Questions I Have About Social Etiquette
We’ve just enjoyed lunch together and are making our way to the sidewalk to say our goodbyes. It’s a long goodbye, one that involves the promise of future lunches and a hug, even. And then we begin to walk in the same direction, side by side. Is it OK for me to put on my headphones, once the goodbye part is over? Should our common path supersede our theatrical Farewell scene? If so, how do we say goodbye the second time? How do we avoid this, going forward?
On my birthday, can we not go to a restaurant and have an enjoyable meal only to follow it up with a boisterous, restaurant-wide rendition of “Happy Birthday”? Can we go to a restaurant that doesn’t do that sort of thing? Or can we not go to a restaurant at all, seeing as splitting the bill between a bunch of friends of varying economic backgrounds always ends in disaster? Who are you, person who wants to split the bill every time?
If, in an informal setting such as my living room, I’m sitting with one other person, and you walk in, and the one other person stands up to greet you, do I have to stand up to greet you, too? Do you expect me to, or can you see that I’m comfortable and would prefer to extend my hand from a sitting position? Can you see that this is a living room and not a board room? Are you an understanding person? Had the first person not rose to greet you, would that change your expectations of me? Am I destined to mirror the decisions of other people, or can I make my own decisions in terms of how I greet someone, without being judged? Did you even notice what transpired, just now?
When can I stop holding the door for you people? Is it any more rude to just give up on holding the door after seventeen people have traversed through it without so much as a head nod than it is to be that eighteenth person, who has watched me hold the door open from afar and decided that they, too, will stroll on through like the Queen of fucking England? Will one of you take over for me, or am I going to have to quit my job and sublet my apartment to rededicate my life’s purpose to holding the door for people who think me invisible? Will one of you at least tip me, like a real door man?
Why are we doing the double cheek kiss in America? How am I to discern between the double cheek kiss and the triple cheek kiss? What if you decide to keep going? Are you trying to give me a panic attack?
If we are two strangers in an elevator together, will you feel slighted if I don’t make eye contact with you? Is it OK to not want to make small talk in the elevator, to not want to seem suggestive of something — anything? Would you believe me if I told you that being alone in an elevator with one other person frightens me, depending on the height and weight and sex of the person? Please don’t look at me.
Even though I believe you when you tell me we’ve already met several times, is it OK to tell you outright that I don’t remember you? Isn’t that better than lying, or asking ‘discovery questions’ until I can figure out who you are? Isn’t this an innocuous form of honesty? Wouldn’t the end product of this honesty be that I never forget you again, rather than I walk away still having no freaking clue as to whom you are? Have you done something different with your hair? That must be it.
If I cover my mouth when I yawn, do I have to say “excuse me” afterward? Do you actually equate, in your mind, my yawning with you boring me? I’m probably just tired. Do people even expect an “excuse me” after a yawn, or am I confusing yawning with sneezing?
Next Thanksgiving, may I please keep what I’m thankful for to myself? I feel embarrassed talking about it. I feel embarrassed talking about most things, which is why I write them down instead. Just know that I’m thankful for a lot of things, maybe even you.
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Even as I write this now I am debating whether or not to erase it all together.
When I say I’m in love with you, I mean I love the story I can tell to my next lover, about my ex-lover, about how beautiful things were, how intense, how storybook, what a couple we were, and how you gradually, inexplicably, painfully, bit by bit, disappeared.
By John Howell
“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
I was 24 and, while not gay, ever since college I had been getting more attention from gay men than from heterosexual women.
By Ed Herro