Adventures in awkwardness

Awkwardness might be a debilitating social disorder, but at least it makes for some good stories.

Unlike most University students, I traveled to Wisconsin last weekend without stopping in Madison, Wis., to riot and party. Instead, I attended a fulsome family gathering near Milwaukee, which, at any point, could have easily turned into a riot.

This rare family reunion was actually a delayed wedding reception for my brother and new sister-in-law. The real wedding was held in California, but all of my relatives are from Great Lakes states, so my parents decided to throw an “alternate” reception a month later.

A big part of their reasoning was my Midwestern relatives would not survive Los Angeles. Really. They all would be goners within hours of arrival. I can just picture my Aunt Louise window-shopping downtown when a scruffy-looking man, claiming he is Robert Redford, somehow cons her out of her rental car, life savings and (God forbid) her clothes. But in good old, apple-bobbing, fish-frying Wisconsin, my relatives were as comfortable and safe as the ticks on their boots. I can’t say I shared this feeling, however.

From the moment the first group of unrecognizable relatives pulled up to that country club dining hall, I knew my aplomb was in grave danger, as I was not prepared for the ensuing explosion of uneasiness.

Some of it could have been avoided. My main oversight was bringing my girlfriend; she was subjected to countless introductions and embarrassing interrogations. So many, in fact, that I told her to tell my relatives she worked with catering and was taking a break.

My other mistake was herniating a disc in my back a few days earlier. Even the handful of painkillers was not enough to cover the pain of standing and hugging everyone.

This brings me to a vital function of awkwardness: The awkward hug. We’ve all done it, and we’ve all tried to avoid it. If you aren’t sure what an it is, picture yourself being introduced to your sister-in-law’s great aunt. She offers you her hand, but you are already in the hug position, so you either A) switch into the shake-hands posture too late and fall into her chest or B) continue with your hug while her frail hand thrusts into your stomach. Any way you look at it, it’s awkward. No two of these clumsy moments are alike.

The award for best awkward hug definitely went to my girlfriend, Becca, who pulled off an amusing maneuver with my grandmother. It was basically a height problem. Becca is somewhat tall, and my grandma is, oh, I’d say approximately 3 feet tall, max. So when they tried to hug, Becca ended up clutching only my grandma’s head while the 85-year-old just posed as if she was doing the “Y” in the “YMCA” dance. To make matters worse, Becca didn’t know what to do next, so she gently patted my grandmother’s head while everyone looked on in horror.

Other awkwardness at the reception stemmed from the fact I hadn’t seen most of these relatives since I was in diapers (roughly 10 years ago). Without knowing their names, I forcibly made small talk with my cousins.

For example, an older cousins came up to me and said, “Hey, Jason, congratulations! She’s beautiful.” Mistakes like these should not happen. My brother, Jason, is 13 years my senior and we look nothing alike. I had to tell the confused cousin that Jason was the guy in the tux, holding the woman in the white dress.

Awkwardness might be a debilitating social disorder, but at least it makes for some good stories. If you have any, send them to me. I’d like to know it isn’t just my family. And if you see me somewhere on campus, don’t hesitate to share your best awkward hug.

Mat Koehler welcomes comments at [email protected]