Yale: a lesson in your own awkwardness

I can’t deny it any longer. It’s been a year since I embarked on my momentous jaunt across Yale’s social sierra, and the conclusions are irrefutable: Yale is a mad awkward place.

Heck, in its older days, Yale even had a class just for awkward people. Well, sort of. It was called “The Awkward Squad” (capital A, capital S) and was a supplement to the freshman English curriculum. According to E.S. Noyes, in The Program of the Awkward Squad: “Freshmen who [were] considered deficient in writing [were] assigned to the Awkward Squad.” Teachers decided whether a student needed extra help with spelling, grammar or composition and then sent him to additional afternoon classes until the student was deemed “cured,” determination of which was “reached by a conference between the Awkward Squad and the Freshman English instructors.”

It’s uncertain how the Awkward Squad fazed out of existence, but clearly we no longer need a class to tell us we’re awkward. We may know what we’re doing when it comes to problem sets or literary analysis, but when it comes to being literate in which whatever language social interactions at Yale happen, we all deserve a spot in the Awkward Squad.

I think Carroll S. Towle described the Squad best: “Some of the most inarticulate are willing to learn … their fellows may be positive that their own presence in the Squad constitutes rank injustice. Frequently a man enjoys a permanent and unconcealed indifference toward any missionary endeavors whatsoever, as his languid mind finds greater satisfaction in careless, hit-or-miss communication. Amused tolerance, outward sullenness, inward rebellion, ignorant earnestness, pathetic anxiety — it takes all these to make an Awkward Squad.”

In honor of the fact that, in Noyes’ words, the Awkward Squad sought “to promote at least correctness in the composition of Yale men,” I feel it’s appropriate to kick off the first set in the Awkward Squad reunion tour with a discussion of the necessary elements of the perfect awkward Yale date.

1. The Setting: The quintessential awkward Yale date takes place in a dining hall. Some claim that if a date occurs in a dining hall, it cannot be considered a date. But you see, this only makes the awkward date more perfect. At least one party will not be able to determine if the date is simply an “excursion” or an “intentional excursion.” This leads to ambiguity, and ambiguity means people don’t know how to act, and people not knowing how to act means awkwardness. The battle is already won.

Dining halls are also excellent because you will run into people you know. If you’re lucky, they’ll ask why you’re there — this isn’t your residential college and you live all the way on the other side of campus — or if they can sit with you, or better yet, “What’s new with you two?” It’ll be awesome. I’m scintillating just thinking about it.

2. Conversation: The purpose of a date is to get to know the other person, so it’s important to be armed with the right topics to muse about as you stare longingly into each others’ eyes over your trays. Examples include areas where you have failed and your date has succeeded (rushing a cappella, for instance) or detailed accounts of instances when individuals who do not share your sexual orientation have hit on you. In other words, if you’re a heterosexual male, talk about when homosexual men have hit on you. It’s magic.

Make it apparent you’ve been through their Facebook with probing inquiries. Ask a friend to log on with their user name so you can do some pre-ambiguous-excursion stalking. Extra points if the questions or comments refer to their pictures: “Prom Album” is a good place to start.

3. Ask if they would like a tour of the stacks. Hey, it’s worth a try.

4. The Ending: This is pivotal. It is the last chance you have to make an awkward impression and imbue your interactions with one last umph of awk. Remember, you don’t want to branch into the realm of creepy, so keep this PC. You have a number of different options. A pretty good one is the punch in the arm. Pull back for the wind up and move in slowly as to extend the amount of time your date has to anticipate the awkwardness. A close cousin, the high five, is also acceptable. If you’re especially daring, you can bust out the black sheep of the family – the pound. Maybe get some pound-lock-explode action going on there, and don’t forget, as you say your final words, to throw in an indispensable term of endearment like “buddy” or “sport.” Delicious.

5. Facebook friend them before they get back to their room. C’mon. You know you want to.

Noyes wrote: “Once in the Squad, a man stays until he is cured.” So, there’s hope for you … unless you’re hopeless.

This concludes the first session of the Awkward Squad – The Remix. Hang in there, buddy. It only gets better, sport.

Kristen Ng is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.

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