For example, in high school I developed a simple ploy. I’d intentionally leave my zipper down. In retrospect that makes me sound like an exhibitionist pervert. At the time, however, I thought this faux pas would prove who was looking out for my best interest. Reputations are difficult to build and easy to lose, and I wanted to know which of my so-called friends had the guts to say, “Your fly’s down.”
My method was flawed. All I did was identify the more observant of my classmates—and the ones who looked below my waist. Perverts.
Isn’t that the cost of boldness?
If I tell this guy that his zipper is down, he’ll think I was looking at his crotch. If I tell this acquaintance that she dribbled some Ranch dressing on her blouse, she’ll think I was staring at her breasts.
You also don’t want to be the fault finder: “By the way, the past participle of ‘buy’ is ‘bought,’ not ‘boughten.’” Thanks, Grammar Police. You really know how to strengthen a friendship.
“You missed a button.” Thanks, Style Police. Good thing you are the Height of Fashion and never wear that stupid acid-washed denim jacket from A.C. Slater’s attic. Oh wait, you have more threadbare velour than my granddad, hypocrite.
We often don’t trust ourselves to speak the truth in a way that brings hope or healing. We either say nothing, or we throw Molotov Cocktails:
“What do you think about Kimmy?” your friend asks.
“Do you want me to be honest or tell you what you want to hear?” you respond.
“Honest.” He says this though what self-respecting person is going to say, “Please lie to me.” We all overestimate our ability to receive criticism, and Thad is no different.
You actually shift your weight from one buttock to the other and get more comfortable on the couch. You think you’re settling in for a hard conversation, but you’re really preparing to offer spontaneous, premature advice. You’ll question your friend’s judgment, put him on the defensive, and sting his feelings with about as much thought as taking out the garbage.
“Well, Kimmy’s alright. I mean, forming an intelligent thought is so hard for her that I can hear her try, like her brain is wheezing, and every time she opens her mouth and starts talking about Grey’s Anatomy, a rare orchid in a remote rain forest withers into nothingness, but she seems sweet enough.”
Uncomfortable silence causes the temperature in the room to plunge about twenty degrees. You haven’t helped your friend extricate himself from a dead-end relationship, but you have injured your friendship with him.
We can absolve ourselves of malicious gossip by ending the conversation with “Bless his heart” or “so be praying for him.”
Being tactless and being honest are not the same thing.
That’s why I appreciate people who tell me that I have something between my teeth or a booger hanging out of my nose.
Have you ever excused yourself from a conversation for a bathroom break and noticed while washing your hands that you have pond scum caked below your gums? Blasted strawberry spinach salad! Why didn’t he have the decency to tell me?
He probably just didn’t notice, but even if you give him and his decency the benefit of the doubt, his chances of making your “Can Call at 3am with Emergency” category of friends have diminished.
We need more tact and honesty from the people in our lives, even strangers: “Excuse me! Yes, hi, um, you have toilet paper hanging out of the back of your pants.”
“Yeah, it happens to the best of us. No problem. Have a good day.”
On occasion, we should tell our roommates that they’re attracting flies, and we should often tell them what they’re doing right. We should draw attention to their positive attributes and extraordinary talents and successes.
“Nice rat tail!”
This is a roundabout way of expressing gratitude to all the people who have given me feedback about my new free book that I started giving away on Tuesday.
Thank you, Levon. Thank you, Justin. Thank you, Ellen. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for taking an interest in me. Thank you for taking the time to write encouraging words and tell me that my creative work matters.
If you ever have dandruff or toxic garlic breath, I’ll tell you, and if your new hair color looks like a new flavor of Starburst—Cosmic Raspberry Punch—I’ll try to be gentle and firm:
“You look like Lady Gaga after a stroke. You might consider going back to your natural color or at least moving to another town.”
Now, all of you go say something nice to somebody and mean it.