Tag Archives: etiquette

Facebook etiquette

The other day, someone I know posted this blog post on her Facebook page, exhorting her Facebook friends to keep in mind seven basic rules of Facebook etiquette. The post’s title, “7 Ways To Be Insufferable On Facebook,” initially grabbed me, because, hey, I hate seeing updates on So-and-So’s progress in Farmville as much as the next person. In fact, I’ve spent a not insignificant chunk of time over the years building a mental list of some of the most obnoxious behaviors on Facebook, including, but not limited to, “liking” every “Happy Birthday” post on one’s wall; inviting one’s Facebook friends to join one’s inane online game of choice; whining about one’s job incessantly; starting any post with the word “Dear,” and then writing a hackneyed “open letter” addressed to, for example, the weather; writing status updates in the third person; posting “chain statuses,” especially ones that contain inaccuracies, misquotes, and/or urban legends; and, my personal least-favorite, spreading the news of a death before family members have had a chance to receive the news via non-Facebook means (this happened to me, by the way: this is how I found out my grandfather passed away. Not kidding, unfortunately).

Let’s face it: there are a lot of ways to be inconsiderate, boring, and/or irritating on Facebook. So I went into this post, from the blog wait but why, anticipating that I’d be totally on board with whatever behaviors this blogger (who I’ll refer to as WBW, since I don’t know his real name) was calling out. The post started off strong, ridiculing a horrifically self-aggrandizing status update that WBW had run across. I’ll reproduce the status update below; hopefully we can all agree that it is, in a word, ghastly.

2012 was a biggg year for me. I left my amazing job at NBC to move back to Chicago. I started dating my angel, Jaime Holland. I started yoga (thanks Jake Fisher & Jonah Perlstein!). I wrote an album with Matthew Johannson. Wrote another album I’m proud of. I got to hang with Owen Wilson, and worked with Will Ferrell on an amazing project. Had a conversation about Barack Obama with David Gregory. Danced. Joined a kickball team. Won a couple awards. Helped my sister plan her summer trip. Swam a lot. Golfed a little. Cried more than you would think. Read The World According to Garp. Saw Apocolypse Now. Went to Miami for the NBA Finals. Drank the best orange juice I’ve ever had with Davey Welch. Tweeted. Went to amazing weddings in Upstate New York. Drank a ridiculous amount of milk. Learned how to make sand art. Saw a great light show. Saw the Angels and Lakers. Fell in love with Jawbone Up. Cooked with Jaime. Gardened with Jaime. Watched Homeland with Jaime. Wrestled with Jaime. Laughed for hours with Jaime. Fell in love with Jaime’s family. Worked on a play. Played World of Warcraft. Did some improv. Played a ton of the guitar. Really just had a wild, amazing year. What a world.

So, yeah, this is bad. It’s really bad, and on so many levels. The humble bragging. The non-humble bragging. The name dropping. The misspellings. The inanities and mundanities. The repeated use of the word “amazing.” The casual references to guitar playing. I mean, there’s a lot to hate here. So I was on board with WBW for calling this out, because surely, everyone in the world except the author of this terrible status update should be able to agree that this type of unabashed self-promotion-disguised-as-gratitude should be illegal and potentially carry a prison sentence.

But then, WBW lost me when he started listing his seven rules that we all should adhere to on Facebook.

WBW’s basic message is that one should not post anything on Facebook that “primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it.” Okay. This seems like a reasonable framework to start from. After all, who wants to wade through a bunch of self-involved, uninteresting Facebook statuses on one’s Newsfeed? Not I. But when WBW went on to elaborate all of the behaviors he finds unacceptable on Facebook, I balked. In most cases, the rules he sets out are based on some general principle that I might agree with (for instance: don’t brag), but the rules as he states them are far too broad to be workable or even desirable. Indeed, the guidelines WBW lays out are so sweeping as to ban most behavior on Facebook.

First, WBW says that one shouldn’t boast on Facebook. Fair enough: no one likes an online braggart. But WBW defines bragging as the sharing of any positive news about one’s life. He writes that if something exciting happens in your life, “the only people it’s okay to brag to in life are your close friends, significant other, and family members—and that’s what email, texting, phone calls, and live talking are for. Your moment of self-satisfaction is profoundly annoying to people you’re not that close with, and they make up the vast majority of people who will be subjected to the status.” So if you get married, don’t mention it. You just got into med school? Keep it to yourself. First-born child? Shush. Don’t annoy others with your joy. Maybe WBW finds other people’s happy news “profoundly annoying,” but I’d venture a guess that most people on social media don’t feel that way; otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be on social media. I enjoy seeing wedding pictures, even if I haven’t spoken to the bride or groom since high school. I also don’t mind when someone shares excited or happy news about school or a job. It’s a natural human reaction to want to shout it from the rooftops when something exciting or wonderful happens. Why quash that?

