As the weather changes, a young man’s fancy turns to love, and My Not So Humble Wife’s fancy turns to… well, I’ll let you decide. But be assured the opinions herein are entirely her own. Especially the ones where she makes me out to be anything less than perfect. Which I am.
This week the annual tradition of putting off mowing the lawn for the first time of the year came to a close as our grass topped out at eight inches and started to go to seed like a field of wheat. Even though I live with my Not So Humble Husband and our two male Not So Humble Roommates, I was the first to break, and had to haul the mower from the stale smelling shed which had become home to hundreds of crickets, all of whom took umbrage to my lawn care intrusion.
As I started the mower and set into my mowing pattern, I realized again why mowing was one of my least favorite chores. Lawn mowing is sweaty, dirty, hard work. I’d put it at a dead heat with cleaning the toilet, but probably not as bad as having to de-clog the sinks and tubs.
But it’s the weird looks I get from my neighbors as they drive, jog, or walk by that I had forgotten about during the cold, hay-fever free months. For all the years I’ve lived in this home, when I mow the lawn I get a variety of looks which are usually some mixture of confusion, surprise, and suspicion.
In the fantastic movie Django (which I saw this weekend) there is a scene where a white German bounty hunter and the freed slave Django ride into a small southern town. When the German asks Django why the locals are staring slack-jawed and wide-eyed he replies, “They ain’t never seen no nigger on a horse before.”
Then it hit me. Maybe a woman mowing the lawn is a just a little bit like a “nigger on a horse”. It makes people a little uncomfortable because it’s unusual and generally a “man-chore”. I never noticed it before because, even though I grew up mowing the lawn on a half-acre lot, we lived in the back of a cul-de-sac away from regular neighborhood traffic.
I’m not pointing this out because I think we need gender equality in lawn mowing; I just think it’s interesting. Next time you’re driving through your neighborhood on a sunny Sunday, see how many of the people that are out mowing their lawns are women.
And for all you lawn mowers out there, be you of either gender, here’s some tips on how to mow the lawn like a girl:
- Get someone else to do it, or at least make them clean the toilet.
- If that fails, dress in jeans, not shorts, to avoid rocks and sticks. Also, apply water resistant bug spray.
- Get a self-propelled mower if you don’t already have one. It’s worth it.
- Mow the most visible part of your yard first, that way if you get tired and decide to pack it in your neighbors won’t complain for a few more days.
- Don’t bag your grass cuttings. If you need a good excuse to justify the laziness, it’s actually more environmentally friendly because it reduces run-off and soil erosion. Take that snotty lawn neighbor!
- If you’ve let your lawn get really long (no judgment) mow in a circular pattern with the blower facing away from the uncut side. If the blower is on the right side of the mower, that will be counter-clockwise. This keeps your mower from getting clogged with cuttings and will save you a lot of time.
- If you ignored my sage advice and your mower gets clogged, don’t tip it to the side with the tank full. This will just flood your air filter with gas and the mower won’t run. Tip the mower to the back at a low angle and remove the excess cuttings from between the blade and the cover.
Finally, if people keep looking at you weird, have some fun with them. You can do something gross like spitting or scratching your butt, look at them with an expression of shock and shake your head in disgust to leave them wondering, or rev the mower engine and challenge them to a race. Be creative!
Some of the worst advice I have ever heard is “do what you love for a living”, or alternatively “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it.” This advice is generally given either by people who are miserable in their own life choices and wish they had found a way to make this fantasy come true, or else it is the sort of illusory advice given by type-A personality entrepreneurs who would find success in anything they do because they are so driven they WILL succeed, even if they have to grab success by the throat and chokehold it into submission.
There are two inherent flaws with this advice as I see it, and I’ll break them down one at a time. The first is the fallacy of “do what you would even if you weren’t getting paid”. I honestly don’t know many people who have a passion for something that extends far enough to cover a career. Sure, plenty of people think they do, but that’s because they don’t have the time to really see it through, or else they don’t really make an honest effort at it. I’ll give you a couple examples: My Dad loved golf; I love video games. If he had the time, I think Dad could have played golf for a good four days a week, at least for a month or so. Then he would have started cutting back, because golf is tiring. As for video games, at my peak I was playing World of Warcraft like it was a second job – a part-time job. I played, I kid you not, at least twenty hours a week (after I quit I found time to start blogging. Not a coincidence.) When I would take a staycation from time to time, I would play upwards of forty hours a week in a single binge… and then lay off for a few days, because I needed a break. I then went back to my original routine.
