Some Thoughts On Talking About People

It’s a pretty known thing that gossip is rude, but that doesn’t really matter, because we all do it. It’s rude but often it’s catharsis, and even if you love the person you’re talking about, sometimes you need a safe space to ask why are they like that? or omg I’ve noticed that too. But when does discussing the particularities of our friends and colleagues turn into something hurtful?

There’s that explicit rule of if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. As you’ve probably learned, that doesn’t really work IRL. There’s also more of an unspoken rule that if you wouldn’t say something to the person in question’s face, don’t say it behind their back. That’s certainly a better rule to follow, but still tricky, since maybe you don’t think that you’re saying will cause hurt feelings, but to the other person it does.

I find that I’m very attracted to gossip. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me. I’m curious about everyone’s business because I just want to know what’s going on in the world (and maybe I suffer from FOMO). I’ve been trying to stick to that latter rule by not just saying things that’d I’d only say to someone’s face, but also assessing why I would or wouldn’t say something to their face.

I’ve also been wrestling with what to do when people around me are gossiping or trash talking and I don’t want to participate. To be fair, there’s a bit of a spectrum, with “neutrally discussing someone” on one end and full on trash talking on the other, but what to do when I find myself in a situation when people are saying mean things about someone. Firstly, I try to see if the things they’re saying are true, because it’s rude to stand by while lies spread. If they are true, I see if the tone is actually mean, or if I’m just a sensitive baby who doesn’t like anyone using anything but the most loving tone toward my friends/acquaintances/someone I heard a nice thing about once.

I’d like to say that if someone’s being needlessly mean, I stand up to them, but usually I don’t. I get nervous and quiet and try to change the subject. This is not really advice. But my journey into gossip has left me with one tip: be aware of who is around you. People may have different relationships to the person you’re talking about. People may not know if what you’re saying comes from a place of love and understanding. Create context for your criticisms so they don’t seem like needless bashing, and accept that even if you have negative thoughts about someone, someone else may have a lovely relationship with them.

Or just hide and a cave and don’t talk about anyone, whatever.

Is It Okay to Attend an Acquaintance’s Burlesque Show?

I saw Burlesque in theaters and definitely wanted it to be better.

I saw Burlesque in theaters and definitely wanted it to be better.

Hiya,

I have friends from high school, etc. who are now burlesque artists. We only see each occasionally, but I like supporting their careers with likes on Facebook. However, what is the etiquette on seeing their shows? Is it weird to have people you know in real life attend your burlesque?  I don’t know if you two know, but I trust you both to have a thoughtful answer.

Many thanks,
Don’t Want to be Weird

Victoria: Okay, so I don’t think it’s a big deal to go and see the shows.

Jaya: No. The whole point of public performance is, you know, public. But it may be different depending on whether the LW was invited to the show, or just saw it on Facebook.

Victoria: Yeah, that’s true. Being specifically invited is more welcoming. If you just see it, go once and see how the person reacts.

Jaya; Even if it’s one of those mass invites where you send it to all of your Facebook friends

Victoria: Yes, I think that signals that they don’t care who comes and are welcoming everyone.

Jaya: Yeah, and it makes it seem like LW it as least at an acquaintance level with the burlesque folks. I think it’s weirder if you haven’t talked to someone in 10 years and show up like “I saw this on FB”

Victoria: Hahah yeah, unless they are like, omg I just moved to town and I thought it would be great to see you again. Although, I suppose you could ask them to get coffee with you too. I’ve gone to plays and stuff for people I haven’t seen in a thousand years and it can be a nice way to meet up again. Just don’t monopolize their time at the event.

Jaya: Definitely, and I think some standard burlesque etiquette applies here–don’t objectify anyone, don’t make weird comments about their bodies or sex lives, etc.

Victoria: Yeah, and I would give the caveat that it’s going to be a lot weirder for a man you haven’t seen in ages to come to a random burlesque show than a women.

Jaya: Absolutely, if you’re a single man coming to a female FB friend’s burlesque show, consider bringing a woman along. And you know, doing your part to dismantle the patriarchy so women don’t have to be concerned about a single man’s presence in the first place.