I also disagree with the basic premise  that the sharing of all positive news is necessarily bragging. Anyone who’s read a truly braggy, self-promoting Facebook status can tell the difference between that (“I got to hang out with Owen Wilson”) and a genuinely heartfelt sharing of personal news (“Yay, I finally got accepted to law school”). It’s all about intent. Sharing happy news because you’re excited about said news is a different beast than “image crafting,” “attention craving,” or “jealousy inducing” posts, but WBW seems to lump these together. Any sharing of positive news must have an ulterior motive, in his eyes; and even if it doesn’t, it still shouldn’t be allowed because it might make someone else feel bad. He thus outlaws all statuses referring to vacations, social events, and loved ones, because these might induce feelings of envy in the reader. Also: no photos. Don’t ever post photos. So, according to WBW’s first rule alone, most Facebook statuses would be deemed “annoying” and therefore unacceptable. (Anyone else getting kind of a Taliban-y vibe from this?)

But WBW’s not done. One must also never post about what one is actually doing that day (Rule 3); write on anyone else’s wall (Rule 4); tag anyone else in a status or photo (Rule 4); express gratitude (Rule 5); express an opinion on a current event (Rule 6); or quote a great thinker or anyone else (Rule 7). The only one of WBW’s seven rules that I unequivocally agree with is Rule 2, which bans “cliffhanger” statuses, also known as “vaguebooking,” where one posts a cryptic status that invites curiosity from readers but then plays coy and refuses to provide further detail. That’s super annoying and needs to stop. But the rest of these rules go too far; they suck the fun and life out of Facebook.

All of this begs the question: what would be okay to post on Facebook, according to WBW? I am wracking my brain trying to craft a hypothetical status that would not run afoul of any of these rules, and it’s tough. WBW says in the beginning that jokes that uplift the reader are acceptable; so unless you treat Facebook as a Twitter feed exclusively for fun jokes, you’re going to break one of WBW’s rules at some point.

My Facebook page today: undoubtedly super annoying to WBW

My Facebook page today: undoubtedly super annoying to WBW – look at all the photos! The horror!

These rules are bunk and should be rejected for two reasons. First, if you outlaw the expression of all human emotion on Facebook, you deprive Facebook of its purpose. People use the service to interact with people they know, care about, and/or are interested in. If the only allowable use of Facebook is to share jokes, then you might as well shut down your account and switch to Twitter, which is a much more streamlined vehicle for writing and reading jokes. Second, WBW has basic Facebook etiquette backwards. If you’re irritated by someone’s postings on Facebook, the burden is on you, the reader, to filter that person’s posts out. We all have different sensitivities and proclivities. As someone posting on Facebook, I cannot tailor my status updates or photos to suit the individual needs of all several hundred people who might be seeing them; I might as well not post at all. The only workable system is for users of Facebook to decide what they want to see and what they want to be hidden; this is easily accomplished through Facebook’s Newsfeed controls. If someone always posts annoying statuses, hide him. Or even unfriend him, if it’s that bad. But you must not demand that everyone in your social media universe conforms to your individual and highly specific sensitivities.

With that, go forth and post on Facebook!*

*(For actual guidance on what’s obnoxious, please refer to my first paragraph, above.)

My first week in London

It’s been almost a full week since I’ve arrived in London and I’ve been trying to pack each of my days to bursting. So far, so good, except that it’s really hot here (who knew that could happen?) and there’s no AC, thus no respite from the heat. Walking around sweating and getting a mild sunburn is all fine and dandy if you can dip into deliciously cool restaurants, bars, or even public transportation once in a while, but AC is not a given here, anywhere. To wit: for the first time in my life last night, I was hot in a movie theater. It was like topsy-turvy world! Movie theaters are supposed to be frozen tundras so cold that your extremities lose feeling, Britain. Get with the program. Sheesh.