The problem wasn’t that either Dad or I stopped loving what we did, it’s just that at some point most people can’t sustain the passion for something sufficiently to make a career of it. Those who can often do, or else they dedicate their lives to finding ways to incorporate that something into their lives in other ways, either though volunteer work or hobbies. Notice how at no point in that entire set of examples did I mention skill or demand; those would be elements of problem numero dos.
My biggest aggravation with the breezy advice “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it” is the “then find a way to get paid doing it” part. As if it was that simple. In many cases, the things people love to do people are already getting paid to do. Let’s go back to my previous examples. There are already people getting paid to play golf. They’re called professional golfers. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them (Tiger Woods, anyone?). There are even, to the best of my knowledge, golf pros at pretty much every country club in the nation, and every one of them is a much better golfer than my father was on his best day. Believe it or not, there are even professional video game players. Any one of them could romp me without paying attention. In the face of this, how does a simple person come along and just “find a way to get paid doing it”, especially when so many others want to?
Here’s my take on work: work is what you do to make the money you need to enable you to do the things you love. That doesn’t mean you have to hate your job; in fact, if you do hate your job (not just had a bad day, but actively hate your job and dread going in each day), seriously, quit. Find another job first if you must, but you might actually find being unemployed better for your mental and physical health. I did. But if your job is tolerable often that’s as good as it gets, and there’s nothing wrong with that; chasing the rainbows that someone else is offering will only make you miserable when you have no need to be.
If you can make money doing the things you love, hey, bonus. If you are one of the lucky few who gets paid doing what you love, do yourself and the rest of us a favor, keep your mouth shut about it, because nobody wants to hear it.
Just recently, I wrote about how to address a customer service situation from the customer’s perspective. As luck would have it, I ran into just such a situation these past few days, and I wanted to share it with you all.
I bought a new custom build computer from Microcenter in Fairfax, VA, and there were issues with my order. I won’t go into the gritty details, because this is actually meant to be a positive story. First, let me say that I discovered just how hard it is to follow my own advice. I was angry. I might even go so far as to say livid. So polite and patient were hard come by. I have to give complete respect to almost everyone I dealt with (one technician was a little surly on the phone, but then I was a little surly as well; you get what you give). When I finally went in to pick up my computer, everyone was very polite, and I definitely appreciate that. I did manage to keep my cool, and followed my own rules.
The manager I spoke with, Abdul, was very accommodating, very patient, and very helpful. He listened to my story, he apologized for the inconvenience, and he made things right for me. Let me point out I was very close to never shopping there again after having not one but two computers in a row built there, and he salvaged everything. That’s the power of good customer service right there.
Let me also say this: my old system is going to my wife. I’ve had it for seven years and it still works great. The only reason I’m giving it up is because she needs a new computer. I look forward to my new one. If you need a new computer, or just want new components or anything else and are in the Northern VA area, I suggest you check them out.
Yeah, that’s right. I’m telling everyone I know. Because that’s how happy I am. That’s the power of good customer service, too.
While I’m not the fashion horse my father was (I don’t think even Prince is the fashion horse my father was), and I’m privileged now to work in an environment where I don’t need to be, I have been working in and around a lot of companies over the years, and in that time I’ve developed a fairly good sense of what professional attire should be. Sad to say, what I have been noticing over the past twenty years is a distinct decline not in what is considered professional attire (sorry, can’t blame it on Casual Friday), but rather in the knowledge and understanding among so-called professionals of what is professional attire.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer the following modest suggestions to men both young and old about what they might want to consider for their professional wardrobe.
First, own at least two suits. By this I mean actual suits, not a pair of slacks and a blazer or sport coat. The kind of suit that you buy as a complete set, coat and jacket (vests are optional and not particularly necessary). Not that there’s anything wrong with a pair of slacks and a sports coat, and in fact I do believe you should own at least a few pairs of slacks and a couple of sports coats that you can mix and match between them as well, but there’s just something about a suit that makes a comprehensive statement you just don’t get any other way.
