As a kid and teenager I used to take being awkward for granted. I wasn’t especially coordinated physically or socially, and I had an off-putting resistance to trying to fit in. Specific instances of feeling (and being) awkward escape me now, for the most part, probably being mercifully repressed by my mind in self –defense, although there are a few fleeting images—does anyone here remember poodle skirts? Those wide -swinging felt skirts with appliqued designs? That was one of my few attempts to be “with it” in the late fifties, when we were all making our own in the 4H Club sewing class, but it looked absurd on my dumpy form. The worst part of a having a nasty boy mimicking my galumphing gait in said skirt was the realization than he was right. I really was that awkward.
I was also obnoxious, on occasion, when I thought I was being witty (as I also was, on occasion) which led to awkward situations. The summer after my junior year in college I scored a gem of a job, a student teacher of English Composition at a summer school for advanced (and rich) high school students. The first night, as all we student teachers met at dinner, I met a young man who I assumed was the other student teacher for my class, since I knew there were two of us. I don’t remember quite what I said—it may have been some dumb thing about competition—but of course it turned out that he was the actual official adult teacher. Awkward is putting it mildly.
The things I can’t remember are, no doubt, the worst. In any case, it never occurred to me that there could be an up side to awkwardness until many years later, and I’m still not convinced. The obvious example is the Book That Shall Not Be Named and its sequels where a clearly attractive and presumably intelligent young woman is portrayed as being, or at least feeling, awkward in the presence of a rich and kinkily dominant man. This quirk has been popular in other books, too, maybe to make the heroine easier to identify with, to make her vulnerable, or to make her submission believable, or, well, because there turns out to be something attractive about awkwardness for some people.
Quite a while before that book came out I’d discovered this for myself. Through my contacts as an erotica writer I’d become peripherally involved in a women’s BDSM club. That experience was extremely educational. I met people who got great satisfaction out of being made to feel awkward, flustered, vulnerable and dominated, and, of course, people who got great satisfaction out of dominating. I even knew some very well who transitioned from one extreme to the other while I knew them. I was too old by then to experiment with submission, or maybe I just never had it in me, and anyway it seemed absurd to submit to someone much younger and there was no one older. But I wasn’t too old to be awkward. I won’t go into details here; if I ever do it will be disguised as fiction; but when I apologized for a particularly awkward series of mishaps and a companion said that she liked her women to be awkward (and by extension, open to punishment) I realized that I was never going to fit into that milieu. But I did get to understand it.
Is the attraction of awkwardness still a thing? From some of the stories submitted to the anthologies I edit I’d say it is, and that’s just as well. We all feel awkward at times, or should, and making characters feel real and relatable is a plus in writing erotic fiction. A good writer can make awkwardness an essential factor in a story. But now and then I get a feeling that awkwardness has become a trope, an overused one. I guess that’s the inevitable fate of any “new cool” development in fiction. But it could be worse. What if narcissism becomes the “new cool?” Or is that always going to be reserved for the dominant men? Oh no. Bring back awkwardness.