Before I tell you about my adventures this week, here is a short list of things I’ve learned and/or noticed over the last few days walking around London: 1) always carry your own water, unless you want to fork over the equivalent of your hypothetical child’s first year of college for a bottle of it; 2) don’t shop at Whole Foods — just don’t even go in — the prices are too traumatic; 3) don’t shop at the cute Italian coffee place around the corner, unless you are prepared to pay the equivalent of US $20 for one sandwich’s worth of Parma ham; 4) walk if possible; bus if you can’t walk; Tube if you can’t bus; 5) wear sunscreen (this advice applies outside of London, as well, FYI); 6) Italians are annoying in every context outside of Italy (sorry, Italians — real talk); 7) Brazilians and Americans are everywhere you look (or listen), and they/we are loud. But not as loud as Italians. Again, sorry, Italians. I love your food, your wine, and your country. But going forward, you guys have got to master spatial awareness and volume control.

British Museum

British Museum

So, where have I gone this week? Oh, lots of places. On Wednesday I walked around Covent Gardens and also spent a few hours at the British Museum, where I saw mummies, Assyrian stuff, Iranian stuff, Greek stuff, European stuff, a cool walrus tusk chess set, and the Rosetta Stone (overrated). On Thursday, I made my way to the Tate Modern art museum. Camille, one of Al’s lovely cousins who we’re staying with, was kind enough to give me her Tate member card, so I got to see all of the private exhibitions, featuring art by Ellen Gallagher, Ibrahim El Salahi, Saloua Raouda Choucair, and Meschac Gaba. Kind of interesting that two out of the four exhibitions were African artists. My favorite exhibition was Ellen Gallagher AxME. Gallagher is an American artist who does a lot of really cool, whimsical collages with photos from old African-American lifestyle magazines, over which she superimposes bright yellow wigs and googly eyes and other things. Sounds kinda crazy, and it kinda is. The permanent collections at the Tate were very good, as well, but less fun to walk around in, since they were all flooded by shrieking schoolchildren. When one is trying to enjoy art by looking contemplatively (or at least quietly) at it, one does not really appreciate the sounds of other human beings shouting next to one’s ear. Or maybe that’s just me?

Cy Twombly (at the Tate Modern)

Cy Twombly (at the Tate Modern)

Actually, I noticed some interesting behaviors while I was strolling through the Ellen Gallagher exhibit, from which I am prepared to draw broad cultural conclusions, because anthropologists always make sweeping statements based on tiny bits of anecdotal evidence, right? So, after observing both British and American patrons at the museum, I noticed that British people are more likely to give each other pedantic notes on pieces of art in a stage whisper (e.g., “You see how the googly eyes are an ironic statement about the underlying dehumanization of the dominant corporatist culture of the era?”), while Americans are more likely to ask their whining three year old toddler what her opinion is of the art (“Do you see that, Madison? It’s a jellyfish. Can you say jellyfish? What do you like about this painting, Madison? Madison, please sit in your stroller correctly.”). Both behaviors are highly annoying, although to be honest, I found the show-offy whispering easier to stomach. To give more detail, there was a pregnant woman (American) pushing her squirming three year-old in a stroller through the private exhibit. This woman insisted on asking, in a loud voice, for said three year-old’s informed opinion about each and every piece of art. As a fellow American, I wondered if I could perform some sort of international citizen’s arrest on behalf of my countrymen, but instead, I just made a silent note to self never to be That Person who assumes that everyone else in the modern art gallery is as charmed as I am by my toddler’s awareness of shapes and colors. Also, that poor kid, right? What three year-old wants to be dragged to a non-interactive art museum? There are probably a million other places that lady could have brought that child that day, none of which involved rooms full of surrealist art. Just saying.

Exhibition brochures

Exhibition brochures

Anyway, I got through most of the Tate Modern but I still need to go back to the Tate Britain, which I will do perhaps next week. I haven’t decided what adventures I am going to get up to today, but the world is my oyster. There is so much to see and do in this city, I could do five different things every day and not exhaust the possibilities. Glorious!

Happy Friday to one and all.

More ridiculous questions about race and ethnicity

Hearkening back to last week’s post about the dreaded “Where are you from originally?” question, thought I’d share an interesting — and somewhat horrifying — article I came across this morning. NPR’s new race, culture, and ethnicity blog, Code Switch, just did a feature about the ridiculous questions people have been asked about their race or ethnicity. The slideshow alone is well worth your time.