Also, I’m not speaking about a hand-me-down suit or a suit you purchased at Discount Suit Warehouse. I mean a high quality suit, the kind that comes from a high end retailer or specialty shop. Save up your nickels and dimes and get them on sale if you can, because these kinds of suits are not cheap (trust me, I know this). Many retailers will have sales once or twice a year, and they will offer good discounts on the outgoing styles. Why do you care that they’re last season’s (or even last year’s) fashions? Ideally you will have these suits for years anyway.
While you’re there, make sure to get the suit tailored to you so it fits properly (if you have a favorite tailor elsewhere you can go there, but I have yet to find one who does the job better for less). Don’t let them bully you into wearing the suit the way they say it “should” be worn. I wear the waist of my pants much lower than any tailor seems to think is “right”, and for years my pants didn’t fit right. Then I finally insisted they simply let me wear the pants the same way while them hemmed them as I did when I got them home, and suddenly my pants fit well. Did they look as good as they could? No, but they looked better than they did, because they were tailored for me.
Pick up a lint brush, preferably two. Keep one in your desk drawer at work and one close to the door at home. Use them. Even if you don’t have long hair or a pet, someone else does; your wife, your husband, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your roommate, the person in the elevator next to you with the five corgis. Hair, lint, and all kinds of other stuff transfers very easily, and you won’t notice you need a lint brush until you don’t have one; if nothing else, you can be the hero of the day for someone else. If you don’t have one handy when you need it you can fake it by rolling some tape (sticky side out) around your hand and running it gently over your suit. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing, and people will appreciate that you took a little time for your appearance.
Second, I’ve heard more than one person say that if you want to get attention at work you should dress better than your position (or better than the other people at your level). This fascinates me, since I’ve always found that the best way to get attention at work is to be good at your job. Dressing “for the job you want to have” as they say is a good way to annoy the people around you, as it does make you stand out, but not in a good way. If you are good at your job and you’re not getting attention for it, you need to find another job.
What I do recommend is dressing better, worse, or just the same as the people around you, if that’s who you are. What people will respond to is confidence: are you comfortable in your own skin? Are you showing up as the person you believe you are, or are you putting on a show? That’s not to say you should dress inappropriately for the work environment, and if you are completely uncomfortable wearing anything acceptable in that workplace, then again maybe you need to think about getting a different job.
Third, make sure you own at least two nice pairs of shoes. Note that there is a difference between “nice” shoes and “dress” shoes. Any kind of shoes can be nice, and even “dress” shoes can be cheap. Don’t buy cheap dress shoes. As I mentioned earlier, every major retailer has sales, and there’s nothing wrong with them. Make sure to get quality shoes that fit comfortably, because hopefully you’ll be wearing them a lot (because you have a good job to wear them at).
Here’s the thing: if you buy cheap shoes, you will spend a lot of time and money replacing them, and you will have to break them in over and over again (which is not fun), and in the long run you will spend as much money on multiple pairs of cheap shoes as you do on one pair of quality shoes. But there’s more: people notice a man’s shoes, especially if he’s wearing a nice suit (like the one I told you to buy earlier). If you wear cheap shoes with a nice suit, people will laugh at you. Women will laugh at you. Maybe not to your face, but I have heard it. And gentlemen, they are not nice about it. Better a slightly worn pair of quality shoes than a brand new pair of cheap shoes.
Once you have your nice shoes, please be sure to take care of them. Don’t stomp through the mud in them, avoid puddles, don’t walk across the grass in them, and please be sure to polish them. Take care of your shoes, because they are quality, and people notice these things.
That’s not everything you need to know, but it should at least get you started.
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The other day I was out grocery shopping, and I saw a sweet deal on my favorite soda. I go through the stuff like most people go through water, so I jumped on it. When I got to the counter it didn’t ring up correctly, and I brought it to the clerk’s attention. He said it would ring properly after the sale finished, but it didn’t so I brought it to his attention again. Long story short, the soda was mislabeled. I had to go through a bit of a song and dance, but I got my money back (and the soda too!), which was pretty nice.
