Stoic Insights on How to Put Up With Put-Downs

One of my running partners manages a hair care sales team. Last week he began a run by telling Dan, Dan, the Transportation Man that he had a new product for him. Some concoction that would make his hair thicker. “What about me?” I asked. “If anyone needs it, it’s me. What am I chopped liver?” “You’re too far gone!”

From my notes from William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life:

Understandably, people are sensitive to insults. Rather than deserving our anger, flawed people who criticize us deserve our pity. As people make progress in Stoicism they will become increasingly indifferent to people’s opinions of them. Because they are indifferent to others’ opinions, they feel hardly any sting when insulted. One of the best ways to respond to an insult is with humor, especially self-deprecating humor. Sometimes the best response is no response at all, to calmly and quietly bear what has happened. That robs the person of the pleasure of insulting us.

Self-deprecating humor is like Bill Wither’s music or sunshine in the Pacific Northwest, you can never have too much of it. The trick is to make so much fun of yourself than no one else can compare. In the past, I’ve singled out Tina Fey as a self-deprecating sensei worthy of study. Now, meet her equal, Emily Yoffe or Slate Magazine’s Dear Prudence. Prudence somehow answers impossibly difficult questions about all sorts of interpersonal, romantic, and sexual dysfunction. One of her most recent Q&A’s made me laugh aloud. Do not ruin it for me by suggesting some college students wrote it late at night as a prank on the electronic magazine. It has to be authentic.

Q. I am having a rather silly problem with my otherwise wonderful wife. She gets up early every morning before work to go to the gym, and then takes a shower when she gets back to our small one-bedroom apartment. After her shower, she says she gets overheated easily while we’re both getting ready for work. I can understand that—I’ve already showered while she’s gone, she’s been exercising, and then she’s showered, plus she needs to use a blow dryer to style her hair. But her way of dealing with this is to walk around almost naked (in just her bra and underwear) until she absolutely has to get dressed to leave for work. She eats breakfast like this, puts on her makeup this way—she basically just goes about her morning routine with barely any clothes on and sometimes she skips the bra entirely. Under other circumstances, I would enjoy this. But when I’m trying to get myself ready for the day, this is kind of distracting. I find myself getting aroused, and since we’re both trying to get out the door for work, it’s a bad time for sex. But then I get to work and I’m frustrated all day long. I’ve tried raising this issue with her (delicately) and she gets offended that I can’t control myself after we’ve been married for eight years, which I find offensive. She’s the one walking around half-naked. How can I try to resolve this with her peacefully?

A: Ah, tempus fugit! At this stage in my life, the way I turn off my husband is to walk around naked. This is a sweet dilemma, so it’s too bad you both get so annoyed with each other over the fact that after eight years the sight of your undressed wife bouncing around the apartment is so arousing. I get letters from women wishing that their husbands weren’t lounging around with the family jewels draped over the upholstery (they do not find it a turn-on). But I think yours is the first from a guy who finds his wife’s toilette so distracting he can’t get out the door. But surely, once you’re at the office, you are able to focus on the marketing data and don’t spend the whole day moaning over your morning testicular vasocongestion. If you’re not able to move on and save it for later, you sound very juvenile. Instead of continuing to fight over this, try taking action (not the kind of action that will make you late for work). Buy a pretty, short, sheer robe for your wife and give it to her as a gift. Explain that she’s so damn attractive that if she were a little more covered in the morning it would help you focus on the day ahead. Tell her she of course doesn’t have to wear it, but you know that color looks great on her, and you hope it’s lightweight enough that she can put it on without getting overheated. Let’s hope that she takes your gesture in good spirit and likes the robe. Of course, if it’s silky and sexy, seeing her in it may have the unintended consequence of overheating you.

Prudence’s line about turning off her husband provided the second best laugh of the week. The best goes to my daughters, one of whom posted this picture to her Facebook page.

The two things I'm most proud of in todo el mundo.

The two things I’m most proud of in todo el mundo.

It Gets Better Project

Timely, important, moving, potentially life saving website, book, videos and more based on a pledge—Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I’ll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that “It Gets Better.”

And although the week is only half-over, I’m going out on the limb and anointing this semi-related (connect the dots yourself) post by Alex Tabarrok, Do Cellphones Cause Brain Damage? POW-status (Post of the Week).

And this Jerry Seinfeld Royal Wedding gem the QOW (Quote of the Week).

