Sometimes life gives you lemons. Other times it gives you smelly coworkers, strange fetishes, and embarrassing autocorrect mistakes. No matter how you live your life, awkward situations occur. Here's how to deal with the worst of them:
Confronting a Smelly Coworker
I once had an obese boss with a rotting flesh wound and had to smell him every day. Oddly, he was a tennis coach. I ended up quitting because it was so nauseating, but in retrospect I learned there were better ways to handle this kind of putrid circumstance.
First, if you have an HR department you should talk to them. If you don't, put yourself in the coworker's shoes--no matter how smelly--and figure out how you'd like to be told. Some people don't realize they have a pungent aroma. If they do, they don't always know what to do about it. Be kind in your approach and help them get to a better place if they need it. Some people need more help because they have health concerns. If you can't provide support, you can always offer to help them find someone who can.
Telling Someone You Don't Like Them
The world contains Republicans, Democrats, hipsters, gun-rights crusaders, members of PETA, motorcyclists, reality TV stars, other drivers, writers, and many more distinct groups filled with opinionated people. Even if you manage to get along with a diverse crowd, you probably don't want to date them. That's okay, so long as you learn to break the news clearly and respectfully.
The process is pretty simple: just be honest and don't be a dick. You also want to make a clear and straightforward statement. For example, "I'm not interested in you romantically" or "I still like you, but I just don't want a romantic relationship with you." You don't want to tell someone you think you shouldn't date or you can't go out with them because it leaves them room to negotiate.
This may seem harsh, but a kind tone goes a long way. Also, when you're vague, people struggle to find that elusive thing we all want in our failed relationships: closure. Be kind, but be direct.
Complaining About Food at a Restaurant
There's a menu reserved for select restaurant patrons that features exotic ingredients, startling flavor combinations, and dishes tailor-made for each diner. How do you become a member of the elite? You complain about your food.
I had a friend who got back at complaining customers by contributing a variety of bodily fluids to their meals. Their restaurant's signature vengeful dish was titled "Big Bowl of Pussy," in which the chef would take a bowl of pasta into the restroom, shove it up her vagina, and send it back. Customers received this treat because they were rude to the wait staff. When I asked restaurant employees how they preferred to be treated in the event of an error, they said "just don't assume it's our fault. It might be, but most of the time it's not."
If you have to send food back, say something like "I know this isn't your fault, but my food is undercooked." Don't get angry, or you might get an unpleasant surprise.
Dealing with a Deadbeat Roommate
Sometimes you move in with a best friend. Other times you go to craigslist and end up housed with a nymphomaniac who eats all your cheese. When you wind up with a turd of a roommate, you need to have a few awkward conversations to get out.
Good landlords will help you out in a bind. If you need to get out, you might be able to replace yourself on your lease. Speaking of that lease, check the language. If you're severally liable you're only responsible for your portion of the rent. If your roommate doesn't pay, they can be evicted without penalty to you. In extreme cases you can ask your landlord to evict both of you and then let you sign a lease with someone else, but that's a lot of trouble that he or she likely won't want to endure.
Coming Out of the Big Gay Closet
Back in the day you couldn't come out of the closet without risking your well-being. Nowadays you can embrace your big gay dreams without too much trouble. That said, bigotry still exists in changing times, and, even when it doesn't, you'll find some of the most awkward attempts at acceptance.
There are so many things a brand new gay should know before coming out, but three will make the process much less awkward. First, come out to the people you know will accept you first so you can build up a support group. Second, don't explode into your sexuality. Take it slow. You've got time, and being gay is only one aspect of your life. Third, don't come out to anyone you literally cannot afford to lose. If you depend on financial support from a parent, for example, you should wait until you're stable and afford to sever ties if things go horribly wrong.
Hopefully everything works out and people love you for who you are, but it's always good to prepare in advance in case some people suck.
Going on a First Date That Doesn't Suck
First dates can be scary, confusing, or--worst of all--boring. By preparing a little you can have an evening that's more fun than awkward.
First, pick an activity that you both like and that gives you something to talk about. Second, find a way to be interesting. Most people are, but they hide the best parts because they seem weird and are afraid to be vulnerable with someone new. Don't worry about this so much, because if you don't get along it wasn't meant to be. You don't want to tell your date a bunch of deep, dark secrets 30 minutes into dinner, but you can share some fun anecdotes that make you unique.
Talking About Fetishes
Nothing puts an abrupt end to a budding romance like asking your date to suck the mucus out of your nose. Whether you want to indulge in nasolingus or any other fetish, revealing your secret desire requires a little planning and tact if you don't want to get dumped.
First, pick the right time. If you like feet or a little role playing, you can probably tell your romantic partner after about a month of sleeping together and proving you can have normal sex, too. More complex fetishes may require more time, but don't wait too long as you don't want to come across dishonest. Second, don't share the results of your fetish like a bad STD test. Propose it as something fun to try and that'll make you happy. A loving partner will give it a try at least once.
Managing Parents Who Don't Get Along
Some parents realize months after their child was born that they were never meant to be together. Others hate each other but stay together for years to keep up appearances. Whether your folks see each other every day or every decade, you don't want to get stuck in the middle.
While you can't make your parents like each other, you can make it easier on yourself. Loving parents in the middle of a divorce sometimes don't realize they're making their kid the middle man. Don't be the person relaying messages between your parents or playing the he-said-she-said game. Clearly communicate the problems they're causing and how you want to be treated. If your parents still live together, you can be a sounding board but not a therapist. You can always resort to email if they can't be in the same room together.
Being direct doesn't mean being harsh. Set and enforce your boundaries so you don't get screwed, but don't forget you still love your parents and they love you too.
Negotiating Your Salary
We like to overvalue ourselves about as much as companies want to undervalue us, and so we have salary negotiations to find a number that both parties can accept. Money conversations can always get a little awkward, but confidence will go a long way.
You have to remember one thing: you don't get shit you don't ask for. If a company wants to hire you, asking for a lot of money won't deter them--they'll simply offer you less. I once asked for twice the money a company wanted to pay me and, while they laughed, I ended up with a higher offer than they intended. If you don't get the money you want, however, you can often request alternative benefits. This includes telecommuting, a four day work week, more stock options, extra vacation time, or whatever else you may want.
Recovering from Autocorrect Mistakes
We send emails and text messages while traveling, getting drunk, and taking a dump. At times it increases our efficiency, and at others it muddles the lines of communication in epicly embarrassing ways.
A friend of ours once attempted to type "I want you to come to class" and actually sent "I want to come in your ass." It turned out the recipient was secretly gay and very interested. If you end up in a situation like this, you ought to just apologize, own it, and laugh it off. That said, you can take some steps to avoid the problem in the future. Apps like Undo SMS (for Android or confirmSMS (for jailbroken iPhones) can help stop you before you make a mistake, but you should also get in the habit of looking at your phone and taking a moment before tapping send. You won't make autocorrect errors when you pay attention.
Adam Dachis and Erica Elson are the co-authors of The Awkward Human Survival Guide: How to Handle Life's Most Uncomfortable Situations [Sterling, $14.95].