“I don’t want to offend you, but…”

“… I like you. Is that ok?”

A friend revealed last week that he has not yet told a girl that he “really really likes her” after several years of casual friendship and no less than ten recent dates. His reasoning? He knows that she attends church every week. His assumptions, based on this one fact? That a) she is uber-conservative, b) does not believe in sex before marriage, and c) will be offended at his suggestion that they date.

“If you remember,” I yelled at him him loudly, waving my beer in his face, “this sounds exactly like that time that [boyfriend] waited to tell me he was breaking up with me until after I took the GRE because he thought I couldn’t handle all the stress!”1

What is an appropriate way to make affections known to the object of said affections? More generally, what is the best way to inform someone else of a decision you have made that may affect his or her life, without being presumptuous and revealing your own prejudices?2 How does one say “I’m attracted to you” with absolute guarantee that the other party will not take it as objectification? Can we ever believe that “it’s not you, it’s me” will ever indicate complete, honest, self-awareness?3

I got mad at my friend. I was perhaps a little too critical, perhaps projecting my own frustration after hearing so many unclear messages for so long. I told him that he was patronising, and offensive. I told him that he was being ruled by his (definitely sexist) assumptions about her preferences. There is a distinct possibility that she is not interested, I acknowledged, but let’s give her some credit.

No one, I said, should ever be offended by a simple “I like you”.4 If she is, I continued, you owe her the opportunity to explain her own assumptions, prejudices, and circumstances. I walked away from the conversation in a huff, but I was only halfway across the room before I realised that my response was probably just as informed by my opinion of my friend, who I’ve known since the age of nineteen. My own dismissal at his ability to responsibly, and maturely, begin relations with the fairer sex was a result of many years of witnessing his mistakes.

Our wimpy selves often take over before we get the chance to say something that we really mean. Sometimes we end up saying nothing at all, but on occasion, we lash out, blurt, and ramble. Our old uncertainties, morals learned from past experiences, and values transmitted to us from our respective cultures — in other words, all the things that make us the way we are — make us project our assumptions onto others. We can move to new countries, date different demographics, and shop around for new religions or political allegiances, but these factors will still nag.

I’ll give both of us some advice here. Make your own life, with your relationship history, physical insecurities, and yes, your prejudices, your normal. Acknowledge it, deal with it, present it as such, and own it. I’ll go first. I am a thoughtful but somewhat insecure internet blogger who calls herself The Bun.5 I have a fake tooth and weirdly fat fingers. I have a finnicky uterus and the weirdest health problems. I have some trust issues, care too much about what people think, and have serious imposter syndrome. I probably drink too often.

It is a pleasure to meet you. This is my normal, as of May 2016. What is yours?

 

1. I’d actually heard about his decision from another friend as I walked happily towards the campus bar to celebrate my 99th percentile score on the GRE. Funny how things work out. Also, beer.

2. I use the term “prejudice” here rather loosely. I don’t mean it as something that is intended to be negative — rather, an assumption about another person often arises out of one’s desire to protect. But, I’m sure we are all aware, protection can quickly turn into offence when expressed in a patronising way.

3. Long-term readers of this blog will remember that I question every verbal utterance that comes my way. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this speech one too many times, I often wonder about sincerity. More on this later, I hope.

4. Let’s put it another way — how many of us have waited, hoped, and pined to hear these words come out of another’s mouth? How nice it is to know that another individual is willing to put him or herself out there to reveal some (albeit tentative) feelings?

5. Therapists would probably look at this symptom and diagnose several different personality abnormalities from this one fact, including, but not limited to, inflated sense of self-worth, love of being talked about, and obsession with food.

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