2/21/10

Death by Triangulation

“Thank god you’re here!  You can help Rich and me solve a small dispute we are having,” my friend Sally called out to me the minute I walked in the door. Uh-oh, I thought. Trouble. Trouble in the shape of a big, fat triangle.

Triangulation is the process whereby a person who has an issue with someone else uses a third person to validate her feelings. This is more commonly known as Getting Sucked Into a Fight.  It doesn’t always manifest as an actual argument; it can be more passive than that--such as when a husband flirts with you in front of his wife, or a wife makes jokes about her husband in front of you.

Threesomes in social life are always potentially unwieldy. In fact, being “a third wheel” is not so much about being unnecessary or unwanted as it is about causing instability. With three people the psychological balance is always shifting--however slightly--between one pair and another.  But when you are asked point blank to side with one person against the other, no good can come of it.

At the first sign of triangulation, proceed with extreme caution. Change the subject or, if you can, leave the house to go get a paper.  If you are not able to sidestep the landmine, pretend to mediate. Listen carefully to both sides, then claim you are unable to decide on the matter. Other triangulation diffusers? Try “Don’t ask me--I’m the proverbial disinterested third party,” or “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.”

What Sally wanted me to weigh in on was whether or not she and her husband should invite Sally’s sister to come with them on their Spring vacation. I just smiled and said, “I can’t say what you should do; I make enough bad decisions about my own life.”

2/14/10

Valentine's Day Antidote

Any reasonably-intelligent single person knows that Valentine’s Day is nothing but a superficial, overblown Godiva and Hallmark hoax, the main purpose of which is to make consumers spend money they don’t have on goods and services they don’t need, and the main result of which is to put so much pressure on couples that many of them break up on or around Valentine’s Day.  So why in the world should the dateless feel they have somehow missed an Important Life Experience?

The fact is that it is impossible to be completely impervious to the sweet-smelling, pervasive atmosphere of V-Day romantic dining and gift-giving (not to mention that every bouquet of flowers and box of candy seems to hold the promise of the sex you are not having); after all we are only human.  The problem is that we are not seeing the glass as half-empty as it is.  My recommendation for surviving the evening alone?  Take off those heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses and rent or download two or more of the following movies -- films which feature couples yelling at each other, killing each other, and cheating on each other (not necessarily in that order):  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,  A Place in the Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, Kramer versus Kramer, War of the Roses, Sleeping with the Enemy, or The Ice Storm.  Watch with good food and wine -- whatever you and you alone feel like eating -- but not chocolate.  Just for tonight, chocolate is for lovers and will offer you only the guilt portion of guilty pleasure.

Cheesecake? That’s another story.

2/7/10

Superbowl Suave

Here are Miss Mingle’s lines to use at a Superbowl party if you know absolutely nothing about football, who is playing, or which team has the ball:

Safe lines:
“GO! GO! GO!”

“Oh God, I hope he’s not hurt.”
“Amazing play!”
"This is so nerve-wracking! I have to get another drink.”

Questionable lines:
“Are their pants always so shiny?”
“Is it really necessary for them to pile on top of each other like that?”
“Wait -- what color are we again?”

Taboo lines:
“Can we please watch something else?”
“Isn’t football rather mindless and irrelevant, considering the state the world is in?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake calm down! It doesn’t really matter who wins.”

2/1/10

Tete-a-Tete Regret?

At a restaurant the woman next to me was confessing to her dinner companion:  “I told him I had Swine Flu.  I mean, is he going to check?  All he cares is that I don’t infect him. So now I’m having the vacation he wouldn’t give me.”  I kept buttering my roll and did the correct thing: I pretended I had not overheard.  But should this woman have been more conversationally cautious?

One of today’s social tendencies is to act as if people around us are not there, or that they can not hear us. Whether it is out of narcissism or necessity, we seem to be able to deny reality by mentally transforming public places into our very own private parlors.  In the midst of crowded hair salons, buses, trains, planes, theaters, restaurants, and stores, we offer up our most intimate thoughts and feelings, completely ignoring the strangers present.  The more people there are, the more privacy we convince ourselves we have.  It’s true that a high level of ambient noise can create some privacy.  But it can also serve to make us more careless; invariably the din subsides at the very moment we are talking loudly about our colleague’s illicit affair with the UPS man.  Suddenly we realize with a shock that there are in fact many people within earshot.  At this point there is usually an inclination to start talking in some kind of stilted code (“So, um, Mr. X said no one can find out that Mrs. R is at his house,”) which only makes potential eavesdroppers more interested than before.

Facebook and similar sites have provided a whole new arena for our indiscretions.  Even though we know that there may be hundreds of people reading our posts (and seeing our often goofy photos), in this venue it is even easier for us to maintain the illusion that we are having a one-on-one exchange with a good friend or two.  I guess this tunnel vision is inescapable, given our insatiable desire for communication and the crowded social settings in which we find ourselves.  And while I have been known to decry this increase of “sharing” as an erosion of propriety and privacy, who knows?  All these public revelations and the relaxing of our personal boundaries might actually bring us closer together.

On the other hand, as we all become more and more self-obsessed, the idea that anyone is paying attention to us could be the real illusion.