We are at the dining room table eating dinner and my eight-year-old son who is dying to have a girlfriend tells us, “Taylor Swift said she’s only going to date guys who have sisters because they understand women better. Is that true? I think I need a sister.”
I say, “I read that, too.”
Matthew says, “I don’t want to hear quotes from Taylor Swift at the table. She keeps dating men and then writing about them. I can’t stand it.”
“Really?” I say, “You can’t stand it? How do you put up with me?”
If there were links in conversations I would have put them to the post about the guy I dated who was twenty years younger than I was. And the guy my divorce lawyer set me up with. And all my dates with Matthew.
If there were links in conversations I think I would be a calmer person because it turns out that creative people see links in everything and I’m pretty sure that creative people bloomed when the Internet was invented because it lets them connect ideas so well.
But people are sick of me trying to get by with bursts of creativity. Fast Company has quantified data about how much likability matters. And it turns out that creativity is to McDonald’s salad as kindness is to the Big Mac: people always tell market researcher they want a salad at McDonald’s, but once they are at the counter and actually ordering food, they order a Big Mac.
Which is to say that I am figuring out new ways to make people think I’m nice, since creative by itself isn’t cutting it.
1. Understand that your body language belies your true feelings.
Here’s a link for you. About poker. People move their arms differently when they are bluffing. You can read someone’s brain by looking at their body movements. Which makes me think of me being face-blind because I remember peoples’ gaits the way other people remember faces. And now I’m thinking that maybe I see as much into people from their gait as other people see in a face.
And I also connect, to that poker research, the research from PhotoFeeler that shows how a profile photo with squinched eyes makes you more likable. This is because a smile with no squinch is fake. And a profile photo that’s up close—just your face—makes you less likable. It’s so hard to get people to like you. The idea of being nice is hard to separate from the action of being nice. So really, you have to feel nice in order to seem nice.
So I’ve decided that my best bet is to forget about trying to do things people perceive as nice. Like saying “how are you?” because it’s impossible for me to do that and sound like I care. Instead I am going to focus on genuinely feeling nice and let the words take care of themselves.
2. No backstabbing.
Back to dinner. I tell my husband that it’s absurd that he doesn’t like that Taylor Swift writes about ex-boyfriends when my husband continued to date me even when I told him that I would be writing about him.
He says, “But you told me you are always nice about your ex’s.”
This is true. For example, I never dis my ex-husband behind his back. Because it would make me look stupid for marrying him. But there are a lot of people who research gossip, and I have concluded that on my blog a few nuggets of gossip here and there could benefit everyone. As Professor Timothy Hallett says, “I wouldn’t advocate a no-gossip policy. If you know how gossip works, you can manage and control it.”
3. Be generous with sex.
Did you know that if one farm has a lot of cows giving birth to twins then probably the other farms nearby are also having a lot of twins? I wonder if I spend a lot of time with the cows if my period will synchronize with theirs.
Which reminds me of our sex life.
If you are a married woman, being a nice person is having sex. So I said, “Fine, let’s have sex. But remember that my pee is smelling really bad so don’t go down on me.”
The next morning I wake up to him screaming in the bathroom that his pee is stinging. Like his penis is on fire, he says. And he tells me that the odor from my pee is a urinary tract infection and I gave it to him.
4. Make arguments quick. Accept that you can’t agree with everyone on everything.
He lays down in bed on his back with his arm across his eyes. He can’t stand the pain.
I tell him Pyridium is great for dulling the pain of a urinary tract infection.
He calls the doctor and asks for Pyridium, but only after implying that he got the penis problem from me. The doctor says Pyridium only works for women.
I hand Matthew a Vicodin. But he’d endure infinite amounts of pain rather than take a pill that makes him unable to operate a tractor on a sunny day.
So I take the Vicodin. I think maybe Vicodin will mix well with my anti-anxiety medicine because I am worried that so many people are saying that writers don’t write well when they become emotionally stable.
5. Actions speak louder than words. But if your actions are bad, clarify with words.
I lay back on the pillow, next to Matthew. I tell him maybe our infections are like cows with twins. It’s something in the moon, maybe.
Matthew says, “My pee doesn’t smell nearly as bad as yours.” Then he says, “Don’t write about this, okay?”
I tell him about an article in the Harvard Business Review. I tell him, “The Harvard Business review says people who give ultimatums almost never get what they want. And anyway what about that I’m always nice?”
He says, “People don’t care about this stuff. It grosses them out.”