Hubs was up through the wee hours writing a paper. He finally went to bed a while before noon, saying as he passed, “Read it if you want to. And if you want to change the ending, by all means. I was rushed.”
I understood him to mean that he wanted me to look at it, perhaps edit it, despite his phrasing making it sound voluntary. I do this so much it’s usually automatic. This mode of speech is common and I figure it’s a politeness thing. Nobody wants to look like they’re demanding things of people.
I do it myself. I might say to the 12-year-old, “Why don’t you go ahead and pick up your room?”
This is a mistake.
She has learned not to answer my question, because it’s not a question. I didn’t even think about the phrasing until one day she replied, “Because I don’t feel like it right now.” Tweens somehow revert to toddler-level literalism and only half of it is a joke.
It’s frustrating because, when not trying to be gentle, I am the kind of person who does just ask people for things sometimes. I find myself agonizing over phrasing and tone, trying to zero in on the key to the conversation that I want.
When I ask if someone would mind doing something, I really want to know if it’s a problem. I hate asking “How are you?” when I don’t care. It’s not so difficult to actually speak to people and only about 20 percent of the ones I meet have any concept of this. The others are living a script and get annoyed when you don’t say your lines. Or they just don’t respond at all.
I explained to both of the girls yesterday that if you expect someone to argue with you, you will approach them more aggressively than you mean to. They will feel attacked and probably argue with you to defend themselves. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes they do this to each other all day.
It reminds me of uptalk, which can be terribly annoying but I read somewhere that it has a social subtext of requesting agreement. Like people who say “Ya know?” at the end of every sentence. Isn’t my agreement assumed unless I say otherwise? Things like this say a lot about the worldview of the speaker.
Writing is simpler. We all know what a badly worded text can do without the tone to convey the intended meaning. But tight phrasing fixes most of that and no one can accuse you of saying anything else.
My favorite thing lately is when people respond to what they expect you to say instead of what you said. I often choose my words carefully when I talk, too, and I know what I just said. “I don’t really want to watch that” meaning ‘I have no desire to’ becomes I will be upset with you if we watch that.
“I don’t really like Chinese food” becomes I don’t ever want to eat or even see Chinese food.
“I’m used to not getting what I want,” meaning ‘I am accustomed to deferring to others’ becomes I never get what I want!, a petulant play for sympathy.
“Don’t do that” becomes You are bad for doing that.
I don’t know if we’re all just overly insecure but the girls are definitely the worst for it. It can make you feel crazy because you tossed a ball and they caught a grenade. It contributes a lot to my needing time off from people. How many moves ahead do I need to be? And how much is too much before you’re second-guessing yourself to death?
And they say women are difficult to read.
Clarity is very important to me. As you can see, I spend a lot of time trying for it. But when the point of view of your audience is both integral and unknowable, there are days it seems like a fantasy.
Who needs unicorns or vampires? I just want a conversation that doesn’t need expert analysis.