“You know, it’s dress-up. It’s a classic English thing of let’s play dress-up. Let’s pretend that these are special people. OK, we’ll all pretend that—that’s what theater is. That’s why the British have the greatest theater in the world. They love to dress upand they love to play pretend. And that’s what the royal family is—it’s a huge game of pretend. These aren’t special people—it’s fake outfits, fake phony hats and gowns.”

And this Sudhir Venkatesh’s Slate magazine semi-related piece (again, connect the dots yourself), “What Is the Matter with Sociology?” the BESS award—Best Essay on the State of Sociology of the week.

And at the risk of starting a ROW, I anoint you Reader of the Week.

The All Important Middle School Years

For adults with children at home. If that doesn’t describe you, consider forwarding the link to a parent friend.

I’m not God’s gift to parenting, I’m sharing my story in the hope of provoking conversation and proving helpful in some small way.

As a young parent I had a hunch. My adolescence and gut told me that the quality of my daughters’ close friend decision-making would go a long ways to determining how they’d turn out as young adults. Consequently, we talked about it a lot and both daughters processed our teaching, but in very different ways.

Social scientists are finding out what many parents already know, siblings are often remarkably different one from another. In fact, they’re finding out they’re almost as different as a random sampling of children.

Our daughters’ close friend decision-making stories are illustrative of two things: 1) how different siblings often are, and 2) how true my initial hunch was that the nature of children’s close friend decision-making greatly influences who they become as young adults.

In this regard, the sixth to eighth grade time period seems especially important. Near the end of fifth grade Eighteen announced that she wanted to go to a small, independent, academically oriented middle school. “But all your friends are going to Washington Middle School.” “I’ll make new ones.” There were 32-34 people in her sixth grade class and the girls subdivided into two groups of eight or so. For some reason I can’t quite explain, Eighteen had no interest in working her way into the “cool” group. Instead, she became very good friends with other girls who were perfectly happy being the “geeks at a school for geeks”.

Individually and collectively they were unusually secure in themselves for twelve and thirteen year olds. Consequently, they unwittingly denied the “cool” group their primary leverage, elevated social status. Social status is only a competition when two or more groups willing enter into competition. Eighteen and her friends opted out of the competition altogether. It was a beautiful thing. They did well in school, they did meaningful community service, they excelled in music and athletics, they encouraged each other academically, they avoided the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol, and then they expanded their circle two and three-fold in their large, comprehensive high school. Now they’re doing well in excellent colleges across the country.

The GalPal and I could have been forgiven if we thought “This is cake.”

When Fifteen was twelve, she decided to attend small, independent, academic middle school too. Similar class size, similar subdivision of girls, totally different outcome. Fifteen wanted in the “in” group. The alpha cool student quickly picked up on this and from the get go took advantage of it by being friendly one day or week and nasty the next. The rest of the inner circle followed the alpha cool student’s lead, so socially, sixth and seventh grade was a hellish time. In an effort to try to fit in she compromised her true values and sense of self. Fortunately, she did this before the “in” group had access to drugs and alcohol.

By eighth grade, she gave up trying to be accepted by a group that she began to realize she didn’t really want to be a part of anyways. Socially, she spent most of the year alternating between making friends with seventh graders and hanging out by herself. Throughout this time, her mom and dad were impressing upon her the importance of befriending people who bring out the best in you, who make you a better person than you otherwise would be. She was tired, frustrated, sad, and very receptive to our teaching at that point.

High school has been redemptive. She has wonderful friends who share her values of doing well in school, respecting oneself and others, being physically active, and she’s healthier and happier than ever. She has a bright future.

She returned from a party the other day where she caught up with a middle school friend who attends a different high school. She learned the alpha cool student has fallen off the straight and narrow and no one from that inner circle is friends with her anymore. I feel badly for her and Fifteen probably does too. Her middle school meanness seemed rooted in insecurities that no doubt have gotten the best of her.

Post-party Fifteen reflected that she’s “so glad” she went through social hell when she did because now she has a better feel for who she is and how to choose and make close friends that share her values. Mutual friendships, friends that willingly accept one another’s quirks, friends that continuously welcome other people into their circle, friends that inspire.

That chapter of our family life was anything but cake. It was hard to watch without swooping in, but had we helicoptered in, we very likely would have shortchanged the personal discoveries and growth Fifteen experienced.

I couldn’t be more proud of her and grateful for her great leap forward.