Saturday, September 29, 2007

Pretty Girls And Rudeness

I don't have anything all that interesting to say about this column (the second letter) by Carolyn Hax, but I'm going to say it anyway.

It's a self-described "friendly guy" who "routinely strike[s] up conversations with random strangers" but "get[s] the rudest responses" from "'attractive'" women. He "find[s] it more humorous than anything else -- as well as an excellent 'don't date me' filter," but nevertheless is writing in to an advice columnist about it. You may have been able to detect, from my use of phrases such as "self-described" and the over-use of quotation marks, that I am not crazy about this guy.

I am not crazy about this guy. I suspect he has a wrong idea of rudeness. I cannot currently find the relevant Miss Manners column, but anybody's obligation to respond to the overtures of strangers is pretty limited. As long as you don't yell or pop the stranger one, you're allowed to respond with a small tense smile, a nod, and an immediate turning away. I can't prove that the letter writer would class that as a rude response, but I have a hunch. Women's intuition, probably.

But let's ignore my gut telling me that this guy is the sort of proto-sexist who tries to enforce a standard of womanly niceness on all of those who fall within the range of people he would fuck. Instead, let's think about the claim that he routinely talks to random strangers.

I don't believe it. I think he talks to strangers that he finds attractive. Not just women he might want to sleep with, but people who are, on some level, appealing to him. Now part of the reason I think he doesn't want to admit that is because it weakens his rhetorical position. If he is talking to people not randomly, but because he finds them appealing, "'attractive'" women maybe should be able to get away with talking to him only if they, in turn, find him attractive.

So there's that. But I think there's more than that preventing him from saying he talks to people un-randomly, but on the basis of some personal choice.

Because I've seen that kind of thing go the other way, too. A year ago I was back up visiting Berkeley and I went to lunch at the place I always go to lunch and somebody had written in the women's bathroom something about how you should talk to strangers because you never know what you might learn. And there was definitely a class of girls up there who loved things like that, who would tell you at great length about the awesome conversation they had with a homeless guy who wrote poetry, or what have you. And it all came flooding back to me reading the graffiti on the wall.

Those girls, I think, really were talking to people randomly. They didn't, I think, really care all that much about whoever's awesome poetry.

And that bothers me too in a lurking kind of way. Best I can put my finger on it is that I generally try to talk to people that seem like people I might like. And in admitting that, I am forced to face the fact that people that I think I might like might not feel the same way about me. I am forced into the embarrassment of admitting that I am talking to someone not because I'm just a friendly person who likes to talk to all sorts of people and not because I'm open-minded, but because I actually think I would enjoy talking to this particular person. And that's why I would want people to talk to me.

We're on a sliding scale here. I'm not asking the people on an unmoving bus or my coworkers to talk to me only to the extent that they think we could become best friends forever. Also, I've been told there's some virtue, some learning opportunities, in talking to people that don't appeal to you right up-front.

But I do think it's weird and maybe bad to go around acting as if you're only talking to people at random, as if there's no actual hope of human connection behind your conversation.


The Secretary said...

You're so right. It's all very fraught.

The Secretary said...

I did get confused by the last paragraph: you are pissed at the "friendly guy" and those girls that would talk to homeless guys, right? And do you hate both "friendly guy" and those girls about equally? Or do you distinguish in your level of distaste for them?

Noko Marie said...

To me it seems clear that no one has any obligation to talk to a stranger beyond "good morning," "nice day," or whatever. Yeah.

I'm always interested by the kinds of things strangers say that seem immediately pleasant or immediately off-putting... sometimes a stranger just says "hi," and you know it's just the glimpse of a moment and it's gone forever and it feels really nice. Other times they make "friendly" comments like "Are you a student? Is that why you're carrying a backpack?" And the lightness of it just isn't there. You feel right away: this person wants something.

Captain Colossal said...

Sec: I wouldn't say I hate anybody. I would say that "friendly guy" makes me more queasy, because he seems to want to enforce a certain "friendly" response. More than the girls.

N. Marie: It's funny how immediate that response is, and how hard it is for me to explain where the difference comes in. Sometimes I think it's just my mood, but I don't think that's all of it. And it's funny how creepy that sense of somebody wanting something from you is.

On an only semi-related note, early this morning I found myself walking along 7th Street east of Los Angeles Street. Which is not really one of the nicer areas of Los Angeles, and was packed, even at that hour of the morning. I had just gotten off a bus and was wearing a loose sweater and my Bugle Boy pants. All except for one of the people (guys) who said something to me referred to me as "Man." The other guy called me "Baby." And I was trying to figure out which term felt more comfortable/safer.