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From clumsy to cute, the great Pratfall Effect

(Graphic: Stephanie and Valerie Naratil/YH)

(Graphic: Stephanie and Valerie Naratil/YH)

(Graphic: Stephanie and Valerie Naratil/YH)

(Graphic: Stephanie and Valerie Naratil/YH)

With a few hazily remembered weekends already behind us this semester, we’ve all had plenty of opportunities to make complete asses of ourselves. Whether it was waking up with a penis scrawled in permanent marker across your forehead or a pile of vomit at the foot of your bed, you’ve probably already made yourself look incredibly stupid.

It’s shameful enough to screw up in front of friends, but it’s all the more embarrassing when your blunders occur before a potential sexual partner. The accidental indulgence of idiocy in front of someone attractive is a concern we all share. It may even keep us from flirting with that cutie across the room, frozen with fear of a potential faux pas.

But what you have failed to realize is that looking like an idiot is totally sexy.

If you’ve ever taken Intro Psych, our formerly-mustachioed Provost has probably guest lectured to you about the wonders of the “Pratfall Effect”— that fantastical psychological phenomenon that causes us to perceive someone whom we already consider competent as even more attractive if they exhibit a gaffe. And to impress someone at a place like Yale, this trick is your best bet.

We’ve all jumped through enough hoops just to get here—thus, we’re all already convinced of one another’s competence. So what nugget do you have to set yourself apart from the others? Little snippets of ineptitude. That’s right, if someone already finds you fetching but can’t quite decide whether or not to take you home, a goof-up may be just the edge you need. So don’t sweat the full Keystone you spilled on his jeans or the accidental smack to the face you gave her with an overzealous hand gesture. A number of your lovebird peers began on worse footing than you, only to rebound with pride.

Perhaps the most successful love story at Yale that I’m aware of began with a night of utter embarrassment. Standard Yale party. Girl meets boy. Exchange of smiles, then tongues. The pair falls romantically into each other’s arms for the night. That is, until her stomach turns and she barfs in his bed. He’s flabbergasted, not having expected bodily fluids to make an appearance so soon, and certainly not of this sort. Nonetheless, he endearingly handles the situation and accepts her for who she is. Two years later, they’re still going strong.

Another steadfast campus couple started off with similarly awkward beginnings. Standard Yale party—but held on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. Adorably observant Jew meets girl. Exchange of smiles. Then flirtatious remarks. When asked where they could venture next, boy attempts to explain that he has neither keys to get home nor identification to go out, requesting maladroitly: “Put your hands in my pockets…trust me.” (In observance of Jewish law, one carries nothing in his pockets on Shabbat.) Confused and offended by such a forward demand, girl disappears for the night. Despite this initial confrontation, she feels compelled to contact him later that week, leading to a still-burgeoning romance today.

If you’re taking any notes from these mistake-laden love masters, realize that you don’t always need to make the best first impression. The Pratfall Effect explains why it was that these endearing screw-ups—not the conceit of coolness—that set these couples up for success. Sure, it may not be as simple as spilling a few drinks on yourself the next time you’re out, but the point is to stop taking yourself so seriously when it comes to romantic encounters.

Turn your next slip-up into a situation that works for you. If you’ve tripped on your way to class, laugh at yourself and strike up a conversation with an observant co-ed about what a klutz you can be. If you mess up someone’s name, use it as an excuse to take them out, so you can learn more about them and never repeat the error. If you fart in front of someone attractive…okay, in this case I’m out of ideas. But with enough practice taking advantage of your mistakes, you might never feel awkward again. (Thank me later.)

Sure, we all aspire to feel suave and sexy and charming. Unfortunately, you forfeited those qualities when you matriculated at Yale. Here, you’ve got a much better shot if you start employing the Pratfall Effect. So go ahead. Put your worst foot forward and hope for the best.

(Note: The Herald does not accept responsibility in the case where an observer already believes you incompetent, and therefore your error just makes you look stupid.)

By: Colin Adamo