Apparently the “where are you from originally?” question is alive and well, but on the milder end of the spectrum of ignorant questions people get asked about their race. Asians get asked if they “see in wide-screen.” Black people get asked if they shampoo their hair. Black people also get asked if their blood is red (as opposed to, what color, exactly?). Non-Mexican Latinos get asked to bring tacos to potlucks. SIGH.

One person quoted in the article makes the point that, as mind-blowingly stupid as some of these questions are, he feels bad for criticizing any attempts at cultural dialogue, “even if clumsy.” He is a more charitable person than I, apparently! The article notes:

Eric Deggans, a friend of Code Switch, has a good point. It’s easy to punish well-intentioned folks who really just are curious about different cultures. But part of our aim was to create some dialogue about how we deal with questions that could quickly go awry.

Hm. I’m not sure about the best way to deal with some of these questions, other than to remain calm and politely set the person straight. Another commenter suggested that a person asked a bizarre question regarding race should ask the questioner, politely, why they’re asking, to try to get at what the questioner is actually curious about. In other words, the person could be asking a legitimate question in an ignorant way. Could be. Or people could just be stupid.

What’s the most ridiculous question you’ve ever been asked about your race or ethnicity? I’ve heard a lot of weird stuff, but one of the weirdest was when the daughter of my CCD (Catholic religious education) teacher asked me if I was Jewish (despite the fact that I was in her mother’s CCD class), and when I said no, she looked me up and down and sniffed, “Well, you look it.” Well, shoot, let me abandon my Catholic education since you’ve decided that I don’t look the part! Point me to the local synagogue, kind madam! Granted, she was a child, and so was I, but even then, I knew she was suffering from a severe case of the stupids.

Also, I looked like this:

A31S (11)

What’s that little Jewish girl doing, receiving her first Communion??

Okay, okay, I wasn’t wearing my Communion dress when she asked me if I was Jewish, but come on.

Similarly, when I was touring a Catholic girls’ school when I was in eighth grade (I was considering going there for high school), one of the students asked me if I was an Arab. So… there seems to be some confusion here. Anyone else have any good stories about crazy questions you’ve been asked about your race or ethnicity? Do share!

A guy’s response to my flirting advice (and my response)

After publishing yesterday’s Sound Advice Thursday about whether flirting in public places is welcomed or dreaded by women, I received a really thoughtful response from a guy I know, disagreeing with my advice and giving me another perspective on the issue. I’d like to share his comments and then offer my own response today. Here is what he wrote:

As a single guy, I’ve got to disagree with your post on flirting. The guy didn’t ask if he should have straight-up asked her out, he was just asking if he should have engaged her in conversation to see if that was even a possibility. After a friendly hello and some meaningless chat about the weather, the elevator or some recent news story, the guy would have known if she was open to anything more. If an attempt at conversation by a guy constitutes hitting on a girl (and not merely a prelude to hitting on), and you think the rule should be that in non-bar settings only women should initiate flirting, then you’ve effectively limited all flirting/hitting on to bars and parties. Girls almost never make the first move; and when they do, it’s more in the line of showing receptivity to a move–like smiling–than making an actual move like initiating conversation or, even more rarely, asking the guy out.

As a guy, it takes more than a bit of courage/confidence/irrationality to flirt. Guys get rejected a lot. And you’re basically telling any guy who is just the slightest bit shy or reflective or analytical that the voice in the back of his head is right, she doesn’t want to talk to him, and he should just move on (leaving the field to the most cocky/clueless/socially illiterate).

Some people, like drunk lecherous 60 year olds, will always be socially clueless. But that’s not the situation we’re dealing with here. We’re talking about two 20/30-somethings of presumably comparable backgrounds. It’s a totally different dynamic.

It seems to me that everyone, both men and women, as part of growing up, should learn to take a chance with talking to a stranger, how to politely turn down an unwanted romantic request, and, finally, how to take a hint. And if everyone focuses especially on the last one, then I don’t see the harm in a few more conversations about the weather that don’t go anywhere. Anyway, just a guy’s perspective.

