Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Editing the script

I love it most when advice columnists get very specific and tell you exactly what to do or say. Vague advice is less interesting and less useful, and it's also less easy to nitpick!

Meredith Goldstein from Love Letters occasionally gives LWs a specific line or script for a dating situation. Recently, Ashley and I critiqued two of these.

(Note: in both of these, I edited the letters heavily for space, but if you follow the links you can see the (less-)edited version. Both the LWs express their personalities very vividly in writing.)

From April 8, She's a Stage 5 Clinger:
I'm considered a pretty nice person, which at times is not good. Yes, I have gotten the whole "You're too nice" malarkey several times. And no, this is not one of those "waaahhh I'm too nice, I hate my life waaaahh" stories. No, I'm not like that I, I don't play that card, I find it pathetic. But every once in a while I wish I could be more of a jerk.

...[A] couple weeks ago, I hooked up with this girl and she stayed over. Sweet, right? Wrong. I've known this person for a long time and had a sense that she liked me but I wanted no part of her beyond what we were doing that night and made that explicitly clear. Before anything physical began I reviewed the ground rules (this is what it is and not anything more, I don't want you calling me all the time, I will not visit you, I do not feel for you romantically, this is just a hook up etc etc). And now I am being mercilessly bombarded with numerous daily texts, phone calls, Facebook chat messages and wall posts, she's friended my friends ... I hate when my cell phone buzzes. Seriously it's NON STOP. I've reminded her of my pre-bedroom riot act speech but nothing changed. Currently I'm ignoring her and it’s not working... She is a STAGE FIVE CLINGER.

...I have never had to resort to being a jerk to get rid of someone and I really do not want start now. I feel like that might be my only resort unless you can figure out an alternative.
Meredith responds,
Feel free to cut this next paragraph and email it to your clinger.

Dear [insert clinger's name here],
This is a difficult email to write. I'm concerned about our friendship. I allowed our relationship to become physical a few weeks ago and it was probably a mistake. I've been noticing that you're contacting me a lot more often than you used to, and while I think that you're pretty great, I just can't be the friend/partner you're looking for. I'm starting to feel guilty when I don't pick up the phone, and when I do pick up the phone, I afraid that it means more than it should. I think that we should take some space to figure out how to make our relationship more like it used to be. I care about you and don't want to hurt you. But I also want to be honest and make it clear that I was happy with what we had before we crossed a line. I hope you understand. For now, let's keep our distance.
[your name here]

That answer falls somewhere between passive and jerky and makes it possible for you to block her on Facebook and to ignore her calls without feeling as though you're disappearing without explanation. Just be clear about what you need -- and do it respectfully. It's called being empathetic and assertive. You're capable.

Lulu: Well I mean it's kind of tangential point, but I don't understand this guy's definition of "too nice."

Ashley: It's a common misunderstanding of "nice", avoiding someone because you don't want to hurt their feelings or whatnot.

Lulu: Yeah, that's sort of what it seems like now, he's being indirect or conflict avoiding because he thinks that's nice, but before the hookup, it seemed like he valued directness over tact, what with the lengths he says he went to to assure her it wasn't anything more than a hookup. I just can't form a consistent code of ethics out of what he says.

Anyway, it doesn't matter, because the solution is the same. He has to be direct with her now. I see NO WAY in which Meredith's letter is "somewhere between passive and jerky." It's waaaay too nice. It's mixed messages, and there are so many compliments that she'll just read it as a love letter.

I don't think it's mean, or jerky, to say what you mean in direct language, especially when hints or softer language have proved useless. Being mean would be calling her a dumb bitch, which is what he's going to snap and do if he keeps trying to be nice and she keeps not getting the point.

Ashley: Yeah, I'd just break up with her. Even though he said blah blah etc., clearly she thinks they're together. "I'm sorry, I can't do this anymore. I'm seeing other people, please stop contacting me."

From March 29, "Dating While Dry":
This past year I was diagnosed with epilepsy and my days of enjoying cocktails at the bars of Back Bay are, much to my 27-year-old chagrin, currently shelved alongside my dating books. One of those very books on that shelf says that dating at this age without adult beverages is virtually impossible, and I can assure you that is a fact. I recently went on a first date and couldn't have my patented first date glass (or 3) of wine.

