How Coupled People Shouldn’t Talk to their Single Friends

Greetings, readers! I hope you had a pleasant Christmas/Federal Holiday/Day Off. On the whole, my Christmas was quite good. There are always those little annoyances, though, aren’t there? The remarks you really didn’t need to hear. What follows is an extended rant. If you’d like to avoid reading rants, ignore this post.

I’m a longtime-single male, so you can guess which button was pressed: “How’s the dating life?” As it happens, I’m a more private person than most, so regardless of my actual state, I consider this question rude. If I wanted someone to know my social status, odds are good that the magic words girlfriend, partner, lady friend, fiancee, or spouse would drop out of my mouth within a minute of starting the conversation without prompting. Well, for years now my response has been, “I’m single, thanks for asking.”

This is often followed up by an expression of anything from curiosity to sadness to actual horror. Because there’s nothing a single person loves more than being pitied, right? Anyhow, this expression is then accompanied by the usual follow-up question: “Why?”

My honest answer is, “Because I’m happy. Why screw things up?” And if someone pokes a little harder, I might explain that I’m too lazy to court and too selfish about protecting my free time.

I’ve used that response a few times, and usually the snark closes the subject. Others, however, are more persistent, and here is where the rudeness really amps up: “You should…” It’s at this point that the single person on the receiving end is treated to unsolicited advice about what they should be doing with their personal life:

  • You should try online dating.
  • You should get out more.
  • You should join X group/church/organization
  • You should meet my friend X.
  • You should have someone in your life.

The first four suggestions fall under the category of practical advice. As if, at the tender age of 46, I wanted to find a woman, but just didn’t know how to go about it. The coupled person might think they’re being helpful, but here’s the thing: if I or any other single person wanted a partner in life, odds are we’d be doing whatever we could to fix the situation, yes? And if we were serious about about partner-hunting, we might even ask for advice. Again, that assumes that I am seeking someone or that my situation is a problem that needs to be solved. That fifth bullet is merely an assumption on the coupled person’s part: You should have someone in your life. Again, my response is usually, “Why? I’m happy living as I am.”

Admittedly, this is not just an introvert thing, as I have a LOT of introverted friends who have navigated the dating mine field and managed to find someone they love enough to marry. Great! Good for them. This is simply a Bart thing. In the spirit of full disclosure and authenticity, I’ll just say it: I don’t date well. It brings out the worst aspects of my personality, and the problem has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. So that’s out there, thanks for asking.

But let’s get back to the coupled person who’s determined to “fix” the “problem” of the single person. Again, you might think you’re helping, but really, don’t unless you’re asked for helpThe short version of this blog would be: shut up. You have no idea what the life of the single person in front of you is like. Now as it happens, I spent Christmas Day before the above conversation opening gifts I’d bought with a gift card received from a friend, baking cookies, and taking a long walk in the Florida sunshine. I managed all of that on my own and quite enjoyed it. “Oh!” the concerned coupled person might say, “But it would be better/more fun if you had someone to share those experiences with!” Maybe. You don’t know that, and shame on you for assuming so.

I have single friends who have been dumped just before Christmas; who have family members who are convinced they are spinsters and doomed never to marry because they are a particular gender and above a certain age; I have friends who are single parents and so must balance work, family, and a romantic life; I know others who have been burned badly by contentious divorces and others who have been physically abused by previous partners. And then some of us are just happier living alone–it’s not a problem, it’s a lifestyle choice. Bottom line: a single person might have any number of reasons for why they are in that social state, and most or all of them are none of your damn business. If you are unable to contain your curiosity, you might ask what the person’s status is or, at most, why. Once you move from inquiry into the realm of “you should do X,” you are intruding.

Imagine this: I learn that you are married. A horrified (or pitying) expression covers my face, and I say, “Oh my gosh, why are with someone? You should be single! Do you need the number of a good divorce attorney? Do you need someone to help pack your bags?” What do you suppose the reaction would be? I’d be considered rude, and rightly so. So whatever compulsion people have to fix the social state of their single friends, it needs to stop, and it needs to stop being socially acceptable to do so. Some individuals might, in fact, be unhappy with their singularity and wish desperately that it were different. How does poking at that wound help them? Like I said, I’m happy in my current state. What really bothers me is the presumptive and intrusive nature of the inquisition.

Again, back to the short version of “What do you do if you’re in a relationship and you encounter a single person?” Shut up.

Movie Review: Star Wars VII

I will do my best to make this a spoiler-free review, as I’m posting opening day and a lot of people haven’t seen the film yet. Maybe I’ll do this in Q&A format.