Wedding +1s Can Be Kinda Awkward!

plusone

All the plus ones

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I have a two part question about plus one’s at a wedding. 1) Can you bring a platonic +1 to a wedding? 2) Can you bring someone as your +1 who the bride and groom are friends with but didn’t invite to the wedding?

Sincerely,

Lonely Wedding Guest

Official Etiquette:

Couples should never issue a plus one as “Your Name +1”. It leads to exactly these type of situations. Instead, the couple should call up their single guest and inquire if there is anyone in particular they would like to bring to the wedding. Then they should issue the invitation as “Your Name and Your Guest’s Name.”

Our Take:

Victoria: Ooooh that’s a tricky one. I think a platonic +1 is fine. Although it does seem like a lot of people think you should only bring a “date” and like, bringing your mom would be weird.

Jaya: Yeah, the whole point is it’s up to the guest to decide. People should get over the “date” thing. Unless there’s a name on the invite, if it just says +1 you’re leaving it up to them to decide.

Victoria: Yeah, I mean that’s why you shouldn’t give a generic +1, you should ask if there is anyone they would like to bring to the wedding and then send an invitation with their name.

Jaya: Yeah, you can’t just assume they’ll bring their boyfriend or something. Maybe they want to bring their plumber.

Victoria: Although, I suppose then you put yourself in an awkward situation if they say, yes, I want to bring my mom and you’re like errr. And to the second part, I think it way trickier, because it can kind of feel like, okay, the bride and groom made a decision not to invite this person, and now I’m going to sneak them in with my +1. It’s way weird.

Jaya: Absolutely, and you never really know what the thing is. Like maybe they just ran out of room and are really upset they couldn’t invite this person, and are going to be super excited that they can do it. Or maybe it was for a reason and they wanted to send a clear message and now that’s messed up.

Victoria: Yeah, I do think if you are going to do something like that, you should run it by the bride and groom first. Be like, “I know you didn’t invite [NAME[ but I’d like to bring him as my plus one, but of course I understand if you would rather I pick someone else.” Although, you are still putting the couple on the spot. And if they don’t want to explain why they didn’t invite the person, then they are going to be really uncomfortable.

Jaya: Yeah, but like, as the couple you’re gonna have to deal with that. That’s what you get for +1s.

Victoria: Haha yeah, +1s are a weird thing anyway. Like it assumes that grown adults can’t be in public without a romantic “date.” Like it kind of reminds me of when my parents were young and like, you HAD to take a date to everything so you would scrounge up whoever was available. For me, people should only really do +1s for guests who are not going to know anyone at the wedding but the one or both members of the couple. (Definitely check to find out if anyone is in a relationship you didn’t know about though!)

Jaya: Yeah! It really is a relic. And I think people think they’re being nice by including a +1 but so often it can just be a source of stress. Either you feel like now you have to find a date or it’s like, the person you are dating isn’t considered seriously enough to get invited on their own.

Victoria: Yeah! The pressure to find a date is crazy. Like, why would I want to hang out with someone I’m going to have to entertain rather than just hang out with all the friends I have who are already at the wedding? And there’s nothing more annoying than that friend who you never get to see who brings a date to the wedding and spends the whole time with the date instead of catching up with everyone. I mean, choose your choices, but still.

Jaya: Yesssss, like, now you gotta make sure this person is having a good time, and you feel like a babysitter.

Victoria: Yep, just go and be freeeee. not to mention what if your date gets drunk and obnoxious?!?!

Jaya: Omgggggg, and you’re that person who brought that asshole.

Victoria: I brought a relative stranger to a sorority formal once and he got drunk and obnoxious and I almost DIED of embarrassment. That was freshman year and I never brought a date-date again. You were my date one year and you were a lovely date!

Jaya: I feel like I’m a pretty chill date.

How To Comfort Someone

Snuggies can help

Snuggies can help

It is a truth universally acknowledged that shitty things happen to good people for no reason. We’ve already addressed how to comfort someone when they’re dealing with the death of a loved one, but unfortunately that’s far from the only bad thing that can happen to someone you care about. So how can you best comfort them in these times?