The experience reminded me that I’ve had plenty to say in the past about bad customer service, but having been on both sides of the retail counter plenty of times, I’ve also seen plenty of bad customers. While the retail experience has been perfected from art to science (quite literally), the retail customer doesn’t seem to have changed much from the dark days when I plied the trade. For those of you who might find yourselves in a customer service crisis, here’s some tips on how to get the most out of the situation.
Be Polite – I can’t think of a single situation in my life (other than a fistfight) that hasn’t or couldn’t have been improved by being polite. I’ve seen a lot of people try to intimidate store clerks and managers, either physically or socially, and I have to tell you it almost always backfires. Being polite at the least keeps the situation in the realm of negotiation, which means you might get something, rather than demand, in which case you’re far more likely to get nothing.
One of my favorite misconceptions in retail is “the customer is always right”. I don’t just mean this as a factual misconception, I mean this as a misconception in the sense that anyone in retail does or should believe this. Maybe if I only had a handful of customers come in on a regular basis and my livelihood depended on them, then maybe I would consider this phrase, but still unlikely. In this day and age, when most retail is as anonymous as an online chat room and I have no reason to believe I will ever see you again, why should I go out of my way to put up with your crap? Because you’ll badmouth me to all your cheap friends, who are as likely to pull the same stunt as you are? Yeah, that’s a threat.
Here’s another way to look at it: suppose I came to your office one day and told you that you were doing everything wrong. I (very loudly and obnoxiously) explain how you should be doing your job, running your business, and handling every situation, even though I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about, and chances are better than even you saw be stealing some rubber bands from the supply closet fifteen minutes ago. Then, to top it all off, I insist that I know how to run your business because I worked in a similar business for a summer in high school, thus implying that any idiot can do it.
Would you at all be inclined to give me anything I want under those conditions? If so, you’d be the first.
Be Patient – The next biggest sin I see people committing (and I do this too, but I try not to) is that they assume there should be someone ready to help them as soon as they need it, especially if they feel like they’ve been wronged somehow. I get this, I do. You paid good money for a specific product or service, and that product or service was not produced. You want satisfaction, and the longer you have to wait, the more you feel you are being cheated, because your time is also valuable.
Here’s the thing: They’re (usually) not making you wait on purpose. Most stores understand that having an unhappy customer standing around fuming does not make them look good to the other customers. But there are other customers to consider, and that’s assuming someone is even aware of your needs. Then there are certain procedures they need to follow, which if they don’t could mean they lose their job, which means a lot more to them than your displeasure (and trust me, they will never get fired just because you asked to speak to the manager and they were following the procedures).
Most of all, if there’s any flexibility to be had in this situation, you want it to work for you, not against you, and the fact of the matter is you are not in the position of power that you think you are. They might prefer not to lose you as a customer, but the more of an asshole you are the less they care, and there’s no law against not giving in to your unreasonable demands. Even on the (very off) chance they’re in the wrong, what are the chances you’re going to sue over a can of tomatoes or even something as big as a sweater? Slim to none, and they know that. So cool your jets.
Be Flexible – This one’s a little tough to internalize, but it’s important. Most people go into a customer service situation expecting they are there to right a wrong. Not so. You are going into a negotiation, and the rules are a little fuzzy. There may be laws that apply, but do you know them? Do you really think the kid behind the counter does? And does anyone really care? There’s store policy, but that usually has some leeway to it. And then there’s custom and convention, which are pretty weak guidelines at best.
So understand that you are not there to right some moral wrong. You have a situation you want resolved, one were you feel you were not treated fairly, and you have a specific preferred resolution in mind. That’s nice. You might even get that. But be open to the possibility that there are in fact laws, policies, or even customs and conventions that are going to work against or even completely prevent you getting exactly what you want. And that’s even assuming you are completely right about the situation, which I’ve seen all too many times isn’t the case.
So now what? Well, you can resort to screaming and demands and see how far that gets you (usually escorted out of the store), or you can be flexible. Oftentimes unless you are completely in the wrong store managers will prefer to find a negotiated middle ground where the customer walks away feeling satisfied, and you can use that fact to your advantage. If you were expecting a full refund, maybe a partial refund, or a discount on a future purchase or exchange. Be open to alternatives.
