Nearly all relationship advice of any sort, for any kind of relationship, can be dismissed with just one sentence: “But that would be awkward!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those words. Suffice it to say that if I had a dime for every time, I’d be quite a lot wealthier than I am right now.

“Talk about STI testing before we have sex? But that would be awkward!” “Meet my partner’s other partner? But that would be awkward!” “Talk to my partner about how I’m feeling? But that would be awkward!” “Experiment and try new things in bed? But that would be awkward!” “Talk openly about sexual boundaries? But that would be awkward!” “Talk about my sexual fantasies? But that would be awkward!” “Ask before kissing someone? But that would be awkward!” (That last one, in fact, deserves a blog post of its own.)

These aren’t hypothetical examples. I’ve heard or read every single one of these…just in the past eight weeks.



Here’s the thing: It’s true. Every bit of it. Doing these things will, at some point or another, likely make you feel awkward.

Do them anyway.

For a lot of folks, it seems that feeling awkward or uncomfortable is the greatest hardship imaginable. Worse, it’s almost as if we have, floating around in our subconscious minds, some idea that we have a right to be comfortable all the time, and to never have to confront awkwardness or discomfort.

In the book More Than Two, one of the ideas we tried to communicate is that other people are real. In fact, it’s one of the ethical axioms we talk about: don’t treat people as things.

Part of treating people as people and not as things is understanding and accepting that you will, from time to time, feel awkward.

“Don’t treat people as things” sounds easy, but it’s deceptively complicated. Every human being you have ever met or will ever meet—indeed, every human being who has ever existed—is unique. We all want different things, we all have different priorities. Regardless of how compatible the people close to you may be, the only thing you can be absolutely sure of is there are places, perhaps big, perhaps small, where your needs and desires differ.

That’s why it’s absolutely essential to talk to people, and to hear and consider their needs. It’s not all about you.

It’s awkward when you want something and the person across from you wants something else. It brings your goals into conflict with theirs. Just the possibility of that happening feels uncomfortable.

I think that’s where a lot of the objections of “But that would be awkward!” come from. Talk about STI testing before sex? That would be awkward, because what if they have different ideas about it than I do? What if that means I won’t get what I want?

When you are willing to have those awkward conversations or do those uncomfortable things, you’re showing that you recognize other people are different from you and you’re willing to treat them accordingly.

When someone cries, “But that would be awkward!” the subtext is, “And not feeling awkward is more important to me than recognizing the differences between us that make us both people.”

Therefore, I would like to propose we all would do well by confronting our fear of discomfort, and being willing to do that awkward thing we don’t really want to do. Especially when that awkward thing is awkward because it forces us to confront the differences between us, even when it might sometimes mean we don’t get what we want.

Being willing to feel awkward from time to time is the cost of entry to being a decent human being.

Categories: Communication


cm · November 6, 2016 at 7:05 am

oh the ask before you kiss problem! i just read this great article about why sexual assault is so prevalent [] i was thinking franklin, with your busy schedule, do you have time to write a book that’s the inverse of the pickup artists handbook? a book for how gentlemen get laid? because i know decent (male) human beings who are polite and ask before they kiss and have more sex than your average guy. it’s not impossible or even awkward, politeness can actually improve your chances of having sex.

    Franklin · November 6, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    That’s not a bad idea at all! 🙂

-Kat · November 7, 2016 at 8:45 am

When I first met my “husband”, he asked if he could kiss me…it was the kiss of a lifetime… Put most “movie kisses” to shame. Here we are almost 3 years later, our Poly life completely different than where we thought it would be. We’ve had many an awkward conversation, and through these clarifying discussions, we came to see where we are aligned, where we are not, and can allow each other to be who they authentically are. We are game changers for each other. Your books have been an integral part of helping us with growth and expansion, Franklin. Thank you for writing them. Will buy the next one as well.

Laurie Ellington · April 18, 2017 at 3:19 pm

I love this article! I spend a lot of my time helping people get comfortable with feeling awkward… that is being human 🙂
The following article may be of interest to your readers…

RM · September 19, 2017 at 9:48 pm

I feel like this is good advice for something as basic as trying to ask someone out on a date, polyamorous or not. Putting myself out there feels like looking over the edge of a cliff, though the work and compromise and communication involved in maintaining and strengthening a relationship came with very little awkwardness. Maybe that’s odd.

In any case, what I mean to say is that I really needed to read this article.


Alee · November 14, 2017 at 9:51 pm

My experience of awkwardness in a relationship context isn’t exactly encompassed by “fear of discomfort” or “fear of clashing goals,” although both of those do ring true. As someone who suffers from social anxiety, my greatest fear is feeling like I’m doing things wrong. I’m terribly afraid of making the *other person* uncomfortable, even in the smallest way. The bottom line is, this all comes back to fear and it all prevents clear communication—and that communication is precisely what will cure the fear and the awkwardness in the end.

As for *how* to confront my fear, I’m going to try to think about what I want to ask, and then instead ask “can I ask about this?” It seems safer, to my socially-anxious and terminally awkward brain.

Jessica · January 5, 2018 at 8:51 pm

Funny enough one of the hottest first kisses I ever had was because the person asked first. To ask you have to put yourself out there, you have to admit you’re into that person, risk rejection and (hopefully) be strong enough to handle that rejection. It conveyed desire and an emotional strength.

Not asking is so often “hey maybe if you don’t mind I’m gonna kinda do this thing but I’m not gonna say it so if you say no I can pretend I didn’t,”
Or something to that effect. It doesn’t mean it isn’t fun or hot.

But stating your intent. Basically saying “I’m attracted to you and I’m willing to truly and completely say it” is so much hotter.

    Guy · March 9, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    Ya you would think it would spoil the moment but it kinda enhances it

Maggy · August 12, 2019 at 5:29 am

Seems like it ought to be obvious, but it’s not, is it? Taking the risk creates opportunities for greater understanding and enhances intimacy, demonstrates and deepens respect.

Be bold! Embrace the awkward!

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