Dealing with bad habits: He says, She says
People are human; all of us have our foibles. Men have them; women have them. And good old He Says has plenty. I have numerous “bad habits,” which have been variously defined as “annoying,” “addictive,” and “borderline criminal” by my ex-girlfriends. They have never been supportive when I lapse into the bad habit of serial arson or the bad habit of prescription drug abuse.
In fact, my girlfriends have never been anything but repulsed by mybehavior.
And yet, they are shocked and offended when their own bad habits disgust me to the point that I comment on them. How is “Shut your mouth when you eat, you she-pig” any different from “He Says, you have a serious problem with alcohol, and you need help?”
Sometimes the best way to deal with your girlfriend’s bad habits is not to directly comment on them. Obviously, this has caused a lot of damage in my life.
Instead, try the oldest trick in the book: Mimicry. Science has taught us that mimicry is a really great defense mechanism.
Say your girlfriend talks too loudly when you’re on the phone. You have two options here. First, just scream everything you say. Really shout at her. Make her ears hurt. And when she shouts back at you “WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING?” just scream, “I’M NOT SHOUTING, THIS IS THE VOLUME AT WHICH NORMAL PEOPLE SPEAK.”
The other option, and perhaps the easier and less confrontational option, is to do the complete opposite of what she does. In this case, whisper. Whisper so quietly that she can’t hear you. Her impulse will be to whisper back, in case you are trying to avoid being heard by spies.
Obviously, this scheme only works for so long, but it is a good way to get some respite from that dumb woman’s screeching. If those tactics of mimicry and what I call “reverse mimicry” don’t work, try one of these foolproof plans: Send her anonymous notes threatening her life if she doesn’t stop telling embarrassing stories about you in public. Bring her bad habits to the attention of all of her friends, so that they will talk to her. Then, when they bring it up, you can defend her and comfort her and say something like, “Well, I don’t have a problem with it, but maybe other people would like it if you would stop biting your nails.”
Now, if these don’t work (they rarely do), you can always do what I do: Develop your own bad habits. If she won’t stop smoking cigarettes, start smoking crack. If she insists on making small talk with store clerks, start hitting on bartenders.
Admittedly, this won’t help her stop practicing her bad habits. And it really isn’t healthy to just balance her annoyingness with your own. But, it feels so much better than just watching her nervously hum “the Macarena” when she’s concentrating.
My boyfriend cracks his wrists.
He’ll sit down after a long day and instead of popping his knuckles like a normal human being, he’ll rotate his wrists in circles, releasing a wave of clicking, creaking and grinding that sounds like somebody threw a wood chipper in a cement mixer and turned both on. Every time he does this, completely unaware the noise is potentially giving me cancer, I shoot him a bitter glare. Sometimes he picks up on it. Sometimes he doesn’t.
It’s amazing to ask somebody about bad habits and watch them go off. I originally planned to take a different angle on this column, but after asking people what habits they would break up with their partners over, they couldn’t really think of anything.
“Oh, but if you want bad habits,” my roommate says, “My ex-boyfriend—he couldn’t sit through a single song all the way through. He’d pop in a CD and 30 seconds into it, he’d switch it. Rudely not cleaning up…he left trash all over my car, and all over my parents house. Oh! And swearing in public! Like, in McDonalds’ play structures to be exact!” Here she breaks into bitter laughter.
“Chronic nose-picking!” Ryan adds in.
“Farting!” shouts Ben.
“Some guys can’t handle girls that cry overnothing,” Ryan continues. “That would be a break-up thing.”
“That’s not a habit, really,” I counter. Ryan raises his eyebrows at meskeptically.
We came to the conclusion that breaking up with somebody over a bad habit is completely retarded. Habits are tiny, inconsequential behaviors that may be annoying, or useful, or completely and utterly pointless. But ultimately, they’re changeable. If my boyfriend’s wrist cracking drove me totally crazy, all it would take is a little conversation. He’s a considerate guy (I make it a rule to not date jerks), and he’d make an effort to crack his wrists less, or at least exit the room to make his horrible noises in private.
But you know what? I’m not going to bug him about it, beyond the occasional feminine glare. It’s annoying, but it’s really not worth the thought and work he’d have to put into it. Besides, the more tolerance I have for his stupid idiosyncrasies, the better he’ll react when I tap my teeth and guess the endings of suspenseful movies. Relationships are a give and take, people. If you want somebody to tolerate your stupid habits, you’ve got to tolerate theirs.