There’s an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry talks about a girl called Nina – nothing ever happened with her, because they were ‘too compatible’.
‘Our conversations were so engrossing. There were no awkward pauses to make the transition from conversation to sex. I need an awkward pause.’
I’ve thought about this every now and then, over the years, since I first saw this episode (called ‘the Betrayal’). At first, I thought there couldn’t be such thing as too compatible. I realise Seinfeld isn’t a documentary, but, actually, was he onto something? Can an awkward pause be a good thing?
I recently went on a wonderful second date with someone (which I’ll write more about soon! I keep going on dates faster than I can write about them). On the first date, we got on really well – the conversation was so engrossing! I think there was one awkward pause, where neither of us was saying anything, and we accidentally caught each other’s eyes across the table, and we smiled at each other, but after a split-second I couldn’t handle it and looked away. It felt like quite a sexual split-second though.
On our second date, neither of us were drinking. He was on antibiotics and couldn’t drink, and after drinking slightly more than the ideal amount on the first date, I decided not to drink either, officially out of solidarity, but also because I wanted to demonstrate that I’m not always a total piss-head.
Due to being sober, my social skills were a bit more finely honed and nuanced than I’m used to on a date. I kept detecting awkward pauses that were about to happen – where we were both smiling at something one of us had said, and were about to catch each other’s eyes across the table – and I kept sub-navigating the pauses.
Each time there was a hint of an awkward pause, I would start a new conversation or ask him a question, or pretend to be really interested in my salad or my drink, or glance away to avoid accidentally making awkward eye contact.
After the date, I thought about Seinfeld. I decided, on the third date, I was going to embrace the awkward pauses.
And it worked! On our third date, I guess our conversation probably lent itself to awkward pauses a bit more. We had been texting each other a lot in between dates, and some of the text conversations had become quite racy. In our conversation on the date, a few times we referred back to our sexy texts, but in a much more polite, British, euphemistic way. Also, we talked a lot more about quite personal things like difficult experiences we’d each had, and our fears and insecurities. I think this lent itself more to pauses and reflecting than the average conversation.
So basically, every time I detected an awkward pause approaching, I just let it come. Neither of us would be saying anything, for a moment, and our eyes would meet across the table, and we would just smile at each other. Eventually, one of us would break first and have to look away. It felt awkward and tense. But it also felt quite sexy and exciting.
I think Jerry Seinfeld was talking more about the kind of awkward pauses when you’re in a place where you could actually have sex, like at one of your houses, as he talked about using the awkward pause to make the transition from conversation to sex. But I think that the kind of awkward pauses I’ve been talking about, are early fertiliser for the seeds of sex.
Then there’s a completely different kind of awkward pause, which I find is more likely to happen nearer the start of the date. There’s no sex in this kind of pause. This is when neither of you can think of anything to say. You recognise one of you needs to say something, and say “so…” and then nothing comes into your head. You panic, and the more you think about the fact you can’t think of anything to say, the further away you get from being able to think of anything to say.
I reckon we should embrace this kind of awkward pause too. You’re both in the same position. You each have 50% of the responsibility for how the conversation goes, so if there’s an awkward pause, it’s 50% the other person’s responsibility to fix it too. Also, this might sound more like advice for service industry staff, but I’ve really found smiling goes a long way in this situation. If I smile, it kind of tricks my face into feeling more comfortable than I really do, and that soon spreads to my brain. I think it also puts the other person more at ease than my panic face does.
Also, if I go on a date with someone who seems 100% confident, with no nervousness or awkwardness at all, that can make me feel a bit uneasy. I might wonder if they are so confident because they are a seasoned professional at all this dating, or they’re not nervous because they don’t care how it goes because they’ve already decided they don’t like me, or I might just feel a bit inferior because their social skills are better mine.
So now I’ve realised this, if I go on a date with someone who seems a bit nervous, I think ‘cool, we’re in this together’.
I think Seinfeld was right – we all need an awkward pause.