Did you like the film?

Yes indeed I did! Star Wars is back*, with a movie worthy of the name for the first time since 1983. It has a good story that moves along at a pace similar to Episode IV, with a script that (for the most part) sounds like real people talking, albeit in a space fantasy universe. The characters are–and I can’t emphasize this nearly enough–likable. Not just our old friends like Han Solo, Chewbacca, or Princess (now General) Leia, but the new kids on the block. I found myself caring about these new characters in a way that I just could not manage with the prequel characters. What a difference good directing makes!

The technology in the film has that “lived in,” scruffy look that the original trilogy has, and of course all of it has the telltale music orchestrated by the immortal John Williams. And really, some of the moments in the film where you’ve got the original story’s characters doing their thing and Williams’ soundtrack doing its thing are quite enough to warm the heart of the most cynical Gen Xer. Note on that: I preordered the SWVII soundtrack, and unlike previous soundtracks, there are no “spoilers” in the musical piece titles. I did encounter that on the prequel trilogy soundtracks.

(*Yes, I know there have been other movies, books, comic books, and other media bric-a-brac in this universe, but I’m not so enamored of the series that I’ve been willing to watch all of them.)

Are there major plot surprises in the story?

Yes. If you want to know what the spoilers are, go here.

Can I take the kids?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for several reasons, mostly violence related with some “language” and other situations that you might not want to have to explain to your curious, impatient, or easily frightened 6-10 year old. Your call. Some of the stuff that might bother younger viewers would qualify as spoilers, so bear with me if I don’t divulge too much.

Without revealing spoilers, what can you tell me about the movie?

Set around 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, we find the galaxy far, far away still in turmoil, this time through a war between The New Order (the bad guys) and the Resistance (the good guys). The bad guys, led by a new scary guy in a mask named Kylo Ren, have a new, scary weapon to terrorize the good people of the galaxy.

In the midst of this turmoil, we have some new characters living out their lives–a junk scavenger, a stormtrooper deserting his post, a crack Resistance pilot, a new lovable droid–as well as some people we’ve seen before, advancing in age, but still charmingly likable and doing things true to their characters.

Did I mention that the heroes are likable? Why is this such a big deal? Because the characters in Episodes I-III were so damned unlikable. I can’t blame all of the mess in Episodes I-III on the actors. Much of that must be laid at the feet of the director/executive producer/money man George Lucas, who in the years between 1983 and 1999 forgot how to write and direct.

Do you have any gripes with the movie?

While watching the film, I had a couple moments where I couldn’t understand what people were saying, either because the technobabble was  spoken too quickly or was overwhelmed by sound effects or music. Nothing critical and not often, but these things happened.

The political situation in this film is a bit murky, but then compared to certain other films in the franchise, it’s a model of parliamentary coherence. I might buy the novelization to see if some things I’m curious about are explained, but none of my questions affected the action or my enjoyment of the story.

There are also a couple of moments in the film that are predictable if you’re attuned to storytelling.

After the film I had to sniff around a spoiler site or two to pick up what other gripes there were to be found. I’m not going to lie to you: I had misgivings about this film due to some of the things director JJ Abrams did with the Star Trek franchise. He has a tendency to repeat things done with the original material he’s working with, if only out of nostalgia, but the things he did with The Force Awakens were done respectfully and handled entertainingly. There were places where The Force Awakens “rhymes” with the original film (e.g., mission to destroy large superweapon). As long as he doesn’t retell the entire Episode IV-VI trilogy, things will be fine.

However, given all of these nits above, none of that really bothered me because I got to involve myself in a story with characters I wanted to see succeed. Isn’t that why we go to the movies?

Should I go see it?

Yes! In the theater! I paid extra to see the film in 3D, which was a nice touch, but isn’t 100% necessary. In case you hadn’t noticed, this film has won me over simply because of the charm of the characters and JJ Abrams’ ability to tell a good Star War story. In fact, I found the film enjoyable enough to forgive him for much of what he did to the Star Trek franchise. That’s saying a lot, I guess, depending on the type of nerd you are.

Does Writing Make You a Better Person?

Update: This post is quoted (nearly) in its entirety in Gutsy Choices: Action Steps for Super Life Change by Russell DeWitt. Aside from my little bits of wisdom below, I commend it to your attention for further reading.

This post was prompted by a question from my friend Russ. The specific request was:

[P]lease tell me what benefits the world of writing has done for you in your development as a person?