Be Firm – This goes hand in hand with being flexible. Unless you are completely in the wrong (in which case you should make as quick of a retreat as you can), stand by your guns. Don’t let the manager or anyone else try to bully or snowball you. I’ve seen plenty of times where they will pull out a circular or ad and say something like “that was last week’s sale” when they forgot to change the signage in the store, even though we both know their own store policy is to honor their posted prices.
There’s no need to be a dick about it, but make sure to stand your ground and be aware of your position. The best thing to do in these cases is to simply refuse to argue with them. If they pull out the circular, nod and say something like “I’m sure that’s the case, but the posted price on the shelf was different.” This way you aren’t engaging them, but you are refusing to be scared off as well. And notice: still polite. Eventually (if you are patient) they will likely offer some recompense. If you’re flexible, you should be able to get something satisfying.
UPDATE: Within a few days, I got a chance to test out my own advice. Check out what happened.
I was talking with a coworker not too long ago, and he asked me about how to achieve a better work-life balance. The truth is, there’s no silver bullet. There are some strategies and tactics that I’ve found useful, and I’ll share them with you here.
The first one (which I got from My Not So Humble Wife) is to make a list every day when you first get to work of three things you’re going to accomplish that day. Make sure it’s a realistic list; for example, don’t make “I’m going to finish Project X” one of those three things if you haven’t even started it yet and it’s a long-term project. Be aware of how long each list item will take, and set yourself up to succeed. If you accomplish all three things by 10 AM, great! You have the rest of the day to catch up on other things, or else get ahead on other work. If you have to stay until 8 PM to get them all done, then that’s what you need to do. If you find yourself staying until 8 PM on a regular basis, you either need to be more realistic about what you can accomplish in one day, or you need to figure out where all your time is going (usually it’s time thieves, which I address a little more later).
In terms of being able to accomplish those three tasks, honestly assess how long tasks take to finish and budget your time accordingly. Give yourself some leeway; if you think something is going to take 15 minutes, give yourself twenty minutes to do it. You never know when something is going to divert your attention or if something is going to go wrong, and if you always assume the best case scenario, you will constantly be running to catch up to a worst-case world. The extra time you budget will also help deal with those time thieves I mentioned earlier.
Those time thieves I mentioned? You all know who I’m talking about, mostly because we all do it to everyone else. Whether it’s the email that pops up and diverts our attention, the phone call we have to take, or even the person who pops by with “a quick question” or “just to chat”. Sometimes you can afford it, but other times you can’t. Be aware of where you stand on things, and if you’re in the middle of an important project where losing focus will cost you large amounts of productivity, politely but firmly let them know, “I’m sorry, I’m working on a very important project. Is this a critical issue or can I get back to you later?” In most cases it’s not a time sensitive matter, and as long as you follow up with them in a reasonable amount of time you’ll actually improve your reputation for professionalism. If you made sure to build in some extra time for your “three things”, you can also address anything that they believe is time sensitive without coming off as peevish or harried as well.
Another good tactic is to make sure not to schedule out your entire day. Instead, try to schedule out no more than 80% of your day. You’ll need to take breaks, check email, and there will be unexpected issues that come up that will need to be addressed immediately. Schedule time for breaks, but don’t screw around. “I need to brainstorm this project” might sound reasonable, but is it necessary? With that in mind, having a schedule, at least a framework, will help give you structure and an idea of what’s coming. In fact, the further out you can schedule things (whether it be a day, a week, or even a month or more) the more awareness you’ll have of coming events and the less likely you are to be blindsided by something. In my experience most of “putting out fires” is a matter of dealing with things that were foreseeable issues; solving problems before they have a chance to become problems not only saves aggravation, it saves time and money.
You should always know what you priorities are, and know the difference between “want” and “need”. Something you “need” to get done has to happen, without question. Things you “want” to happen are the things you get done with the time you have left and should be the first things to go. Your “need” list is always your top priority. If you cut out all of your “want” list and still don’t have enough resources to accomplish everything that’s left, either reconsider what you believe is a need, or else delegate some tasks or (if that’s not an option) discuss the matter with your supervisor. That’s what their job is, to make sure you’re able to succeed.
