Monthly Archives: June 2009

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 1

In the spirit of summertime social situations (how’s that for alliteration?), let’s address those awkward encounters that we find all too frequently — and what we can do about them.

And by “we” I mean that these are true stories of my own, or friends who shall remain nameless.

At the Bar

Awkward Situation: You make last minute plans with a friend to go to happy hour, despite being dressed in a red Mickey Mouse t-shirt and neglecting to shower that day.  Naturally, this is the one happy hour in which you run into your best friend from high school that you haven’t seen since graduation, and she looks immaculate.

Solution: Greet her warmly and emphasize being “so busy” at work, as an implied excuse for your attire.  Ask her endless questions about herself (on the off-chance that she’s self-involved), and she will be so consumed with relating her life that she will forget about yours (and Mickey’s).


Over Email

Awkward Situation: You receive an email from an acquaintance explaining that you are indeed invited to a mutual friend’s bridal shower this weekend, despite failing to receive a timely invitation due to a “miscommunication.”  But won’t you please still come?

Solution: Without a trace of commitment, blithely reply that she needn’t apologize since you have plans that day anyway, but should the opportunity arise you may make an appearance.  Still go if you can, because after all, your engaged friend shouldn’t suffer because of this acquaintance’s forgetfulness.

 

In the Office

Awkward situation: You and only one other person are walking down the hallway toward each other.  He kindly says hello and initiates a conversation as he walks toward you.  As you smile broadly in response and open your mouth to reply, you find there are not just two of you in the hallway.  This person is speaking to the nice man behind you.

Solution: Pretend that smile was just the daily one you give to everyone.  Also, always carry a mug so your hands are occupied, and you can use it as a decoy to look purposeful – hmm, is my cup empty?  Let me spend three seconds looking inside.

At an Event

Awkward Situation: You are at a social event, and here comes that woman who clearly knows exactly who you are and is thrilled to greet you – but if your life depended on it you could not recall her name.

Solution: Grab your date/husband/person-standing-nearest-you and cheerfully ask Mystery Woman if she has met the person whose name you actually know.  That will automatically prompt her to introduce herself, providing infinite relief to you as you say in your head, “YES!  I knew it was REBECCA.”  Then try to use her name at the beginning/end of a sentence at least twice before you move on to get a much-needed drink.

 

On the Phone

Awkward Situation: A friend innocently asks “What are you doing on Saturday?”  They could be inviting you to the best party of the year, or asking you to help them move apartments for six hours.  You simply can’t tell by this open-ended question.

Solution: Since this person thinks it’s OK to back you into a social corner, you are free to be direct.  Briefly say, “I’ll have to check – what did you have in mind?”  Otherwise, if you should say, “Nothing, I’m free,” your friend could say, “Perfect!  I need someone to help me sort through my Tupperware,” and you’re trapped.

This situation is awkward enough that it merits an extra tip: when inviting people to do something, just straight-out ask them.  For instance, “Hey, I’m going rock-climbing this weekend, would you like to join me?” is so much more inviting than, “You free this weekend?” which seems to imply that your invitee has no life.

To have your most pressing etiquette questions addressed, please write to wordsbecomeone@gmail.com.   Also, if you think it’s funny to write to me as “Dear Abby,” you already have an etiquette issue we need to address.

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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Trust is an interesting word, because as my mom says, “It doesn’t exist until it’s tested.”

Consider mine in full existence.

Mike climbed Mt. Baker last weekend, and I didn’t handle it well — at first.  This was his first climb of this intensity, and it’s a bit of a mystery to both of us.  What do we know of mountains?  More specifically, what do I know of what they do to men?

I know that they call to men, beckoning them for reasons that escape me.  I look at mountains and think, “How beautiful!”  Men look at mountains and think “I must conquer you.”

Mike’s sister Wendy is married to a man who has answered that mountainous whisper numerous times.  Naturally, I went to her with my nerves bared.

“Worry is futile and unproductive,” she advised.  “It’s definitely something I’ve come to understand over time though…so don’t feel like you have to instantly be at peace and calm about your hubby climbing a mountain.  It’s a process.”

It’s a process.  So it’s fine that I cried after breakfast on Friday morning, when I knew I wouldn’t see him until his return on Sunday night.  And it’s fine that I cried after lunch on Friday afternoon, when we said goodbye again, since I needed more than one goodbye.  (Believe me; I know how pathetic I sound right now).

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was afraid.  Not of Mike’s inability, but of the mountain’s strength.  Climbing produces an onslaught of foreign words that sound like causes of death:  crevasse, glacier, peak, ice field, snow slide.

Add to this that we have only spent one night apart so far in our marriage (I know, you’re gagging).  Add to this that we had just returned from a six day trip in which we had been together 24/7.  The result is that the thought of his absence made me feel like a limb was missing.

I guess that’s what I felt all weekend: phantom limb.

So I called my mom on Friday and told her my fears.  She listened.  Then she asked if I was going up the mountain with him.

