Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honesty is the Best Policy


You may recall I noticed an article about the pitfalls of passive-aggressive pussyfooting.

I recently saw an example of the positive side of the lesson. Ann Marsh, in "What I Learned from Dating 100 Men," shows how she learned how liberating honesty can be - for her and her suitors:

I needed to be honest in a new way. In my 20s, when the wrong man asked me out, I usually lied. I was either (a) busy, (b) dating someone else, or (c) moving to Siberia for a year. Sensing my fib, some men refused to let go. A few talked me into dates or, worse, relationships. I marvel to think I left the nest without ever learning how to verbalize my own needs and desires.

One of my earliest electronic dates taught me about honesty. "It was really nice to meet you," the tall, good-looking athlete wrote me in an e-mail after Date Number Two, "but I didn't feel that indescribable something that would tell me we're a match."

I sat there looking at my computer screen. He had found the words to describe my own sentiments. I didn't feel rejected. I felt liberated by his courage. Better yet, I stole his line.

A handsome telecommunications executive I met over a drink at a restaurant one evening looked and sounded far less alluring to me a few days later in the sober light of day. In a subsequent telephone conversation, my whole body tensed while I told him that I didn't get the sense he was the right one and that I didn't want either of us to waste precious time. I wished him well. He sounded a little startled. But the discomfort was short-lived. We were both free.

It's embarrassing to admit that I was learning the very basics about personal boundaries at the age of 34. But it was also a thrill. Like a suit of comfortable, lightweight body armor, my newly declared boundaries kept me safe.

(Emphases added.)

A few tips for keeping it nice:

  • The sooner the better, before he's built up expectations and made more plans - and before you've made false declarations of loyalty which would make you feel foolish afterwards (and perhaps bound to disavow forcefully).

  • Whenever possible - which it isn't always - avoid attacking what the other person did. If you can, put it in the first person singular: "I just don't feel that match."

  • When it's not possible, or when the other person is doing or saying things that you feel would hurt him with other people too, and you genuinely want to help him see that, stick to the facts. Make as few assumptions as possible about his motives or plans. Stick to what he does and how it affects you and may affect others. For example, "On multiple occasions, you've screamed loudly at me when I pointed out a problem. Disagreeing is one thing - screaming is quite another." In that case, your rejecting him may be the best thing that ever happened to him.

  • In that kind of situation, whenever possible (as opposed to, say, a black eye or something equally serious), give him a fair chance to mend his ways, including a specific heads-up about the particular problem behaviors, before severing the relationship.

  • Stick to the situation at hand. If you don't want to date or befriend someone, that's one thing - keep it at that. Forget any hypothetical scenarios involving, say, his drowning and your being the only person around. Hopefully you would throw him a life preserver instead of an anvil anyway, if it came to that. Also, his ancestors, pets and other associates probably did not cause you any problems and certainly needn't be referenced or otherwise involved.

Especially in sticky situations, honesty (generally) is the best policy. People most often don't want to be honest because they're afraid of hurting the other person. As we've seen, honesty - without brutality - is most often the kindest course of action not only for you, but also the person you're rejecting.

What do you think?


Mama Mara said...

First, let me say: YAY! JEFFREY POSTS! I missed reading you.

As I read the article you quoted, I cringed at the knowledge that I am just learning these lessons at the crusty old age of 44. Gah! Somewhere early in my life, I learned to equate potentially-painful honesty to unacceptable brutality. Fighting against that hard-wired belief system is going to be tough, but I'm hoping that reading your words (over and over) may help me re-program my brain.


StatMama said...

Excellent post! I find myself waffling in the balance so often between honesty and rose-tinted ego boosting. I find that honesty in most situations is the better bet. There are times when respectful omission of thoughts is also good, however, like when someone asks you what you think of their new (awful) hairstyle lol

SavedAspie said...

I agree that honesty is the best policy, not only because my Aspie nature makes it difficult to properly and politely dishonest, but also because I find that when people are dishonest to me, it's not *really* about protecting my hurt feelings.... it's about preserving their pride of being a nice person.

Shanti said...

Passive aggressive pussyfooting, eh? I recently said farewell to someone like that. It was difficult to be around this person because she was never up front and always held grudges. It was miserable and I'm glad to be free of her "passive aggressive pussyfooting". That's exactly what I called it, too.