Firstly, make sure you keep the focus on them. Ask if they’re okay and ask what they need, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or someone to make them dinner or to be left alone for a while. It’s really tempting to bring up your own personal thoughts or experiences like you would in other conversations, but you should save those for later, otherwise it comes off as trying to use their trauma to talk about yourself. You don’t want your friend to have to deal with your worries on top of theirs.

As things progress, you should be able to offer advice that comes from personal experience (if applicable), but avoid telling your friend what they should or should not do unless they need to step away from some clearly harmful behavior. Everyone reacts in their own way to traumatic situations. For instance, if your friend is going through a breakup, don’t tell them to get out and start dating immediately even if that worked well for you in the past. But if they ask how you’ve dealt with breakups, mention it, and continue supporting their decisions whether they match yours or not.

I’ve found “being there for someone” is actually incredibly difficult. I’m the type of person prone to wanting to fix things, and give solutions and advice. I mean, hello, you’re reading my etiquette advice right now. But not all people need their problems biggest solved immediately. Sometimes they’re only ready for smaller problems to be solved, or just to mourn a situation before they go about solving it. Pay attention to that, and offer your presence in smaller ways, whether it’s offering to see a movie or help them sell some furniture on Craigslist.

Importantly, avoid “I told you so” and all other iterations of this phrase. Even if you’ve been telling this friend for years that their boyfriend sucks/their roommate is crazy/they need to pay attention at work or they’ll get fired, reminding them of this will only make them feel worse. And if you’re the type of person for whom being right matters more than that, examine yourself. You may have been right all along, but sometimes people need to discover things in their own ways, otherwise they won’t learn the lessons well enough. Focus on helping your friends grow so they don’t make similar mistakes in the future, rather than pointing out all the things they already got wrong.

Breaking up is hard to do- even among friends

If all else fails, hit them with a stick.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I was friends with a person for a while, and during that time the person did not respect boundaries I tried to set clearly and added a lot of unnecessary drama to my life. At one point the person and I had an argument resulting in the person calling me a very offensive insult, and I told the person that the relationship was over and the insult was unforgivable to me. I thought this was a clear “break up.” Unfortunately the person did not interpret it as such and continues to invite me to events, seek me out at my workplace, ask other friends about me, etc.
What is the best way to explain I prefer no continued contact with this person without explicitly telling him that he’s a toxic drain on me?
Thank you so much!
Sincerely,
So Over This
Official Etiquette:
Miss Manners is actually a huge fan of the fade out, which she calls “being increasingly too busy to socialize.” But she says when the person is bothering you to the point of practically stalking, she says you have to tell the person that you are no longer interested in seeing them.
Our Take:

Jaya: This question has such perfect timing, I had just starting writing a post specifically about the friendship fade-out and I think a lot of my points will work here too.

Victoria: Hahah yes! Tell me your points.

Jaya: I have this working theory that social media totally makes it harder to gracefully  fade out of a friendship. I know you’ve made this point before, that fade outs for friends was really accepted and normal, because sometimes you just stopped being friends and it’s fine. Good lord if I had kept in touch with everyone at summer camp I thought was gonna be my BFFL there’s no way I’d even have time for a job. But now in order to stop being friends, it really takes effort. You do need to cut them out of your life in a more active way. (Also I think we could all take to heart the idea that not every friend is a forever friend, and that’s okay.)

Victoria: Yeah. I think Facebook, etc does make it feel like you are still friends because you see pretty big pieces of their life. And like, actually, I don’t think its that bad to keep up a FB connection with someone who you don’t really want to be active friends with. But obviously when you cross a line…then you have to be more proactive.

Jaya: Right. There is a difference between a Facebook friend and an IRL friend, for lack of better terms, and it’s easy to mistake the former for the latter. Social media is great for those friends you do live far away from. There are people I really liked that I probably would have faded out with if weren’t for Facebook, and I’m grateful for that. But right, then every person who sees your photos and reads the articles you post think they’re having a great personal interaction with you. That’s slightly besides the point here, where it sounds like this person is bordering on stalking.

Victoria: Hahah yeah!

Jaya: Like “seeks me out at my work place” raises HUGE red flags.

