When it comes to social niceties, I wouldn’t put myself up there with Miss Manners. (Where in the world is she, by the way…and is she feeling hopelessly redundant these days?). But, even when it requires effort and feels really tedious, I can behave as I’m expected to “in polite society” – at least for an acceptable amount of time. It’s not that I want to be disrespectful – definitely not mean – it’s just that certain social conventions seem so silly: like we’re doing things according to some script, and not because anyone really wants to do ‘the thing’.
Cases in point: I will never say, “Oh, that’s ok” if it really isn’t. I’ll never invite you to lunch if I don’t ever intend to have lunch with you. If I’m not ‘feeling it’, but you press to get my phone number, I’m going to send immediate signals that’ll be very hard for you to misinterpret.
On my recent overseas trip I met another traveler who telegraphed romantic interest right away. I enjoyed our conversations in the moment, but when he asked if I might like to visit him in New York, well…
There’s a social convention that I find totally mystifying. I don’t know if it’s a lack of authenticity, Extreme Manners, or just a discomfort with self-expression. Here’s one scenario: I run into a friend I haven’t seen in a long, long time. We were never very close – never shared personal information, family updates, etc. When we meet, we hug and smile and briefly catch up. When we’re about to part company – there it is: “We should get together for lunch or a drink sometime!” So we exchange phone numbers, pretty sure that neither of us is going to call or text the other. (Sometimes we do, but mostly we don’t.) Why is this?
For busy people – jobs, family, our hobbies, or just being happy hermits — we’re all engaged in what I used to call ‘sifting’, but now realize is actually Swiping. Who has access to us begins with our close-personals: spouses, kids, genuine friends; sometimes co-workers.
Working outward from our Inner Circle, we begin sifting / swiping our Connections. After all, we only have a finite amount of time, energy, compassion, interest, (I call it mental file space) to entertain the thought of more Person-able responsibility. Which means more conversation; more sharing; perhaps more obligations. Most of us have to guard against becoming overloaded. Makes sense. Add to this a delicate Truth: we all know the person who ‘means well’, or has ‘a good heart’, but who is a human Black Hole, demanding more time and energy than we can muster or give.
So, as we all go about our lives, conventional behavior dictates that we also go through the motions of “let’s try to get together’, or, “I’ll call you”, even though we know there’s never going to be any follow through. But what’s the polite alternative? Pretty rough to say, “I’ve enjoyed seeing you again but – sorry – I’ve gotta Swipe Left.” I don’t know…is this actually worse than committing to a call or a text, with no intention of doing either?
The fellow traveler suggested that I plan to visit him ( in NYC) – a gutsy leap, considering our short and superficial chats, so, ‘points’ for assertiveness. Still, I did not, could not say, “Sure, that sounds great.” Because it didn’t. (The ‘chemistry’s’ there, or it isn’t). So, I just smiled and pointed to an enormous stork nest atop a minaret, in Morocco – with a stork perched in it. The New Yorker clocked my stork-distraction as a ruse to get out of answering his invitation, and the moment passed.
I did feel a little bad that I couldn’t respond more favorably to New York, but proud that I didn’t say that I would come – or, even worse – create a plan to go without feeling a genuine interest in the man.
At the end of the day, these kinds of things can weigh heavy on my mind, causing me to scrutinize my own authenticity. I don’t ever want to intentionally mislead anyone, or be hypocritical. So yes: I’m going to Swipe My Life, hoping that that the other person can somehow appreciate this as a kindness. I doubt that Miss Manners would approve, but my own conscience does, and that’s what matters most.