Review: ‘Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness’


Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness
Melissa Dahl

Why is it that everything I have done up to this moment makes me cringe with embarrassment? I’m often calling people by the wrong name, waving to strangers that I think I know, or walking into the wrong restroom. Moments come back to me on a daily basis (“cringe attacks”) that make me grimace and say out loud “Oh my god, why did I do that?” Melissa Dahl, the co-founder of New York magazine’s Science of Us section, and Senior Editor of The Cut, answers this question.

In her book, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, Dahl explores awkward situations with bravery and wit, as she takes improv classes, speaks with scientists, meets with professional cuddlers and reads her teenage diary out loud in front of an audience. Like any of your favorite Malcolm Gladwell books, this one explains complicated theories and connections in a conversational tone. It turns out that these social rules that we are so fearful of breaking aren’t as rigid as we think. Most people don’t notice our mishaps, or if they do, they have compassion for the very human experience of humiliation. Embarrassing situations are universal, even if it feels like we’re alone at the time.

According to Dahl, there’s a reason why I judge myself so harshly on my unfortunate fashion choices of middle school. “Identity stasis [is] the idea that now you’ve arrived and have become your true self. Past You was embarrassing. Current You has it figured out,” Dahl writes. “But Current You will soon enough become Past You, and the cycle will begin all over again.” Our efforts should go towards appreciating that naive Past Us, and recognize that we are always trying our hardest with the information that we have at the time (including that perm I had in 4th grade.) “Past You was doing her best, and it’s time to acknowledge that. But at the same time, good for you if she makes you cringe. She should! Anyone who doesn’t regularly cringe over their past selves is probably not evolving,” says Dahl. There’s a connection between our embarrassing moments and taking risks, and we all know there’s so much to be gained by taking chances. Pull your dress out of your underwear, cringe if you have to, and then laugh it off. It turns out, according to this highly entertaining book, that awkward moments actually unite us all and enrich our lives.

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