Since childhood, I’ve done multiple forms of writing, from fiction to school assignments to work products and journaling. School and work products are necessary for intellectual and professional development–development of the mind. Story telling is an exercise in creativity: imagining things that never were, jumping into the unknown of our subconscious and making it known through characters, actions, and places. Journal writing is an exercise in self-analysis in literary form.

Each of these forms has its own virtues and develops a different part of the whole mind.

Fiction writing is the equivalent of a mental quest or vacation. I’m trying to tell myself or other people how I see the world. Fiction helps me express myself. Sometimes it helps me solve problems or express I see in the world. Maybe some of my stories have brought some good to those read them.

Journal writing, for me, is the tool I use to fix problems with myself. I’ve been keeping a regular journal since I got a typewriter for Christmas 27 years ago. Sometimes I write with the assumption that someone else will eventually read my thoughts, most of the time my audience is myself. I’ve speculated on how to make the world a better place, identified ways to improve myself or to find fault with myself. Sometimes my journal is a one-sided therapy session where I explain what I’m feeling, either in handwritten or electronic form. My journal lets me plan, vent, grieve, shout, laugh, and pontificate in ways that might or might not be acceptable to others, but it helps me clarify who I am to myself.

Has writing made me a better person? That would be harder to say. I look back at my journals from years back with some embarrassment, either because my half-smart philosophies at some point in my past now seem childishly wrong or because problems that cause me pain today are all too familiar and haven’t been resolved. Some problems I’ve resolved, others have arisen to take their place. And yet I keep writing, in a constant quest to better myself and to understand myself and my place in the world.

I write because that’s what I do and how I perceive the world. It is so much a part of me I hardly know life without it. When I am gone, my writing is all that will remain. Perhaps that will be enough to speak to the ages.

What Are Your Priorities When You Car Shop?

This past week a friend asked for advice on car shopping as he’d not done it in a while. Perhaps you will find it useful as well.
In 2002, I gave up on American-branded cars. I’d driven Chevy, Buick, Olds, Saturn, Pontiac, and God knows what else. I bought a 2000 Honda Accord and loved it right up to the point some idjit drove out in front of me and killed it. Figuring I’d like another Accord, I got a 2009. I have been much more disappointed, though it took me a year or more to figure out what I didn’t like–the lines of sight are so bad that I backed into another car, a pole, and a garage door because I was unable to see how close I was. Surprisingly I’ve managed to hang onto it without killing myself. I’m about $3K away from paying off the Accord, and I’ll be glad to stop the paying. If I had steadier employment, I’d try something else–maybe Toyota, maybe Nissan since I’m doing work for them.
Anyhow, if you ask me what my biggest issue is when buying a car, it’s reliability–meaning how often is it between replacing major components. All the American-branded cars I had were just awful. Air conditioning, brakes, steering, wheels, interior: all sorts of major things were breaking down and I was plunking down a lot of money for big-ticket problems at a time when I didn’t have a lot of money. I’d test-driven Toyotas and Hondas and found (in 2002) that Honda Accord was a vehicle I liked. The 2009 model, not so much.
Here are my priorities, more or less in order:
  1. Reliability/mean time between failures
  2. Body type (sedan) and style (something not too boxy)
  3. Color (interior and exterior)
  4. Age/Mileage (I’ve never bought new, so I try for something <2 years old and with <20,000 miles on it–harder to come by in the current economy, but that’s still a good guideline)
  5. Automatic transmission
  6. Field of view through the windshield (one reason I don’t buy Chrysler products, for example, is that while their “cab forward” designs are sleeker than anything, they provide surprisingly minimal visibility)
  7. 4-cylinder engine (fuel economy/consumption)
  8. And if I’m feeling frisky when I buy, I’ll look at options like a sun roof, better stereo, and power seats/windows.
Just noticed that I didn’t include “price.” I guess my price range depends more on how much I have on hand and how much I’m willing to spend on a monthly payment. The only negotiating I’ll do will be to get the monthly payment inside my “window.”
Consumer Reports is worth consulting–Father Dan swears by it. If/when I buy another vehicle, I will probably use the same criteria, with an additional line item for visibility of the vehicle’s front and back ends. Live and learn.
And if there’s one thing I learned after numerous “experiences” with dealerships and private owners, I will from here on stick with Carmax. I just want to buy a car, not negotiate and play games for three hours. I’m a retail kind of guy. If I want a specific car and it matches my needs, I’ll buy it. If it doesn’t, no amount of arm-twisting  or wheel-dealing is going to change my mind.
I hope you find this useful.