If you do find yourself in a position where you are constantly putting out fires and you don’t have an opportunity to get on top of things, the first step is to re-prioritize. Again, your supervisor can be an excellent resource for this. You should always know what your priorities are and in some cases, particularly when you don’t have sufficient resources to cover all the tasks at hand, you need to accept that some things are going to need to fall by the wayside. If you don’t have time to accomplish everything on your plate, again either delegate some tasks to someone else or talk with your supervisor.
I’ve mentioned delegating a couple of times. When delegating tasks, the most important thing to remember is that the goal is important, not the process. Everyone approaches a project in a different way, and as long as the end result is satisfactory, how they got there is unimportant (within reason). Be honest with yourself about the goal; I have occasionally found myself saying “my goal is to have this task done in this way”, when the truth is I was focusing on the process rather than the product. This is likely to frustrate both you and the person you assign the task to, and result in a case where you waste more resources farming the project out than if you had just done it yourself. If having something done a certain way truly is the goal, what you likely have is multiple tasks that cumulatively roll up to a project. Separate the goal from the tasks, and trust people to accomplish the tasks in their own way. Feel free to verify that they accomplished their individual portion, but as long as the work got done right and well, don’t let your attention be devoured riding people while they do the work they were hired to do.
While this may seem like a lot, it’s actually not. What it comes down to is knowing your priorities, planning accordingly, and using your resources effectively. If you can accomplish that much, the rest should fall into place.
I realize I may seem a bit old fashioned, perhaps even like a fogey when I say things like “people need to learn basic etiquette”, but I prefer to think of it as making reparations for a misspent youth. I wasn’t always the most polite person, and what I demand of others is no less than I demand of myself. I also don’t ask for people to do things that seem (at least to me) to be useless relics of a bygone age, such as knowing which fork to use at the dining table or which side of the road to drive on. But there are certain basic courtesies in a modern, connected age that should hold steady if we are to call ourselves civilized.
The one that seems to be most prevalent of late is a lack of basic telephone courtesy. I’d like to blame this on the wide-spread use of cell phones, but I’ve been aware of it since I was a kid, mostly because it was the only kind of courtesy my parents could seem to drill into me. It transcends generations and class boundaries, so that can’t be it either. It almost seems as if somewhere along the line there was a breakdown in passing this knowledge along, a failure to communicate, if you will. I’d like to take it upon myself to rectify that by laying out some basic rules for modern phone communication.
Identify yourself. Don’t assume I have caller ID, or that I used it. The fact is, I might have several people listed under that number, or I might not even have you listed. Also, some numbers are blocked. If nothing else, I might think someone else is using your phone. Don’t expect me to recognize your voice right off the bat either. It might be noisy where you are, where I am, or we might have a bad connection. And believe it or not someone else might answer. You don’t want to start talking dirty to my grandma and only find out after she starts talking dirty right back (she’s a naughty one).
Establish the purpose of your call. I might have an hour to talk, or I might only have five minutes. I might have answered the phone because I was expecting a call from someone else (which is another reason to identify yourself), and need you to bugger off. You have no idea what’s going on in my world or you wouldn’t need to call, now would you? Knowing why you called helps to establish the parameters of the conversation, and it helps me to determine if I’m ready, able, and willing to participate in this conversation. Maybe I really do want to chat with you, but I have a project due in a half-hour; knowing what your intentions are up front saves me from having to be rude and cut you off mid-sentence.
Don’t violate the established purpose of the call. This one cuts both ways. If someone says they called to share something with you, let them share it, then be ready to clear the line. If you want to have a lengthy conversation, you can ask if they have time to talk, but now the burden is on you to accept a no. Likewise, if you established up front this would be a short call, don’t try to turn it into an hour long diatribe about your life. On the other hand, if they made it clear up front they wanted to have a long conversation and you accepted, get comfy. You bought into this, so settle in.
Be gracious about letting go. Sometimes things come up. Even if someone said they could talk, circumstances change. Sometimes you’re just a lot more longwinded and boring than anyone could have expected (and if this happens to you a lot, think long and hard about what that says about you). If someone tries to cut in and say they have to go, let them. Don’t keep talking over them, and even worse don’t play the “just one last thing” card, because we all know it’s never just one thing. Sign off and call them back another time, preferably a few days (or weeks) later.
