“Use your words.”
– Ken and Lisa Boersma, 1994 

My younger brother, Tim, was a master of the point-and-grunt. For the first year of his life, he got what he wanted by exercising a series of elaborate gestures in conjunction with various guttural noises. Babies can get away with that, it turns out. They’re cute. They smell nice when bathed. People think it’s funny (all the same reasons the point-and-grunt method still works for Emma Stone).

After about a year, however, my parents were no longer having it. Tim would, they determined, rise above his cavemannish ways and become a communicative member of higher society, gol-darnit!

Poor Tim. He continued his grunting-and-pointing ways, fully expecting BF Skinner results. The rules, however, had changed. When he pointed to a cookie, he no longer received said cookie, but instead received a oft-repeated mantra that my parents practiced in complete solidarity: “Use your words.”

You want a blanket? Use your words.

You want more Cheerios? Use your words.

You want to use the VTech Little Smart Table Talk? Use your words.

That’s why Tim’s first word was “Juice.”

This was never a problem of mine. I have been verbose since nascency. My favorite word at eighteen months of age was “actually.”

My parents’ repeated mantra in my case was, “Lauren, wouldn’t it be fun to see how long you can hold your breath?”

Communication is a passion of mine (I put that on all my job applications, and I’m using it in this blog post in case potential employers google me). I made my sophomores write an essay on the power of language, because I actually believe in it and think it’s important.

I may overuse it, however. Language, I mean. If you peruse my blog posts, you’ll notice an overarching theme: wordiness.

Earlier this semester, I attended one of my boyfriend’s hockey games (I tell all my potential friends that, and I’m using it in this blog post in case one of them googles me). Yes, he’s Canadian, no he’s not missing any teeth that I’ve noticed, and no, I don’t know how many children he wants to have, but probably enough for a hockey team, I can only assume, which is really the only reason I’m dating him, because that’s always been my dream.

I went to the game with my friend Alicia. Alicia knows things about sports. I mostly try to ask all the players, through the glass, about their feelings.

At this particular game, we were seated near the young man who does the voice-over commentating for the live feed; he calls out the stuff that’s happening while it happens. From everything I’d heard from various team members and fans, this guy was (and is) excellent at what he does. He’s knowledgeable, quick, good at following the action, and easy to listen to. I wouldn’t really know good commentary from bad, because I prefer to mute sports channels and listen to Tina Fey audiobooks, but I felt that this particular young man on this particular evening deserved commendation for his respectable performance.

After the game, I dragged Alicia over to the top of the stands. I waited until this guy took off his headset, then struck up a conversation. What was his name? (We had the same last name. Nice.) Where did he go to school? (My alma mater. Duh.) What was he studying? Had anyone told him before that he’s really talented? How did he become interested in sports commentating? Did he play hockey? Did he like hockey? Where did he grow up? What were his hopes and aspirations? His deepest fears? Had he ever experienced that thing where you think your glass is full of water, but when you take a sip, you realize it’s milk? Did he have a good relationship with his mother?

We had a great conversation. I loved it. He loved it. Alicia tolerated the both of us.

When Brent and I got in the car after the game, I told him I’d had such a pleasant conversation with the freshman who did the commentating for the live feed. Brent started laughing hysterically.

Once I had calmed Brent’s laughter down enough that he no longer had to breathe using a paper bag, I demanded that he explain himself.

It would seem that one of the guys on the team had received a text message from his parents while changing in the locker room after the game.

“LOL,” it said (I can only assume), “were watching the game on the interwebz and some girl is TOTALLY hitting on the kid that does the voice-overs WHILE THE MIC IS STILL ON. HA HAHAHAHA”

(I have taken some liberties with mis-spelling and grammar misuse in my interpretation above because it makes me feel better.)

Well, whoops.

Brent and I listened to the feed after the game. It totally sounded like I was hitting on the kid. It’s still online, and if you’re dedicated enough to attempt to find it, your joy shall be your reward.

Here are a few things I wish:

1. That we, as a human race/society/culture were better at saying what we mean.
2. That we, as a human race/society/culture were better at saying what we mean in a gentle way.

I realize that I probably can’t walk around telling all eighteen-year-old single men that I believe in them without adverse side effects, at least not until I have a full hockey team of children, but I wish that it were more of a common practice to be forthcoming.

I over-share. I talk way too much about exes and bodily functions. I don’t want a world of “Laurens,” because no one would be able to finish their dinners and only the most tolerant of persons would end up dating. I would prefer a world, though, I think, where people didn’t pretend so much, where guarding emotions at the expense of honesty weren’t so commonly rewarded.

Dating would be so much nicer if people just came right out and said “I like you; I think you’re funny; I want to take you out on a date and possibly put my face on your face.” The concept of “leading people on” would totally cease to exist if we all just communicated with each other up front, if it wasn’t an expectation that social media interaction between sexes is the fast-track to a committed romantic relationship, and God forbid we actually acknowledge each other in public or declare our interest through anything other than hashtags and veiled non-verbal clues that could just as easily be construed as auto-correct errors.

I want to be able to tell you that I think you’re smart without you contacting the family priest and sending out a Save the Date. I want to be able to tell you that I don’t like your musical preferences without you feeling that I’ve stabbed you through the soul.

This Candor Campaign will fall flat, I know, unless it’s paired with grace and gentleness. The world doesn’t need more bluntness. It just needs less pretending.

You think he’s right? You think she’s pretty? You think we’re going about this in the wrong way? You want to change the way society views your people? You care about my poor self-image? You want them to know how much they mean to you?

Okay.

Use your words.

4 Comments

  1. Bart

    So good! I have a healthy jealousy of this one. I love the image of a family listening to this kid on their computer, about to shut it down, then they turn up the volume. “Wait a minute honey. Wait a minute. Things are getting interesting!”

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thanks, Bart. I like to spice up sporting events. Maybe I’ll make a career of it. Sports-trolling.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    I received a text from a friend asking some clarifying questions about some of my points. For those of you who are interested, here was my follow-up response:

    I could talk about this at length, honestly (I wasn’t joking about my love of talking). I think we live in a culture that tends to reward politeness over honesty. If you play me a song that you like, I’m supposed to say I like it too. If I say I don’t like it, in many cases, that almost serves as a personal insult against your character. I think that is silly and limiting, because it incentivizes useless and unproductive lies. Perhaps what I’m actually proposing is a re-definition of what it means to be blunt. Difference in opinion doesn’t necessitate personal opposition. Often, societally, we operate in extreme fear of being perceived a certain way, “too forward,” or “too blunt,” or “weird,” and so we employ vague generalities that are easily explainable in a myriad of ways. (If I text you a lot but don’t tell you that I’m interested in you, later on, if you’re not interested, I can pretend I wasn’t either). Perhaps all of this partially stems from a cultural fear of vulnerability as well.

    Reply
  3. Paula Manni

    Lauren, I love this. A lot. So much so I feel somewhat guilty typing this, so I’m going to repeat it aloud in my empty bedroom so I can say I said it aloud, too. Thank you for your words.

    Reply

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