“No, I’m not going,” I said.

“Correct.  You cannot protect him.  But Jesus is walking alongside him all the way up to the peak  and right back down.  So tell Him to protect our boy and then let it go,” she said, using my three least favorite words in the English language.

Let it go.

Release.

Essentially, stop being myself, because I am a control freak.

So, begrudgingly, I did.  I told Jesus this was truly His worry, not mine, and I stopped thinking about it.

OK I didn’t stop thinking about it.  I just stopped worrying about it.  I still thought of him every day, but it was thoughts of missing him, not imagining him falling into an abyss.  This was progress.

I also made plans.  The last thing I needed was to be home alone with my thoughts, so I called Rachel, Mike’s other sister, whose husband Phil was climbing with Mike.  Then we called her mom, because her son and son-in-law are our husbands.  So we all felt the same and decided to be together to feel the same.

We went to Anacortes where Mike’s parents have a house, to distract ourselves, even enjoy ourselves, and relax.  This was the best possible decision we could have made.

Rachel has been through this worry-release almost as many times as Wendy, so she was a rock for me in my first experience.  Just looking at her peaceful expression made me think of the boys less and less often.  Instead, I was fully present with Rachel and Colleen, and could enjoy a gorgeous sunset dinner overlooking the San Juan Islands.

I suppose peaceful dinners are one of the fringe benefits of “letting it go.”  Who knew?

As I write this, on Sunday afternoon, the boys are not home yet.  According to the “SPOT” device they use to let us know their status, they are still OK.  Every couple of hours they push a button on this device and it emails us their location.  I can’t overstate my devotion to this product.

The boys have a motto when it comes to their climbs:  “The summit is optional.  Coming home is not.”   These are good men.

As for me being a good woman?  I’m ashamed of how much effort it takes for me to trust.  I want to be the woman who says, “Go!  Adventure!  Live!”  When what I whine now is, “Stay home!  Be my security!  Never leave my side!”

But that’s not living.  That’s not what we were made for.  And Mike isn’t my security anyway; God is.

So when Mike gets home, as I trust he will, and I am relieved and happy and filled with hope that my trust was on solid ground — then I must hold onto this trust, learn it, keep it.  Because I know exactly what he’s going to say:

“I can’t wait to climb Mt. Rainier!”

Mike, Greg and Phil make their way back down the mountain.

  Mike, Greg and Phil make their way up the mountain.

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A Family Affair

Is it me, or do family weddings bring out the best and worst in everyone involved?

Best:  you buy a new outfit, get a haircut, and show up with your finest face forward.

Worst:  you prepare to socialize with your entire extended family, knowing this will mean both engaging with cousins you treasure and fielding personal questions from a great uncle you can’t remember.

Last week Mike and I were in Washington, DC and took the weekend to drive to a small town in Maryland for my cousin’s wedding.  As we drove, I gave Mike the rundown of my mom’s side of the family — explaining marriages, divorces, awkward relationships, all of it.  Lucky for him, there was sufficient dysfunction in my family to prevent his eyes from glazing over.

My extended family lives on the East Coast, and my immediate family moved to Seattle twelve years ago, so we don’t see each other often.  Over time I conceded the loss of connection and the lack of anything in common besides our bloodline, so I told myself not to hope for familial closeness at an event such as a wedding.

This was not so, but it took me the entire wedding to see it fully.

Five minutes before the ceremony started, Mike and I, along with my sister Erin and her friend Karen, rolled up in our rental car.  This was tacky, but honestly we were driving through the back country of Maryland…forgive us if we don’t know the way from Fruitland to Nassawango (I wish I was inventing these names).

As soon as the ceremony concluded, it was like a dam broke.  Hugs, kisses, you-are-so-talls; we were gushing at each other.  I was proud to introduce Mike to the people who had helped shape who I was, and it was gratifying for them to meet the person with whom I’d chosen to spend my life.

And despite the passage of time, talking with them reminded me that these are not casual family members.  No, these are the people who will tell me when I have dirt on my face, or in this case, goose droppings on my shoes (an outdoor wedding, go figure).

It came as no surprise then when none of us were bashful about admitting that the open bar was crucial to our re-acquainting, and we all groaned good-naturedly about the slew of mandatory group photos that had to be taken.

As for the conversation, it was classic:  no one can get away with any pretense at a family wedding, because you’re with people who saw you eat Play-Doh (and like it).  There’s no point in bragging about a job because they already know who you are – they don’t need to know what you do.

Minute by minute, I realized how much I miss them.  I saw what I’m missing by not living near them.

When you live apart from your family, you move on and establish your own life and don’t feel the hole.  But when you return home; when you realize your living lineage is here and not there; when you talk to people who watched you grow up; it’s not a small thing.  And I am missing it.

This became abundantly clear as the DJ cued the music.

You know you really love your family when you are willing to enter the dance floor for such songs as the Electric Slide or the YMCA.  When you can toss all of your dignity aside for a few rounds of the Macarena, you know you’re with your nearest and dearest.