Consider alternate forms of communication. We have text, email, Facebook, Twitter, and (god forbid) old-fashioned letter writing. Think before you pick up the phone and know what you need. Phones are best used for one of two things: either you need an immediate response (so the others are out) or you just want to hear that person’s voice. Either is acceptable, but again, establish that up front. It helps to set the tone of the conversation as well as the expectations. If I know you need an immediate response, it means this will be a short call (unless it’s a complex problem, in which case call me to say you’ll email me the details, then get off). If you want to hear my voice, either I’ll find time to talk or, even better, we’ll find time to get together face-to-face. If we can’t do the latter, at least let me do you the courtesy of giving you my full attention, which is obviously what you want and need.
If more people follow these simple rules, the result will be clearer communication in all our relationships, both personal and professional. For my money, that’s the only reason for any kind of etiquette.
I have been married for about six months now, and I’m starting to worry about my relationship. My husband and I used to go out all the time, but lately he stays late at work a lot, and when he comes home he just eats dinner and then watches TV until bedtime. He never seems to have time for me anymore, and on the weekend he goes out with his buddies. We don’t talk like we used to, and I’m afraid there may even be another woman. I’ve thought about looking through his email and his text messages, but if I didn’t find anything I’d feel like a horrible person, and if I did find something that would be even worse. I just don’t know what to do. Please help!
Dear Concerned Matron,
It is an unfortunate fact that so many of our children have been raised on fairy tales to believe that all it takes is a magic ceremony to create the perfect circumstances for “happily ever after”. What the stories don’t prepare you for is the lifetime of work that follows. A marriage is more than simply living together in domestic bliss; it is a partnership, and one that must be cared for, nurtured, and treated well, lest it die from inattention. I am encouraged to hear you have not yet taken the irreversible step of violating your husband’s trust; a good marriage is built on trust and mutual respect, and once broken it can be almost impossible to recover. Believe in him, and surely you will be rewarded. Rather than snooping, try talking to him. Find a time when you can both be calm and relaxed and share your concerns; likely he has some of the same fears, and by sharing them you will strengthen your relationship. Confrontations don’t solve anything, but conversations can be the beginning of a better life for you both.
My family just doesn’t get me. They’re a bunch of straights, and I want to have fun while I’m still young enough to enjoy it! So I go out and have a good time, and yeah, I date some crazy women, but it’s not like I’m hurting anyone! I’m careful, I use protection, and we’re all consenting adults. Why can’t they just get off my back already?
Dear Wild Child,
Family, am I right? You get just a little bit out of line and they can’t wait to chain you down with responsibilities and their “vision” of what you should be. Here’s the thing though: they really do care about you, and even though you think you’re not hurting anyone, you also may not be looking at the bigger picture. Are you considering where you’ll be in five years, or fifty? Parties are great while they last, but sooner or later the party winds down, and they’re worried you’ll be the lone wolf without anyone to go home to. Give it some thought, let them know you understand their fears and show them you have a handle on where your life is headed, and maybe they won’t object so much if you go out and howl at the moon once in a while.
My girlfriend and I are always fighting. I have no idea why. Sometimes I think we just like to fight. The making-up part is great, but I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore. Half the time it seems like I’m in the doghouse for no reason at all, or just so she can lord it over me. I look at other guys’ relationships and it seems like this isn’t normal, so I’m wondering if it’s me, or us, or what. What should I do?
Tired of Fighting
Dear Warrior of Love,
The question you should be asking yourself is not “is this worth it?” but rather “why did we get together in the first place?” If the sole reason for your relationship is to provide some sort of spark or antagonism that each of you craves, even subconsciously, you need to break it off for both of your sakes. An addiction to drama is an addiction like any other, and continuing to feed it is a sure path to self-destruction. If there is something genuine in the relationship, you need to rediscover what it is that you mean to each other and find ways of resolving your conflicts properly. Patience, understanding, and communication are the way to resolve disputes. Fighting only leads to more fighting.
Theres a boy at school that is very good looking and very nice and all the girls like him and so do I and hes very nice and I think he might like me to but I dont know for sure and I’m not sure if I should ask him or not and even if I do I don’t know what to say and my mommy says I should play hard to get and I dont even knwo what that meens and I would like it if you could help me please thank you.