This is an interesting perspective and this guy, let’s call him Fred, makes some valid points. First of all, I agree with Fred that the guy in the original post probably wasn’t considering asking out the woman at the elevator bank after zero build-up; in other words, the interaction probably wouldn’t have played out as: guy smiles, girl smiles, guy says, “Hey, wanna grab a drink sometime?” I get that. And if the guy’s dilemma was actually, “Should I have spoken to this attractive woman at the elevator?”, my response would have been, “Sure, why not?” I would never tell a guy not to speak to a woman at all; what am I, the Taliban? However, I interpreted the situation in the original post as hinting at an extra element of sexiness/flirtation that would go beyond mere chit-chat. Otherwise, why would the guy have felt conflicted enough about it to ask his friend for advice?

So perhaps my original advice needs a bit of clarification. As I wrote yesterday, I think innocuous chit-chat is perfectly fine in public places. Guys, go ahead and strike up a conversation with the lady waiting for the metro or standing in front of you at the deli. Ask her if she prefers prosciutto or parma ham. Knock yourself out! But take her cues and act accordingly.

Rejection

Body language is key!

 

I know men are fairly literal, so let me give an example of an appropriate conversation and an inappropriate conversation. In this scenario, a man and a woman, both in their late 20s/early 30s and of approximately equal attractiveness, are standing in line at the local cheesery.

Appropriate interaction:

Guy: Have you tried the washed rind yet? It’s to die for.

Girl: (Smiling) I’m actually turned off by mold on my cheese. I’m more of a gouda girl.

Guy: Gouda’s awesome. Can’t go wrong with gouda.

Girl: That’s what I think!

Now, at this juncture, it would be appropriate to continue this light, friendly conversation, and at the end of it, the guy, if he has any social skills whatsoever, should be able to tell if the woman is interested in him or not. And yeah, maybe I’ll relax my original position and say that in this scenario, since the woman was receptive to the man’s cheese chat, it would be appropriate for him to ask her, “Hey, want to grab a slice of emmenthal sometime?”

However. Here’s an example of an inappropriate interaction:

Guy: Have you tried the washed rind yet? It’s to die for.

Girl: (Smiling) No.

Guy: It’s amazing. You should really try it.

Girl: Hmm. Yeah, I’ll have to give it a whirl. (Turning back toward counter)

Guy: Hey, want to grab a drink sometime?

See the difference? She smiled both times, right? But in the second example, she was just being polite. She wanted to be left alone to consider her cheese options. She didn’t want to split a wedge of manchego with this guy. She engaged him in a couple of seconds of conversation because women are socialized that it is rude not to chat with someone who chats with you, even if you find them repulsive. But then, women expect men to uphold their end of the bargain and to know when to back off. I suppose, as Fred said in the last paragraph of his response, the fundamental thing here comes down to a man’s ability to read social cues and not to assume that any show of friendliness on a woman’s part means she is digging him. In other words, speaking broadly, men need to cultivate the ability to take a hint.

Men are maybe not the subtlest.

Men are maybe not the subtlest.

I agree with Fred that people should take risks in talking to strangers; in fact, I was trying to say that yesterday, that men should feel free to chat about innocuous things with women they find attractive. I also agree that women should learn to politely reject romantic overtures that they find unwelcome. But therein lies the difficulty. Women in our society, as I mentioned above, are socialized to be sweet and nice and open, whether they are romantically interested in a man or not. It’s very difficult to strike a balance between exuding this socialized sweetness and sending a firm signal that one is simply not interested. In the struggle to reject a man “politely,” women may often come off as welcoming or receptive to the man’s overtures. The difficulty is that women are taught to be subtle, while men are uniquely unsuited to picking up subtleties. Women who tend toward a more direct approach when rejecting someone, to get the point across with little ambiguity, are accused of being “rude,” “cold,” “b*tchy,” etc. So really, women can’t win, can they? And perhaps men can’t win, either.

But all is not lost! I still stand by my original advice, to the extent that men should take cues from women and not immediately take things to the sexy place. But part of cultivating safe, friendly public spaces is allowing men to feel safe in being friendly to women, too, and that includes saying hi, remarking upon the weather or the news, and seeing where things go. So, guys, go ahead and say that it sure is cloudy outside. And ladies, if you think he’s cute, smile back and remark upon the density of those cumulus clouds, and see where things go. Who knows, maybe this chit-chat could be the start of something beautiful.

Sound advice Thursday: When is a smile just a smile?

Dear Steph,

Can you settle a debate for me? I have a work friend who thinks he should have said something to (read: hit on) a woman who smiled at him at an elevator bank and then got on the same elevator. I strongly disagreed with him, lest we render the elevator bank, too, an unsmiling space (along with public transit and the mall and sidewalks and whilst driving). Who’s right? Was the woman’s smile at my friend an invitation to be hit on or was she just being friendly?

