, we are more likely to be in­tro­verts who get stuck in our heads and over­think things, which leads us to miss so­cial cues and sig­nals. (In my case, that means for­get­ting not to men­tion uri­nary tract in­fec­tions while flirt­ing.) But Tashiro’s re­search also re­veals that we so­cially in­ept mem­bers of so­ci­ety make to­tal­ly on-point part­ners. For ex­am­ple, awk­ward types have in­creased em­pa­thy— prob­a­bly be­cause we know how it feels to eff up. We’re loyal too. And we have an en­dear­ing ten­dency to wear our hearts on our sleeves. That means you’ll never be in doubt about how much we dig you. “When awk­ward peo­ple are at their best, there is a re­fresh­ing trans­parency,” he told me. “Mod­ern dat­ing is so opaque, so it’s kind of nice for some­one to say ‘This is why I like you.’”

Tashiro also re­minded me that dat­ing can be clumsy for every­one. “It’s such an emo­tion­ally charged event,” he added. So, even if you’re as cool as Zoë Kravitz, there will be the strange­ness of the first time you see some­one naked, or the time your part­ner ac­ci­den­tally calls you by their ex’s name. There’s no need to at­tach a stigma to our dat­ing fails.

As for the guy from the party, we didn’t make it past the sec­ond date. It turned out we had too lit­tle in com­mon to make it in the long term. But I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber the per­sonal growth his sweet(ish) noth­ings in­spired. When a guy called me awk­ward with the same mouth he used to kiss me, it sparked this rev­e­la­tion: There’s more than one way to be sexy, and maybe one of those ways is to be me. n

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