A fundamental facet of living in the city is a lack of privacy; most of our daily lives unfold in public spaces. We’re constantly glimpsing moments both splendid and picayune, always alternating between anonymous actor and apathetic audience.
When you spend such a large percentage of your daily life surrounded by others, it’s inevitable that you’ll both witness and commit some social faux pas. As the human brain has the superior ability to keep us up at night with memories of minor humiliations from years long ago, facing the reality of frequent public embarrassment might cause you a bit of stress.
To that point, I offer two incontrovertible truths.
One: none of us are paying attention to each other. Sure, I remember the guy I saw get so comically tangled up after swiping his Metrocard that he somehow ended upside down, with both legs wrapped around the turnstile, but only because, as a fellow Unfortunately Coordinated Person, I could deeply relate to his predicament! Most people will forget that you did something embarrassing ten seconds after it happens.
Two: the best way to deal with feeling embarrassed by your own silliness, naivete, or general awkwardness, is by leaning all the way into it. Nobody can laugh at you if you’re already laughing. And there’s no place easier to laugh at your goofs than in New York City.
As proof, I present four distinct cases of public embarrassment, written in the second person but all perpetrated by yours truly.
- If you visit the lady’s room at a play and it’s not until you’re up two full flights of stairs that you realize the front of your dress is actually tucked inside of your tights, you might be embarrassed! You might think you’ve unlocked an entirely new level of clothing gaffs– doesn’t the dress-in-tights snafu only happen with the back of your dress? How have you possibly tucked the front of your dress into your tights and waded through throngs of playgoers without noticing? Surely this is some kind of achievement in humiliation. But as a New Yorker, at a fancy Broadway play, you’re just going to laugh, shrug, and put yourself to rights without so much as a blush. So what if you just inadvertently displayed your underthings to the room? That can’t possibly crack even the top five most shocking things this room of people saw today.
- Let’s say you’re running across the platform to get your train, and you attempt a gymnastic feat to slip through the doors before they close… but only your foot gets in the door. And those train doors are not like elevator doors; they don’t pop open just because your foot is in the way. You have to squeeze your hands into the tiny crack between the doors and yank for all you’re worth, and they still don’t open. So, you tug your foot out of the door and stare forlornly into the car full of successfully-boarded commuters as they slip away down the track. You turn around to find a platform full of people observing the spectacle you’ve made of yourself. You could feel embarrassed in that moment. Or, you could just grin at them and consider spending more time cultivating your upper body strength.
- Maybe you’re standing on a crowded train, just a few more stops until you get home. The doors close, the car lurches, and you feel a man’s hand caress the back of your neck. As a seasoned Subway rider, all too familiar with obscene men on the C, you immediately fling your head back– hard. You knock that interloping hand all the way off of your person. You’re not about to be fondled! A moment too late, you realize it was just a poor tourist weighted down by a few suitcases, trying to grab a handhold, clearly without an untoward thought in his mind. Oops. You might feel very embarrassed about your assumption and about so thoroughly dislodging his hand from the pole. He might feel embarrassed about accidentally groping your neck. You could both stand there feeling embarrassed, or you could just laugh in each other’s faces and scooch around to share the pole.
- Finally, you may have cultivated the less than ideal habit of informally communicating with your dog through kissing noises. Say, you want her to come sit by you on the couch. You make a little kiss at her! You want to redirect her attention from her toy– a little kiss in the air. The light at the crosswalk has turned and you’re ready for her to stand up and walk… a few loud kisses for her. Except you do those kisses at the exact moment a shirtless, sweaty guy runs past you, and he gives you a big wink, as if you were kissing at him and not, clearly, at your dog. You might be very embarrassed as you have to shout, “Not YOU! Her. The dog! I’m married.” Or, you could just– actually, that one was a little embarrassing for me. But it was also very funny in retrospect.
And that’s really all you have to do: focus on the funny. Nobody who witnesses your little goofs cares or is likely to even recall them. It doesn’t make sense to waste your time feeling bad for being a public dork when you could be spinning those stories into open mic fodder. Because if there’s one thing this city needs more of, it’s definitely aspiring comedians.