Signed,

Let’s Keep Elevators Safe

Dear LKES,

I am answering your query as a public service announcement. Here it goes: men of the world, please do not hit on every woman who smiles at you. Sometimes a smile is just a smile. I am firmly on your side on this one, LKES, and I’ll explain why.

It seems to me that one of the fundamental things that some men don’t understand about women is that, in general, when a woman is out and about, minding her own beeswax, she does not wish to be hit on. Sure, a friendly smile or “good morning” or an innocuous comment about the weather are all fair game at the elevator banks or at the bus stop or in line at the post office. But interpreting a stranger’s friendly smile in a public place as an invitation to hit on said stranger is crossing a line. The problem is exactly as you stated it: if a woman gets hit on enough times after smiling at strangers, she will stop doing it as a self-protective measure. And that’s bad for everyone. I happen to think that large swaths of America, particularly the big cities, are unfriendly enough as it is. We don’t need even more of a chilling effect because women are afraid to smile at strangers lest they be flirted with and made uncomfortable.

elevator

A couple of qualifiers must be noted. First, it could be that the woman your friend saw at the elevator wanted to be hit on. Perhaps her smile was the opening salvo in a would-be flirty back-and-forth, and she was disappointed when your friend didn’t promptly ask her out on the spot. But you know what? It’s 2013 and if a woman is interested in a man, she can take the initiative to strike up the conversation. In fact, I’d argue that this should be the default in public spaces that are not generally intended for flirting: if the woman carries the conversation into the flirty place, then the door to hitting-on-age has been opened. If she keeps it to a smile and a nod, or a comment about the weather, follow her lead. Got that, men? Of course, this rule doesn’t necessarily apply to places where people go, generally, to be hit on: bars, clubs, fetish parties, what have you. But in non-sexy places like the office elevator bank, let the woman take the lead.

Second, the line between flirting and friendly conversation can be blurry, and the level of discomfort experienced by the flirtee is going to depend on that individual’s tolerance for being chatted up by strangers. For me, that bar is usually quite low. And I’m speaking as someone who has been hit on in an elevator in an office building on SEVERAL occasions, including once late at night by not one but two men in their 60s, wearing business suits, who reeked of booze. I wasn’t disgusted, exactly, but I was a little offended that these two drunk codgers thought that a) I’d be interested in one or both of them, and b) that slurred come-ons were what I really wanted to hear as I rode the elevator to the lobby after a long day of work.

Probably not gonna happen.

Probably not gonna happen.

Anyway. This isn’t about me. This is about creating public spaces that feel both friendly and safe. I happen to enjoy a lively conversation about the weather, and I am all for innocuous, harmless chit-chat to strangers. But please, men, don’t assume that a woman’s smile is always the equivalent of “hey, big boy.” We’re just trying to be friendly.

Yours,

~Steph

 

Sound Advice Thursday: How can I back out of wedding events?

Dear Steph:

When staring down the barrel of at least four weddings and three bachelorette parties in the next calendar year, is there any gracious way to decline any of the associated wedding events (engagement parties, showers, couples showers, etc.) without seeming like a total grinch? And is there any way to bring things up like the fact that spending $1000 on a bachelorette party and another $1000 on the wedding  (once airfare and things are factored in) can be a a real hardship and one we might try to find ways around? I don’t want to hurt feelings, but I also don’t want to go broke. Help!

Sincerely,

The Harried Wedding Guest

Photo by Leah & Mark

Photo by Leah & Mark

Dear HWG:

This is one of those areas where I think American society needs a good, hard slap upside the head. Because things have gotten out of hand. In the good old days, if you were invited to a wedding, you’d buy the bride and groom a gift, drive to the wedding, have a nice chicken dinner – maybe a steak if these were fancy people – and then drive home. And you’re done. No weekends in Napa. No weddings in Bora Bora. No requests by the bride and groom to buy them a new house or fund their hypothetical children’s college educations. But sadly, those days are gone. Modern wedding guests are expected to attend – and pay for – a litany of events, with presents and plane tickets popping up at every turn. And there needs, frankly, to be an opt-out option.