And, to quote that other atrocious wedding dance song, isn’t that “what it’s all about”?  Put your best hope in, take your bad attitude out, raise a glass to what’s ahead and forgive each other for what’s past?  Isn’t it about pulling together as individuals and then letting loose as one?

The proof-positive that the wedding was a success was that it didn’t end at the wedding.  Mike ran to the store for a case of Corona and all my cousins, every last one, packed into one hotel room to talk until 3AM.

There is one wedding song that normally makes me roll my eyes, but at this wedding made me jubilant:

“All of the people around us, they say
can they be that close?
Just let me state for the record,
we’re giving love in a family dose.
We. Are. Family.”

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Out of Town…

My apologies for missing my own deadline today. I had a post 90% complete as I boarded a plane from DC to Seattle, but we got stuck overnight in Phoenix with no Internet access (among other things — this was a “motel” lacking in any amenities). I hope to publish the complete post by tomorrow morning.

I won’t fail you next week!

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UPward Adventure

*Disclaimer:  It may be best to read this after seeing the new movie UP, both to avoid giveaways and to understand what I’m describing.

If you were to ask anyone, stranger or friend, about what they consider an adventure to be, very few would reply “a relationship.”   You’re far more likely to get answers about hiking in the Amazon, climbing Mt. Everest, or exploring the Mayan ruins.

And who could blame them for thinking the great outdoors hold the keys to most thrills?  Earth is essentially a giant piñata awaiting a bat-wielding person to reveal hidden treasures.   Until last year, I completely believed the outdoor-definition of adventure.  I clung to the ideal that unless I traversed the far reaches of the world, I was settling for a mind-numbing existence.

Being with Mike has taught me that sacrificing my plans can actually lead to a different adventure, a much greater adventure: the adventure of intimacy.

But who cares about that?  Where in our society is there an example of marriage being EXCITING, of all things?  This is why it’s such a surprise that the central theme for the animated movie “UP” is that adventure can be found in a relationship, in a marriage, as much as it can be found traveling the world.

The trailers for the film show a septuagenarian soaring in his home suspended by a thousand brilliant balloons, headed for the wilds of South America.   However, the story is infinitely richer and more multilayered than the simplistic journey of an old man.

In the first wordless five minutes, the filmmakers display a portrait of a marriage spanning fifty years in images so poignant they brought me to tears.   I glanced sideways at Mike and could see the glisten of moist eyes behind his 3-D glasses.  We both realized their relationship held so much of what we want for ours.

But I think the reason this movie struck me so deeply is that I sometimes battle the feeling that I am missing out.  Many of my extended friends are exploring Machu Picchu, serving the poor in Ethiopia, and heading to China for graduate degrees – they are LIVING.   And everywhere you look it seems that married people are not.

Which is exactly why I didn’t want to get married, or even have a boyfriend, until I was thirty.  I had a list of things to accomplish (literally, a Word document titled “Things to Accomplish Before I’m 30”) and I wasn’t going to let any man halt my plans.  I knew that the moment a ring was on my finger, all of my adventures would be over.

I was so wrong.

My adventures, even wild ones like cliff-jumping off waterfalls in Kauai, tempted to distract me from ever experiencing one of God’s greatest intentions for us – intimacy with other people.

In the book “Sex God,” Rob Bell writes, “We want someone to see us exactly as we are and still love us.”  It would be incredible to show Mike the adventures I’ve been on, because I know he’d be impressed and want to know more about me.  It would be harder to show Mike who I truly am, without any accomplishments, and still be loved by him — but that’s exactly what God wants me to do.  Because once I let Mike love me, I might be better at letting God love me.

Now when I tell Mike my ideas for adventure and desires for our life, it means that I trust him to hold onto them.  It means that he’ll work with me to make them happen.  And it means that they aren’t just mine anymore; they’re ours to live side-by-side.

What I didn’t know before, and what I’m just learning now, is that by sacrificing my plans I’m opening myself up to more excitement.  I don’t know what’s ahead, but I know who’s going there with me.

It scares me.  It’s unsettling.  But it’s exciting.

The most surprising aspect of most of our mutual “dreams” is that they have nothing to do with physical attainment.  We have normal dreams of travel, entrepreneurship, and having children, but most of our ideas for adventure are for our relationship.

We talk about how we will get to a place of trust that is unshakable.  We dream of total openness where we can share ANYTHING and feel safe.  We imagine the richest intimacy possible in this life before heaven.  That is an adventure.

And the most rewarding part of the adventure, in my opinion, is exploring the person.  In my case, it’s the endless journey of finding out who Mike is, what makes him tick, what he loves, hates, and how I can be the best partner for him.  It’s so much more intense than it appears.

If I’m really dedicated, truly trying to reach a level of intimacy neither of us has ever known, it takes all I have.

What could be more adventurous than giving someone all of me?

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