Aliens can land, robots can love, but...never does a movie feel more false than when people actually say what they should—in eloquent, witty, exactly right ways. In real life, a friend confesses to self-doubt or depression or deep debt or a desire to get Botox and you say, "Oh! Uh..." So you sit there, order another cappuccino (or margarita), and it’s only hours later that you realize how you could have made your friend feel better. But you were there, syntactically challenged though you may have been, and that counts. And now that you’ve had your belated conversational epiphany, well, that’s why God or Al Gore or whoever invented email.
There he is on CNN's homepage, looking very young (because he is very young)— the guy who just made many millions of dollars in some techie twist of fate and then retired at age 27. Meanwhile you're deferring your student loans and eating ramen every night. But guess what? You'll have time to be retired when you're, you know, retirement age. Sure, it would be pretty sweet to live your entire adult life as a millionaire without ever working again but...wouldn’t you get bored? No? Well, at least think of all the taxes! And anyway, ramen can be delicious when you're sharing it with your beloved also-non-millionaire friends.
So let’s just say maybe this has happened: The jar of Nutella was emptied, circa 3 a.m. No attempt was made to honor its role as a spread; no, this crime of calorie consumption was committed with a spoon. A big spoon. And this was after a virtuous day of green juices, flax seeds and the spin class with the psychopath teacher. Might as well just spend the next week camped out inside a birthday cake, right? Well, no, actually. The nocturnal diet setback is only a catastrophe if you let it be. Start fresh the next day—now that Nutella isn’t there to tempt you.
A One-Act Play, Preferably Never to Be Performed:
You: "Are you mad at me?"
Friend/Colleague/Spouse: "No, of course not."
You: "Are you sure? I would understand if you were mad at me."
F/C/S: "It’s really okay. I’m not mad."
You: "I feel like you’re mad. You seem kind of mad."
F/C/S: "Actually, I am starting to feel a bit peeved."
You: "I knew it! I knew you were mad at me!"
F/C/S: "I mean, I wasn’t, though, until you—"
You: "Why are you so mad at me?!"
F/C/S: "This is exhausting."
You: "Stop being so mad at me!"
F/C/S: "Uh, I have a thing...I gotta go.
This is not to suggest that in the Baldwin-scale of siblings, you’re necessarily a Stephen or a Daniel. You may be a Billy, and it is perfectly okay to be a Billy. But siblings are different people, and there is no use in spending a lifetime mulling over why your oldest brother is the handsomest, or the one with the book smarts or, like, the best actor. So your sister got the talent for piano playing and the superstraight hair and the photographic memory. Think of it this way: That awesome person is your sibling! And just be thankful you’re both grown-ups, which means you don't have to hear from any more high school teachers "Oh, I had your brother/sister...what a hard act to follow!" (Thanks, Mrs. Viska. We’re well aware of that.)
Oops. Your Modcloth trigger finger did it again, purchasing (with a not-very-well-thought-out click) a pair of flats that may or may not fit. Or you realize that "professional development course" you took amounted to 10 hours of paid chitchat, like a really boring escort service. Buyer’s remorse inflicts a special breed of pain—with it comes the shame of having not controlled yourself. But here’s the thing: The money’s gone. It’s spent. Think of how that verb—spent!—also means dead, and move on. Should they fit, enjoy the flats. Or else, pass them along to a shoe-challenged friend and transform a fit of buyer’s remorse into a moment of largesse.
Friends and family have gathered over the fondue pot and everyone’s having a wonderful time, and then you say, a little too loudly, "Well, obviously all people who work in finance are crooks!" only remembering an instant later that the host's mother once worked at Lehman...Cue the record-screech silence. You have caused an awkward moment, yes, and if it’s something you feel strongly about, of course, mention it. If it's possible you might be wrong (halloo, Warren Buffet!), then quickly admit your mistake and ask somebody to pass the wine.
It’s hard for most women to ask for help
—we’re so used to saying "No, no, I got it, I’m fine!" while pushing a door open, holding a leash attached to a spasming dog and balancing a totem pole of packages, that most of us forget that even asking for help is an option. Then comes the day when you swallow your pride, screw up your courage and do it: You ask the favor. A furtive voicemail message: Could you possibly watch the kids? A tentative text: Any way we could switch shifts? In response, a parade is thrown to celebrate the brave way you’ve embraced vulnerability. No, not really. Really, there is only the longest, loudest silence of all times. People will act as if all their communication devices have fallen into the same enormous toilet, and that is how you’ll know they are telling you no. Stop checking for responses. Stop telling yourself it’s not fair. But don't stop asking for help—just try someone else.
It’s always disconcerting when a friend holds up a neon orange polyester muumuu that makes your blood curdle and exclaims, "This is so you!" How could that awful dress be so you? Or a coworker says, "He’s a procrastinator, like you" —when you’ve always thought of your aversion to deadlines as perfectionism and not procrastination at all. When someone makes an offhand comment characterizing you in an unflattering way, and you realize they might be right, you have two choices: You can take the muumuu, or you can pick up the appealing dress next to it and try that one on for size. But what you cannot do is chew over the comment endlessly. That is so not you.
There is a tiny, terrible moment of satisfaction in being rude to a stranger. Sure, why not? Strangers will never have to be held accountable for ruining your day—not the woman who was so nasty in the grocery store line that you almost wept into your arugula, not the driver of the luxury sports car who cut you off, gave you the finger and set your heart racing nervously for next hour. No matter how many times you go over in your head how wrong this stranger was, it’s not like you can convince a person to retract their rudeness. Chances are, they don’t even remember the slight that spun you off course. So stop delivering zingers to the windshield on the drive home, and the next time a waiter scowls at your order, or a huffy man lets a door slam in your face, you remember your Plato: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Next: The one sentence you need to know to decide anything
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