I must defer, at least partially, to the inimitable Miss Manners and her incredibly helpful book, Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, on this question. Miss Manners, over recent years, has noted with dismay the increasing tendency of brides and grooms to turn events, such as bridal showers, into opportunities “to turn a milestone into material advantage.” When posed a similar question as yours by a woman who was facing multiple bridal showers for each of her engaged friends, Miss Manners advised that the letter writer should accept only one shower per couple, if any, and that she “need only express regret when [she] decline[s] an invitation – or six of them.” With regards to bridal showers in particular, Miss Manners has also noted that “[i]n proper American etiquette, a bridal shower is a lighthearted event among intimate friends, not something required to call attention to a wedding in the way that a rain shower calls attention to the need to fetch an umbrella.”

As much as I agree with her, this isn’t Miss Manners’ show; it’s mine. And speaking as a lady who has both gotten married and attended weddings, I am here to tell you not to fret about declining invitations to showers, brunches, lunches, parties, or even weddings. I myself had a bridal shower, thrown by my mother and some of my female cousins. It was a low-key affair for family – and one close friend – held at my cousin’s apartment; it involved party games, homemade lasagna, and tea. It was perfect. The people who were around came; the people who were not, did not. And it was FINE that some people didn’t or couldn’t come. I also had a bachelorette party, thrown by my wonderful maid-of-honor, Karen. Since most of my close friends and I lived on the East Coast at the time, the party was held in New York City. My dear cousin Catie, who was one of my bridesmaids, lives in Seattle and let me know that she could simply not afford to take the vacation days to come to New York for a weekend. And it was FINE. I understood! Because I am a human being with human feelings, like empathy and humility, and I did not expect anyone to shell out big moola to fly to a party for me, although many people did end up doing just that. Because they love me more. Kidding!!

Skipping weddings is also okay. We had people decline our wedding for a number of reasons, and we understood. Weddings can be tough to attend, especially when they involve travel. Of course, we would have loved to have each and every person we invited at our wedding, but we weren’t going to throw a tantrum if people couldn’t make it because we are adults and, shockingly, we are not actually the center of the universe. Remember: no one is obligated to attend a wedding (except for the bride and groom, and probably the officiant).

The bottom line is that if your friends are nice, kind, grown-up human beings, they will understand your sending kind regrets and skipping their many (superfluous) wedding-related events. You do you, HWG.

Good luck!

~Steph

Sound advice Thursday: How do I “unfriend” someone in real life?

Dear Steph:

How do you “unfriend” someone in real life? One of my best friends has a girlfriend that she met through work that I’m not particularly fond of. Whenever we all hang out, she makes passive aggressive and snarky comments to me and goes out of her way to prove that she and my best friend have a closer relationship. She has always been a “frenemy” that I tolerated for the sake of my best friend (who’s oblivious to this girl’s rudeness toward me).  However, my friend recently moved away for graduate school, and her snarky friend is now contacting me, asking me to hang out. If it’s a big group setting like a happy hour, I’ll go, but I try to avoid any one-on-one time with her. I never initiate any sort of contact with her and I don’t do anything (at least in my mind) that would give her the impression that I like her and want to develop a deeper friendship with her. Is it wrong to completely ignore her or make excuses to avoid her until she gets the hint and stops contacting me?

Sincerely,

I Don’t Want To Be Your Friend

Poor Chris Birillo. He never saw it coming.

Poor Chris Pirillo. He never saw it coming.

Dear IDWTBYF,

If only unfriending an annoying person in real life were as simple as it is on Facebook: just click “Remove friend” and you’re done.  Easy. Painless. Quick. But IRL, as the kids say, things are more complicated. There’s no easy unfriend option, and simply ignoring the negative Nelly in your life might not actually rid you of her.  I think the success of your ignore and wait strategy with Nelly will depend on two things: 1) the likelihood of your running into her while you’re out and about, and 2) your ability to persevere in the face of her continued friendship overtures.

You didn’t say whether or not Nelly and you run in the same social circles or whether your only connection to her was through your friend who moved away.  If it’s the latter, then simply not answering her emails, or replying with a curt but polite brush-off (e.g., “I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid my dance card is full for the foreseeable future!”) might do the trick.  Even though it sounds from your letter that Nelly is not the most adept at social cues, there’s not much she can do in the face of your unresponsiveness.

