There are some concerts I attend and whose audiences include a lot of older people. A while back, I frequently observed that the water had been left running in the men’s room sink. As I stepped up to the sink one time and stuck my hands under the flow left running by the elderly man who had just left, I was aware of another man just approaching the sink to my right. Without turning to look at him, I shared my observation, “Some men just don’t seem to know how to turn the faucet off.”
Then I glanced to my right to see an old friend. “Oh, hi. I didn’t realize I was talking to someone I know,” I offered cheerily.
Yet his reply was, “You’re not talking to me.”
Wait. What? Did he think I was accusing him of leaving the water running? I wouldn’t confront someone in that situation in the first place, but how could I think that someone just about to wash his hands could’ve possibly left the water on?
I couldn’t muster any words before the brief encounter ended. Not long after, it occurred to me that my best response would have been, “To you, but not about you.”
You know the situation. You think of exactly the right thing to say — moments, hours or days later. Sometimes I’m just too shocked to think of a response. I just can’t believe what I’m hearing. Sometimes it’s not that I can’t think of a good reply, but the opposite: I think of too many appropriate responses to choose just one. So I stand there running through the menu in my mind while saying nothing.
One day in a small workout facility, as I was wiping down the machine on which I’d just been exercising, an older woman said something about how good it was to see a man actually doing some cleaning. All kinds of things went through my head, none of which came out coherently.
The sexism implied was bad enough, but there’s also common gym courtesy — and the signs reminding all patrons to wipe off machines after use. This woman was a regular and the wife of a physical education instructor. That seemed to be two good reasons for her to be familiar with workout room customs. So one of the things I wished I’d said was, “Just following protocol.”
As for the antiquated attitude about gender roles, I thought of saying something about how I’d learned about and practiced housecleaning from an early age. But that could’ve involved more time than I had as I moved on to the next machine.
I was working in the public relations office of a major medical center many years ago. Someone I vaguely knew worked there and was involved in workers’ right. One day she saw me and the job title on my name badge. “How can you do public relations for this place?”
I offered how much I enjoyed the activities I personally got to do, including taking photos and working on the in-house newspaper. By the next day, I knew the best response would’ve been: “Well, somebody has to.”
Sometimes people pick up on one word in what you’ve said and use it to steer the conversation in a different direction. My first mother-in-law, before she was, had trouble with my longish hair in the early ’70s. One time, at the urging of a friend, she got up the nerve to ask me directly why I wore it that long. I said it had been short most of my life, but in recent times, I’d decided to go with something different. She picked up only on “different,” saying that with so many guys having long hair, I’d be different if mine were short.
The sudden change in direction of the conversation threw me, as it always has and does. I’m not sure I said anything. Obviously, she was conceding that I wasn’t varying from the norm of the day, but she didn’t want the norm of the day dating her daughter (or coming in her house). Some time later, I realized I could’ve simply said, “I mean different from the way I have worn it in the past.”
I don’t think this change-of-direction tactic is characteristic of mothers-in-law or women in general, but I did have an analogous experience with MIL2, who at least was more accepting of me. There was a myth in that family that I could “eat anything and not gain weight.” She perpetuated it as much as anyone.
While it was a positive myth, it wasn’t true. After I had slowly put on 40 pounds over a number of years, I pointed out to her that the facts belied the myth. Her response? “Well, you weighed too little to start with.” Again, the sudden change in direction flustered me. Days past before my appropriate response crystallized in my brain: “Whether or not that’s true, it doesn’t change the fact that I have been gaining weight all along.”
Btw, it wasn’t true. I had been close to an ideal weight when she first knew me.
I was visiting a church one Sunday. During the passing of the peace, a woman stepped across the aisle, said “Sorry but I’m the congregational hugger,” and threw her arms around me.
What I thought and regret not saying was, “That’s certainly not something to apologize for.”
I was with a small group of people at the home of mutual friends. The hosts had not been married long and were anxious to start a family. Guests included a couple who were militantly anti-children. The wife of that couple noticed, picked up and examined a detailed temperature chart our hostess was keeping.
“I can’t believe someone would go through all this to have a baby.”
I said nothing, but eventually wished I’d thought to have said: “Why not? You’d go through that much not to have a baby, wouldn’t you?”
I’m one of those few people who figures the engineers and law enforcement people who set speed limits know more about it than I do. So, taking my “courtesy” into account, I tend to drive no more than 5 or so faster than the posted limit. On multi-lane highways, I stay over to the right as much as possible. I’m the old guy creeping along at 72 in the right-hand lane of a 65 mph zone. On two-lane roads, I deal with a lot of tailgaters.
One time, I listened as some person ranted about having to be behind someone going too slowly on a two-lane highway. I thought of the times I’ve had someone’s headlights in my rear-view mirror while I was going 60 on a 55-mph road at night. But I decided to give this person the benefit of a doubt and assume she was talking about someone going well below the limit, which does happen.
I just said something supportive and let it go. What I could have said, though, was, “Yes, that is quite frustrating. I’ve been there. And you know what is also frustrating? When you’re going 60 in a 55-mph zone and someone is riding your back bumper, putting you both at risk for an accident, as if you were holding up traffic”
I was a young adult when my mother was diagnosed with high blood pressure. As a hedge against heredity, I stopped adding salt to my food. I found other ways to help it be favorable. At a luncheon one day, as I declined an offer of the salt shaker, I told the others about my mother’s HBP and my desire to minimize my risk.
I then immediately said, “Pass the pepper.” There were giggles, which didn’t seem to fit the situation. I let it go, but later wished I’d thought to have said, “It’s not flavor that is the culprit, just sodium. ”
I’m sure you can think of similar experiences. I could go on, but that’s enough (maybe more than enough) examples. Tomorrow or next week, I’ll probably think of one more I’ll wish I’d included.