The date went surprisingly well and at 2 a.m. it was time to go home. Thank god, because Cute Boy was clearly digging this Back Bay blonde and I wanted to ride the wave to date number two. Here's where it got awkward. Ugh. He made a comment about me not drinking. "So I need to ask you, are you always dry?" The question was fine. I mean, it is weird when people don't drink and you don't know why.... [but] it kind of ruined the moment. He ended up saying, "Maybe I'll see you around Back Bay this weekend." (Awesome, Cute Boy. See you at Shaws. I'll be in the H20 aisle.)....

So what should I do Meredith? Stalk AA Meetings? Fake Drink?
Meredith assures the LW she can still date without drinking, and advises her on how to answer the "Why?" question, which I agree is her real problem.
There are ways to answer the booze question without getting into specifics. You can try, "I'm on meds that don't mesh well with booze." Or, "I'm a vodka-tonic girl, but only on special occasions." There's also the good old, "I can't drink much because of a health condition. But I make a fantastic designated driver." You don't have to get into the whole epilepsy thing, but you do have to come up with some sort of answer. And as long as you're easygoing about that answer, it'll be OK.

Lulu: I'm here to tell you that dating without drinking is possible. I think I've had a drink on maybe 1% of my first dates.

Ashley: It's harder, in the same way as having any restriction is harder than not. And how you frame it matters. Take vegetarians as an example. I would have no problem going to a bakery or something for a first date, if they didn't tell me they were vegetarian. If they did, i'd be automatically thinking of things we can't do instead of things we can. When you focus on things you can't do, it makes the person less appealing.

Lulu: Yeah, I agree, it's about context. If you plan a date at a barbecue place, the fact you're vegetarian will come up, and it will make you look repressed and inflexible with your sad salad. If you go to a bar then not drinking looks weird. Maybe she should plan a first date at a coffee place.

Ashley: Okay, I've read it now. So, it's not exactly that she's telling people ahead of time, which was my concern; it's that when they ask, she doesn't have a response. In her situation, I think it's fine to say "I have epilepsy."

Lulu: Yeah, I don't see why she can't tell it like she did at the beginning of letter. "I have epilepsy, so I can't drink." I didn't know that was a thing, but a guy will figure it out from context, like I did reading the letter.

Ashley: It's not like it's a stigmatized disease or anything. I think "health condition" makes it sound way worse than it is.

Lulu: Ditto "meds."

Ashley: Yes. Meds is bad. Makes you sound like you have schizophrenia. (You shouldn't drink on those meds either.)

Lulu: Even 'medication' isn't great.

Ashley: (What should schizophrenics say??)

Lulu: I have epilepsy.


  1. You really pegged this whole "too nice" thing. He needs to revolutionize his understanding of niceness. Some people abuse ideas about niceness, maybe without even totally realizing it.

    Like they make their feelings your responsibility or fault. Look at my tears! You must not be being nice! False. I am being regular. You are being crazy.

    On the other hand, the other way to abuse ideas about niceness is when you don't want to have an uncomfortable conversation with someone, so you claim the moral high ground. Protecting their feelings, rah rah. Again, false. You just don't want to have to make a girl cry. It will jeopardize your self-image and ruin your Sunday afternoon.

    "You're too nice" really means "You are using nice in a way that is not actually nice."

  2. The fact that "nice guy" went to such lengths to detail what he saw as the specifics of their post-hookup relationship before p-ing her v tells me that he probably understood exactly what kind of girl he was sticking it to. I'm not sure it qualifies as being the nicest guy ever if you attempt to have casual sex with girls you know to be crazy clingers.

    The real problem here is probably that he doesn't want to have his nice-guy reputation ruined, as it allows him to do things like play Wonderwall at emotional cripples until they blow him.

    Own the fact that you are a bad person and tell her to go fuck. Chicks dig that too, right?

    Letter Numero Dos - The biggest deal with the no drinking thing is that she is hung up on it. Unsurprising, as she owns books on how to date in your late-twenties. Once she gets used to her new status and sobriety and can answer the inevitable question about it casually, it will go away entirely.

    That being said, since she can't drink anymore she might as well just go die.