On the other hand, if you and Nelly are apt to run into each other frequently, you need to be more direct.  Let’s say you’re at your local watering hole having a beer with friends and Nelly saunters up and asks if you got her last six emails and if you’re free for drinks next week.  Be polite but firm.  Say something like, “Thank you so much for the offer, but I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.”  You don’t need to give her a reason or an excuse. All you owe her is courtesy (which is more than she has shown you in the past, apparently).

The second important leg of a successful avoidance strategy is the ability to resist the urge to answer her repeated emails, texts, and calls to make excuses for yourself.  Women are socialized to be polite and to think of others’ feelings, which can be wonderful in many contexts, but which can also bring up unnecessary feelings of guilt and anxiety when trying to avoid or get rid of someone who is a drain on your positive energy.  It may be tempting to want to give Nelly a list of reasons why you can’t hang out with her, but it’s simpler (and more honest) to just say you can’t make it and thank her for the invite.  Eventually she’ll get the hint.

Your letter begs the question of why someone who makes snarky, passive aggressive remarks to you would be so eager to hang out one-on-one, but I suspect it’s because Nelly doesn’t have a lot of friends.  She has probably alienated many potential pals with her nastiness and is now struggling to find people to hang out with, which is actually quite sad, if you think about it.  However, life is short, and my advice is to limit or cut out contact with people who make your life worse.  If you’re feeling charitable and/or masochistic and want to give Nelly another chance, feel free, but keep your expectations realistic.  It might take some tough love for Nelly to change her tune.

Good luck!

Yours, Steph

Please send your burning etiquette/life questions to stephanie [dot] early [dot] green [at] gmail [dot] com.

Sound Advice Thursday: The Instagram Addict’s Lover

Happy Thursday everyone! I’m introducing an exciting new feature to my blog. To compliment Book Review Tuesdays, I’ll now be offering Sound Advice Thursdays, in which all of your burning questions on manners, relationships, and other human interactions will be decisively answered, or at the very least, guessed at. Please send questions to stephanie.early.green@gmail.com with subject line Advice.

I'm listening.

I’m listening.

Dear Steph:

I spend most of my free time with my boyfriend, whom I adore. The problem is that we have radically different views on what’s an appropriate amount for him to use his iPhone camera when we’re together. While I would rather that we take in our life as it comes and create genuine memories – like, in our minds – he would prefer to record every second of every day by taking photos with his iPhone. I understand that this is a decision he’s made on how he wants to live his life, but it’s not the way I want to live my life and it leads to a lot of conflict.

My main issues with his constant photo-journaling are: 1) I don’t like to be photographed all the time, 2) I don’t like taking pictures in front of people, and 3) I don’t want to have my own ability to process experiences determined by him in that way. But he’s addicted to taking photos and then posting them on social-media sites for his friends to enjoy. What do you suggest?

Sincerely,
Living with a Paparazzo

Dear LWAP,

I must confess that I, like your darling boyfriend, am a digital shutterbug. I whip out my iPhone and take Instagram photos in line at the grocery store or while having a romantic dinner with my husband. So perhaps I am not the most objective person to offer advice on this particular issue. But maybe I can give you a window into the psyche of the compulsive photo-taker. People like your boyfriend and me like to take photos partly to maintain a visual record of our lives so that we won’t forget our experiences, but also partly to demonstrate to others what we’re up to. It’s not easy to admit, but some of the allure of posting photos on certain social media sites (which shall remain nameless) is to show off. There, I said it.

But in order to scratch the twin itches of recording memories for posterity and showing off, one or two photos at each event, activity, or place should suffice even for the avid iPhone photographer. There’s no need to live behind the lens of the camera unless you’re being paid for it, I say.

I think a compromise can be reached here. Tell your boyfriend that while you think he’s a fabulous photographer, the Instagram equivalent of Ansel Adams, you wish he’d confine himself to one or two photos at each activity or event in your lives. Explain that you don’t want your picture taken often and don’t enjoy posing in front of other people. Request that after he’s captured the moment, then the camera should be put away so that you two can enjoy your time together, sans technology. Explain that while you don’t want to ban his photographic efforts entirely, you enjoy his company more when he’s not squinting at you from behind an iPhone. As a cautionary tale, you might also show him this video, which demonstrates the perils of Instagram obsession.

However, as for your not wanting your memories and experiences to be shaped by his photos, you, my dear, are in control of that. If his photographic portfolio warps your memories, simply don’t look at it, or else record the memories in your own way, by keeping a journal, for example.

Yours, Steph