Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday ramble

I stumbled upon this article on how to handle unsolicited advice just as I was feeling guilty about being annoyed at my father's being himself. Most people dislike unsolicited advice most of the time (the author notes that there are exceptions), and--the author also notes--that even if the advisor is really just thinking out loud, it usually comes off as if (s)he thinks you're stupid. Did the people suggesting she get a passport (when she told them she was going to Europe) think she didn't know that? If they did, was it because they wouldn't have known that, or did they think that she, specifically, was clueless?

There are a lot of reasons that advice grates, one being that sometimes--most of the time--we just want people to listen. I tend to frame advice in the context of, 'this worked out well for me, don't know if this was already on your radar' or something similar. If anything, I tend to err on the side of assuming that people know things, where a suggestion might be helpful. But there is something super-galling about advice that presumes a greater-than-average level of ignorance.

And yet! Why should I care that, say, some random person on the street thinks I'm stupid? As the author said, if you want to change behavior, nodding or saying something generic won't get you there. I think with randos I do tend to smile and nod and whatever. But I digress. I was thinking about why my father's various antics so irked me. And, as with not appreciating it when someone presumes you're stupid, I don't appreciate it when my father implies that he's not impressed with how I'm living my life.

With both parents, there was no winning at the phone call game. If I wasn't home on a Saturday night, I'd get a message about where was I and how I should call back immediately to confirm I was okay. If I was home, why was I home on a Saturday night? My parents somehow tended to call me at the times I was busiest and/or most tired, to talk about nothing. I love my parents but I was never one for phone calls to begin with, and I never enjoyed talking on the phone with them. I don’t enjoy small talk in person and on the phone, it’s torture. My parents’ particular brand of torture includes, among other things, not only starting the ‘what did you do at school today’ conversation but pushing it in spite of all evidence that it’s going nowhere. My parents are awful at picking up on signals, which makes the conversation that much more insufferable.

I tended to attribute all this to my mother, but my father on his own isn't much better. He fundamentally doesn’t understand how exhausting these conversations are for me, and takes it personally. He also fundamentally doesn’t take hints. There was that time a couple of years ago that I got home from work around 9. I had just sat down to eat when my dad pinged me on Skype. I messaged him to say, “I just got home from work; I’m exhausted and I’m going to bed as soon as I’m done eating.” If someone messages you that, what do you do? Do you then call them? Because something about “I just got home from work, I’m exhausted, I’m going to bed as soon as I’m done eating” says “please call me.”

Seven years ago, I was just a few months into homeownership, which in my case was months of scrambling madly to make my house livable. At least once a week, I’d come home to find one more thing needing repair or replacement—from outlets to appliances to basic infrastructure. I found out that the washing machine leaked (the inspector hadn’t noticed), and it took me a few months to get a replacement installed. It turned into a nightmare—one that I didn’t have time for. I’d started a new job just over a year before, and a new rotation around the same time I bought the house, and I had a lot of work to do. I couldn’t just take time off to wait around for people. It was ultimately resolved the weekend before I left for Ecuador, taking up entire chunks of time I didn’t have, and stressing me out.

So it was a weeknight, I think, a day or two before an early morning flight—and of course I hadn’t packed—that my parents called and drew out a conversation. They asked about the washer, and I said it was resolved but it was a nightmare, and that I didn’t want to talk about it. Nevertheless,

Mom: what exactly happened?
A.: I don’t want to talk about it.
Dad: Did they try to screw you over on price?
A.: I said I didn’t want to talk about it!

There was nothing deeper then, no hidden insecurity. My frustration was born out of a combination of exhaustion and annoyance at having to have this conversation, and at my father's failure to register the meaning of "I don't want to talk about it."

Last night:

Dad: what did you do today?
A.: mostly errands. Got my car jumped, drove it around.
Dad: why is the cat so sleepy? It’s only 9. Oh yeah, that’s your bedtime.
A.: it is not my bedtime.
Dad: did it used to be your bedtime?
A.: No.

I did not say, I go to bed whenever the fuck I want; I shoot for 10ish, because I don’t sleep past 5am. Occasionally when I’m super exhausted, I’ll go to bed around 9. I’m an adult and I don’t have to justify my bedtime to you. If I did what you do—which is fall asleep on the couch at midnight and then eventually go to bed and still wake up at the crack of dawn—I couldn’t function.

Dad: what else did you do today?
A.: nothing.

Why do this? I'm not withholding any information. If I'd done anything worth talking about, I would have disclosed it. I don't feel bad about having a lazy weekend. I'm tired, I do shit during the week, I have things to take care of. Leave me the fuck alone. You're the one who insists we talk every night; I'm not going to have something to say at that frequency. Just be content with staring at the cat.

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