Let me tell you a little story. Once there was a rabbit that was out on the plains, and this rabbit wanted to get a particularly appealing looking plant to eat. He thought he was a clever rabbit, so he hid out behind a rock, and waited until the sun had almost set. When he thought the time was just right, he bounced over and went for it, figuring it was late enough the snakes wouldn’t be out but too early for the owls. Well, he was right, but he forgot about just one thing: I’m not an early riser. The point of the story is fortune favors the bold. Be honest, don’t play games, just go on up to that young man and let him know you like him. Best case you found yourself a fine young man. Worst case? You found out he’s got poor taste before it’s too late.
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I’d like to take this opportunity to explain to the ladies why it is that “men don’t clean”.
You see, this is a lie. A calumny. A slander of the highest proportion. We clean. We just don’t clean the way you clean. There is a difference.
You’re probably thinking right about now that I am simply making things up in an attempt to defend my gender, but the truth is I’m not. In fact, I’m going to paint a situation, walk you through it, and show you how every time you have been making false assumptions about men not cleaning.
Picture this: you ask your boyfriend/husband/son to clean a room. You leave for a half-hour, come back, and it looks no different to you, or at best only slightly tidied up. You say something to the effect of “I thought I asked you to clean in here,” and he maddeningly responds with “I did.” You can either exhort him to actually clean it or just give up in frustration now and do it yourself, because you know you’re going to have to do it anyway.
Now, let me explain what has happened.
You walked in to what, to a man’s eyes, appeared to be a clean-ish room. There might be a few things out of place, but overall it’s in decent shape. When you walked in and said “Could you please clean this room up?” the panic set in. He knows you think the room is filthy, but he has no idea why. He tries his best to guess what it is you want done, but he knows he is destined to fail. The only question is how much time does he intend to waste on this doomed effort. Some younger or over-eager fools will even spend more time and effort, thinking this will somehow earn them mercy. When you return and crush his spirit with an offhanded “I thought I asked you to clean in here”, her replies with the only defense he has, feeble though it may be: the truth. “I did.” He then watches you bustle around the room in a bad mood, engaged in arcane rituals that, when you are done, have made no discernible difference whatsoever.
Now, I know that sounds crazy, and that’s because it is. Men and women do not perceive the world in the same way. This is insane, but it is something that we simply have to accept. Ladies, what you need to understand is that, when you start going on about “cleaning”, we don’t share your vision. I don’t mean that in the sense of “I just don’t share your artistic vision”, I mean that in the sense of “I’m pretty sure you’re an insane cultist worshipping dark beings from beyond this reality and trying to summon them forth to devour our world”. But we love you anyway.
Because we love you, we want to make you happy. This is why we get scared and frustrated every time you say things like “please clean this room”. It’s like you’ve been watching the Saw franchise again, and you’ve decided that a combination of test and torture is just the thing to brighten an otherwise boring day. We both know there’s no way we’re going to win this one, but you ask anyway. Unless your purpose is to look for an excuse to get frustrated with us, perhaps the following advice will be useful to you.
First, keep in mind that we have different standards of “clean”. Remember the old saying about “if you want something done right”? Well, it applies doubly here. I’m not saying we’re going out of our way to shirk, but when you ask someone else to do something, you really can’t expect them to do it the way you would do it unless you’ve spent a few decades mercilessly drilling them on perfect technique.
Second, consider spending a few decades mercilessly drilling us on perfect technique. If you don’t have that much time to spare, some straightforward directions on what you’d like to see would be better upfront than a disappointed sigh on the back end. Keep in mind that if you do this you don’t get to say “well that was just for starters!” after the fact. Make the list comprehensive or don’t bother.
Third, are you familiar with the concept of “comparative advantage”? If you want the room cleaned just so, perhaps while you’re doing that he can be mowing the lawn. If you also want the lawn mowed just so, perhaps he can pay the bills. If you want that done just so, perhaps you would be more comfortable living alone.
Which brings me to my final piece of advice. Nobody is perfect, and we all find ways to annoy the crap out of each other on a daily basis. Learning to accept these foibles and follies is a big part of what makes relationships work, maybe the only part. After all, the rest is fun, not work. Focus more on the good times getting the rooms dirty than the confusion about trying to get them clean again.For the rebuttal from My Not So Humble Wife, be sure to read “Dirty, Dirty Men“.