Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fine. Be passive aggressive. Whatever. See if I care.

The days prior to Valentine's Day have the highest incidence of passive aggressiveness of any other time of year. Okay, I don't actually have any data to support that, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's true. People have expectations about this manufactured holiday of forced romanticism, but they are too *polite* to ask. So instead they combat undesirable suggestions with "Whatever" or "I suppose" or other incredibly unattractive attempts at getting people to read their minds.


There is a saying "Put up or shut up," but the key to overcoming passive aggressiveness is "Speak up then shut up."

Speak Up
Passive aggressiveness occurs because people don't want to be actually aggressive, and I'm not advocating replacing passive aggressive behavior with outright demands. However, it is possible to ask (or at least hint) for things in a polite manner. It starts with being honest. A classic exchange is
"What do you want for dinner?"
"I don't care."
Sometimes people may honestly not care, but more often this is passive aggressive because the respondent actually means, "I don't know," a distinction that becomes apparent when every subsequent suggestion for dinner is shot down.

Similarly, if someone asks you what you want to do for Valentine's Day don't say you don't care; instead, say
"I'd like to go out to dinner."
Or even better...
"I'd love to try [this restaurant]."
Or if that's not what you want... 
"I'd love to just stay in and watch a movie."
Or whatever you may really want. You're not likely to get that weekend in Paris you've been planning in your head if you don't speak up. (Of course, try to keep your requests commensurate with your partner's financial position.)
And if your special someone doesn't ask what you'd like to do, speak up. Don't demand: "You will take me to the big expensive restaurant!" Yeesh! Bitch much? But it is appropriate to make a polite suggestion: "I don't know what you were thinking about for Valentine's Day, but I would love..." Then see above for examples to fill in that blank.

Shut Up
Once you've honestly expressed your ideas, shut up. Whether your suggestions were followed or ignored, sit back and try to enjoy the evening. Unless you are involved with a total a$$hole, that person is trying to do something nice no matter how misguided an idea may be involved. Don't roll your eyes. Don't respond "Whatever" or "It's fine." Smile. Say "Thank you." If the other person's choice of evening activity was really that bad (like a reserved table at White Castle) try to wait a day or so, and then (gently) tell them how you feel to avoid a repeat.

Oh, and if you said "I don't need anything" when asked about exchanging gifts don't pout when you don't get anything.

Full disclosure: I am a recovering passive aggressor. Passive aggressiveness still creeps into my behavior, but I'm trying. And I just want to go out to dinner for Valentine's Day. I don't need a gift. And I mean that.

1 comment:

red pen mama said...

I married into a passive aggressive family, and it drives me bonkers. My husband has been working on it, too.

Our first Valentine's Day together, he was so insistent we go out. I told him I didn't like the day and I didn't want to celebrate it, and I was being honest. Since he wouldn't give it up, I finally said, "Fine. We're going to see the Vagina Monologues." (Pgh premiere, CMU student group, brilliant.) God bless him, he sucked it up and went.

Now we just exchange cards and little gifts, we include the kids; occasionally we go out to dinner. We actually have a date night Saturday because he bought me the PSO tickets I wanted for Christmas. I'm a firm believer in 'speak up then shut up.' I've never heard it put that way before, but it works!

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