Victoria: I think in this case LW needs to say, “I am still angry and offended about our fight and you need to leave me alone.” The fight situation gives LW a good excuse that’s not making it about how toxic the person is.

Jaya: Absolutely. Sometimes people don’t get it after the first round, but keep the same message. And maybe tell your friends to do it too. Just like “I told you this relationships is over, so please stop contacting me”

Victoria: Yep yep.

Jaya: There may be a more polite way to say that but fuck it, we’re past that now.

Victoria: That’s pretty polite, you said please.

Jaya: It’s interesting to me how so much of our vocabulary about friendships is the same as romantic relationships, yet there’s this reluctance to treat them the same way. Like, in this letter, this guy does something offensive and unforgivable, and she says they can’t see each other anymore. That situation has gone down a million times in romantic relationships, and in those situations this guy would be considered a creepy ex. But here he’s just a person still trying to be friends.

Victoria: Yeah, I wonder if it’s because you CAN be kind of a casual friend but you can’t really be in a casual relationship? I mean, other than a FWB thing.

Jaya: Totally. Like, if someone said “even if we don’t talk for months, we can pick up right where we left off” about a spouse, that’d be a bad thing. So here, there was a firm “break up,” even if this person is not getting the message. And I think the letter writer just needs to repeat it until the ex-friend gets it, unfortunately. Not in detail, not “because you’re a toxic drain on my life,” but reminding him of what LW already said and standing by it. And then just blocking all email/Facebook/other contact points/

Victoria: Yep! Yeah, I think saying that he’s a toxic drain would make him defensive

Jaya: Right, that’s just inviting a conversation.

Victoria: No contact is just much easier and like, at a point, it goes beyond etiquette into safety. And safety always trumps etiquette.

Jaya: Absolutely. If he’s legitimately contacting you at work, talk to HR. Or the police. Or if you work at a “public” place like a bar, restaurant, retail, etc. makes this much more difficult. But ideally you can talk to your boss and something can be set up. Like, there’s a photo of him and everyone can recognize who it is and back you up if he comes in.

Victoria: That’s a great idea, but I mean, hopefully it doesn’t get to that point.

Jaya: I do think we can segue into the idea of the FRIENDSHIP FADEOUT that I’m clearly dying to talk about, because in most friendships, there is not a singular fight that marks an end point. Either there’s a pattern of behavior that turns you off, or you just realize you’ve grown apart and don’t feel like putting the effort in anymore.

Victoria: Yeah for sure. (I hope your wanting to talk about this so badly is not a hint =P)

Jaya: Hahaha omg are you kidding me??? Also I talk to you every day. So I’m doing a bad job if that’s my plan.

Victoria: Hahahahaha, good point.. Okay anyway, what would you like to say about fade outs?

Jaya: Basically, I’m a fan of the fade out, because I think it’s something that always occurred very naturally and it only seems unnatural now with Facebook and such. Like, people grow apart! This is not an offensive concept and friendships ebb and flow, certainly, but it seems to me the signs of a fade out are pretty clear. Someone minimally or flat out, not at all engaging in any contact with you, never initiating anything or wanting to hang out when you initiate, etc. And I guess if you can’t pick up those hints there are bigger problems. I’m sure people can be like “wahh we should all be straightforward” but I don’t know, lots of human interaction is based on hints and suggestions.

Victoria: Yeah! And it’s usually not like you hate the person.

Jaya: I actually think Kate Harding put it well in this article about affirmative consent. Like, constantly taking stock of someone else’s reactions to what you’re doing is part of sex/a relationship. And not just “yes” and “no.” You can tell when someone is into something and when they’re not, usually.

And right! It’s not about hating someone, you just stop being great friends. I don’t really see this as devastating. Like, it might hurt to see someone pulling away, but usually you can find that it’s mutual? I think the situation where one person is 100% on board and the other is 100% not is pretty rare.

Victoria: Yeah, I can’t even remember in my own life….I think it so often happens during a life change…or especially distance that you almost don’t even notice.

Jaya: Right. Every once in a while there might be a pang, like “oh I had a fun time with that person, I wonder where they went” but I’m not losing sleep over it.