Overcoming unavoidable awkward moments Print
Youth Column
Thursday, Jul. 28, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

My family didn't eat out a lot when I was growing up. And when we did, we rarely ate at chain restaurants.

One of these instances occurred on the day of my high school graduation. There are no words to describe how hot it felt that day. I'm sure wearing a heavy black gown made the heat even more unbearable.

After receiving my diploma, we ate at Chili's. I ordered an iced tea and drank it in one gulp. I did the same for a second glass as well. After that, I was given a pitcher to fill my glass as needed.

My chain restaurant experiences remained limited until I arrived in college. I recall one meal where a bunch of friends and I hit the road for a special meal; the chain in question was Olive Garden.

I ordered my food. The waiter then asked if I wanted soup or salad. I didn't understand; I hadn't asked for either. Not wanting to delay everyone else, I asked for a little of both.

Then I ordered a drink. A Diet Coke.

The waiter found my order hysterical. He even gave me a nickname. It's one my friends still jokingly use. He called me "Diet Boy."

I didn't understand the focus of the humor. I liked the taste of Diet Coke. I still do.

It wasn't until long after the meal that I understood the humor. My friends knew to pick a complementary soup or salad because they had been to Olive Garden before.

I had not.

At the time, the attention that came from my lack of knowledge was a source of embarrassment. My friends laughed for reasons I did not understand. Any explanation after the fact would have looked like an excuse and brought further amusement at my expense.

Today, I still feel the embarrassment that came in that moment, but that embarrassment has faded. Now, I see the humor of the situation as well.

It feels like a poor episode of a really bad sitcom; I had no reason to think I'd be given bonus food at no extra charge and my friends had no reason to think anyone at their table had never been to an Olive Garden before.

Every life is full of moments like that. We can all recall moments when we wished we could hide under a rock.

There's the "these braces make my face really shiny" moment, the "I just stumbled and dropped everything while trying to look cool" moment and, my personal favorite, the "babbling incoherently when you see someone you like" moment.

In the moment they occur and years in the future, you will always relive the horror of those moments. But perspective significantly reduces the discomfort.

The best way to bridge the gap between awkward-moment horror and awkward-moment humor is to embrace your pain. Do the one thing you want to do least. Call attention to your awkwardness.

Gain confidence and know moments are only horrific if you allow them to be. People looking to laugh at your expense can't do it if you're already laughing at yourself.

Today, I am no longer a chain restaurant novice. Sadly, if anything, I am a connoisseur. One day, I hope to reunite with my college friends. We're going to eat at Olive Garden.

I even know what I'm going to order. I'm ordering soup and salad not because I don't know any better, but because I want to -- and because I know it will be good for a laugh.

In my mind, that moment already has a name: "The Further Adventures of Diet Boy."

Erick Rommel is a former staff writer for The Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. His column is syndicated through Catholic News Service.


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