Sunday, November 7, 2010

"I can't believe you don't shut up!"

The title of this post is one of my favorite Simpsons quotes ever from Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and one that frequently goes through my head, as, no doubt, it does for so many other people.

The other night I was at a gathering with some friends and acquaintances, and there came a moment when that phrase went SCREAMING through my head. I ended up sitting by Doug (name has, of course, been changed) because I got there late and these things happen to me. I've given this man the benefit of the doubt in the past because he's been through a tough time recently. I understand that and have been willing to find a way to talk with him and disguise or suppress my irritation with his personality enough to listen when he needs to talk. I do try my best, but I wanted to throw something at him most of the night. As I walked into my house, I said aloud, "thank GOODNESS that wasn't a date. I'd never go out with him again after that." Oh, it was awful.

Now, I don't mind if people are better at something than me. That happens. What bothers me is when people have to top everyone else in the room. I have played my share of oneupsmanship, much to my chagrin, but I do my best to avoid it myself (I have made vast improvements because I don't want to turn into a Diane or a Doug), and dislike that streak in others. Especially when they have to be better at EVERYTHING I do, especially when I've put years, sometimes decades, into developing a talent or learning a skill. I appreciate different viewpoints, too. I find them valuable and enjoy good conversation where both parties learn something. I've learned that I don't know as much as I think I do and I enjoy a challenge and a different perspective. There are very few cases in which I insist on being totally right, and they are usually cases in which I AM totally right because I have done the research and study and paid my dues. However, I really try to be kind and sensitive instead of defensive and combative (that's a lot of "ives") and I find that people actually want to talk to me and value my opinion if I value theirs! I also find that I don't have to speak loudly to whomever happens to be within earshot in order to be heard or liked.

Read that paragraph again, and imagine being stuck at a table next to someone who does all the bad things. ALL of them. Not to mention being a sloppy eater and having a seeming disregard for personal hygiene habits like shaving* or trimming his fingernails. At one point, even though the people around him were in different conversations and not talking to him anymore, he kept talking, just waiting for someone to come close to making eye contact. It was so hard to smile and be polite when all I wanted to do was say "hey, you're not that smart. You don't know as much as you think you do. You've never done military service/craft/job/education and no one really appreciates an armchair coach. Knock it off." I don't know if I should be proud of it, but I did manage to get a subtle dig in when I mentioned (in the course of a conversation with much pleasanter people) how my degree taught me that I don't know as much as I think I do and that other people's viewpoints and experiences are just as valuable as mine even if I can't relate.

Let this be a lesson: If you are constantly trying to prove how much better you are than others, if you can't accept someone else's opinion for what it is, if you dismiss someone's education and training, if you talk just to hear yourself use your AP English vocabulary words from 20 years ago, if you can't bear the thought that someone might just be better than you at something, and if you can't be bothered with social niceties like not interrupting, it's time to take a good, hard look at yourself (man OR woman!) and figure out why no one wants to date you. And then, just maybe, be willing to change if change is needed. I mean, sure, maybe there's someone out there who will jump you if you're like that, but there are no guarantees and if it hasn't happened yet, it's not likely to. Get over yourself and learn to maneuver in society with a little more grace and courtesy.

*I don't mind facial hair or stubble, but when a man admits that he's too lazy to shave more than once a week, I have a problem with that. Especially when such a man would be grossed out by the mere suggestion of stubble on a woman's ankles or, heaven forbid! her underarms. Doug seems like that kind of guy and it makes me want to scream. Long fingernails on a man quite literally nauseate me, even though I understand that classical guitarists and the like need to keep them longish in order to play their instruments. Growing them out to be weird or because you're plain lazy is NOT attractive in any way.