The One Time I Earned a Pretend Medal

I turn the corner onto Virginia Avenue, and suddenly I see him walking on the sidewalk. Aaron (my ex-something-not really a boyfriend but something like that) is tall, dark, and handsome–my archetype, so he stands out.  I stare at Aaron through my car window, jaw dropping, unable to believe that he’s in my neck of the woods.

Why in the world would he drive an hour to have brunch at Milktooth?  I mean, Milktooth is cool and everything, but he’s NOT even a foodie.

Aaron spots me in my car, since I don’t have the foresight to close my jaw and stop staring at him.

Like, this is a photo of me in that very moment:

I have this feeling that the universe is conspiring against me. I want to evaporate into the rain puddles I’m surrounded by in the street.

Aaron waves.  I wave back.  I suddenly have a flashback of the time he made me a mimosa for breakfast and I didn’t have the courage to tell him that it was the worst mimosa I’d ever had in my life. I quickly snap back to reality as I spot a girl walking next to him, attempting to keep up with his long stride.

Now normally, this would REALLY bother me:  seeing an ex-something but not really a boyfriend with another woman. (I mean I’m kinda zen, but not THAT zen.) However, in this very moment I realize I have no reason at all to feel weird about it, since I’m about to do the VERY same thing: brunch with new man 😳.

I pull out my phone and text Aaron, “Hey!  What are you doing here?” followed by a smiley emoji so he doesn’t think I’m being confrontational.  I just need to figure out if he’s going into Milktooth (where I’m meeting my date, Justin), because if he is, I NEED TO KNOW THIS MINUTE SO I CAN AVOID COMPLETE AWKWARDNESS.

He texts back that his “friend” is visiting from Boston, and he just picked her up at the Indy airport and decided to eat brunch at Milktooth since it was ranked #1 on some foodie thing and BLAH BLAH BLAH I stop reading since I have my answer.

I find a parking space and immediately text Justin.

“Hi!” I say and then stop.

Because I have no clue what to say next.  This feels like one of those life or death moments, since I’m now sweating about the prospect of a FIRST (yes, I said first) date with a guy I really like (at least so far, over text) at a restaurant where I will have to watch another guy whom I have dated eat brunch with another girl.

I just literally CANNOT EVEN with this shit.

“Now is not the time to beat around the bush,” some gut instinctual voice whispers in my ear.  “Now is the time for ruthless honesty.”

I suddenly imagine myself wearing some kind of medal for being courageous, which feels ridiculous and yet soothing at the same time. This image somehow propels me into typing the next part of the text.

“Can we meet at a donut shop up the street?  I know you really want to go to Milktooth, but I can’t go there today because a guy I know is there on a date and I have gone on dates with him before and it would just be awkward.” Push send now, damn it, before you have second thoughts.

I push send and wait.  A minute passes.  Two minutes.  Finally I see those little dots on Justin’s side of the IMessage which tells me he’s typing.  I stare at those stupid dots because, in this moment, I believe they hold the power to decide for me whether or not this day is going to be shitty or half-way pleasant.  The dots suddenly stop again.  UGH.  I wait another minute.  Then the IMessage text comes through.

“Sure that would be fine lol.”

I was in shock that I was honest and he still wanted to see me. Like, I SHOWED UP as my awkward, embarrassed self and he still may like me.

This story happened over two years ago, and I’m still scared to show up as me. I continue to struggle with the fact that it’s okay to tell the truth from the start with someone about the awkward shit we feel and experience. Like, I may be someone who is easy to talk to, but I am not someone who is completely comfortable with being my awkward self all of the time.

Some of our most painful experiences stem from the times we have shown up to the party as ourselves, and people left the room. (Yes, this is a metaphor, but if you’re nerdy like me, it has actually happened literally too.)

Being myself is SCARY and I need to give myself medals for doing it.

Because, here’s the thing: there’s a part of me that knows that the only way I can find “my people” is if I tell the truth. There will be people who may leave the room when I show up as me, but there will also be people that feel my “realness.”

And even though Justin turned out to be a complete meanie (more on him some other time), I am thankful that I learned how to show up as me. Because it also gave him the opportunity to decide if he wanted to come to my party and help me put on my new, shiny pretend medal- the one I awarded myself for being me.

“My name is Emily, and I’m socially awkward.”

I find myself in socially awkward situations on a daily basis for two key

-I am social.  

-I am naturally awkward.

This is a list of the socially awkward situations that seem to happen to me specifically, more than anyone else I know.

1.  Someone says hi to someone walking behind me, but I think he/she is talking to me.



2.  Someone actually IS saying hi to me but I’m not listening and spit out an anticipatory response.


3. I say, “I love you,” on accident.  This has happened with students and acquaintances. It also happened on a first date once…but that’s a story for another day.

Student: (Telling me a story about her baby brother at the end of class).. Yeah, so…that’s what happened with my brother.

Me: Oh wow, thanks for telling me that story. I’m glad you stopped by. Oh! It’s time for lunch.

(Student walks away.)

Me: Have a good day! I love you!..OH! I mean, oops, I didn’t mean to say that. I thought I was saying goodbye to my daughter!

(Student looks at me strangely.)

Me: I mean, I DO love you…like, I love ALL my students…My brain just was in the habit of saying that to my daughter!

(Student looks at me bizarrely, while my teacher friends laugh in the background.)

This list only scratches the surface honestly. But, all three of these incidents, I suppose, come out of my desire to connect to people–to exchange social pleasantries, even though it may not come out right at times. I believe it’s always better to be kind than to ignore, to be friendly instead of aloof, and to be amicable instead of distant, DESPITE the risk of being socially awkward.

And I’m going to be socially awkward now and switch the topic abruptly to mashed potatoes. Have you ever had leftover mashed potatoes that you didn’t know what to do with?

Well it just so happens that my little Mennonite grandma, Ruth Sommers, has the perfect recipe for using up those mashed potatoes. And it’s so good, that she even got it published in a cookbook.


The T.S. at the top of the recipe stands for “time saving.” Because my little Mennonite grandma was all about saving time.