Not Your Mummy’s Advice Column
What should I do?
I get it all day long.
I’m pretty sure the woman who swims laps next to me at the Y is peeing in the pool. What should I do?
It started a few years back, when I began the Social Q’s advice column for the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times.
My boyfriend has an identical twin that I’m strangely hotter for than I am for him. What should I do?
Since then, the questions come faster than a drunken starlet behind the wheel of a speeding Maserati.
My dad seems to have mixed up my cell phone number with the number of the woman he’s seeing behind my mother’s back. He sends her sexy texts that are freaking me out. What should I do?
At the outset, I was afraid that Times readers might play it safe, bringing me their old-fashioned etiquette conundrums or mild “Dear Abby” conflicts: When do I use that teeny-tiny fork? What’s the right paper stock for my wedding invitation?
And it turns out, I needn’t have worried.
My sister goes to work looking like a hooker. What should I do?
From the very beginning, readers set a thoroughly modern tone for my Social Q’s column. They write in from all over—people of every age, gender, geography, and social background. And they stride happily to the very edges of our brave new world: where nonstop technology and never-ending pop culture and the once-separate realms of personal and public space have exploded all over each other, pushing us into each other’s faces in ways that Grammy and Gramps could never have imagined.
Accidental sexy text messages from our father … hello?!
These candid questions demand payback, in spades. So my job is to rush in where angels fear to tread, doling out advice that’s tart but tender—and not above the occasional bitch slap. In short, I try to be the best friend you’ve never met.
The walking wounded must be comforted, of course, and grievous wrongdoers must be spanked. But these are complicated times—and we’ve all done a thing (or three) we shouldn’t have—so I’m not shy about pointing out the good qualities in bald-faced liars. (Maybe they’re lying to save our feelings?) And a Goody Two-Shoes reeking of sanctimony has little to look forward to from me but a Krystle Carrington chop across the cheek.
And that’s how Social Q’s was born, starting with the very first question and answer:
My boyfriend assumed I was Jewish when we met on JDate, a website for Jewish singles. I didn’t correct him at the time because I was afraid he’d dump me. Now, months later, I’m afraid he’s going to dump me because I didn’t tell the truth. I really like this guy. What should I do?
—Christiana, New York City
Listen up, Golda (L)eir. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a wee difference between letting an awkward moment pass and masquerading as a Jew for months. Where to next, Gay.com?
I know it can be hard, living as a single in a world full of doubles. But you didn’t just fail to “correct” your beau. You lied, having calculated that he might not like the truth. And that’s a surefire way to sabotage a relationship.
Clear the air as soon as possible: Just sit your guy down and apologize. Explain that you were feeling vulnerable, but don’t let it sound like an excuse—or worse, an attempt to shift the blame to him for making you feel that way. Remember, you’ll be one short step from “freak show” when you finally come clean, and you still have to convince him that your lie was an aberration.
He may be furious, or decide you’re too manipulative to date, but there’s a chance he’ll be flattered by the lengths you went to win him over. And who knows? He may have a whopper to get off his chest too.
P.S. What kind of Jew is named “Christiana”?
Social Q’s: The Book
Here’s the thing: Deep down, we all want to do the right thing. But in this age of texting and tweeting, online dating and “Real Housewives of One Too Many Cities,” things can get complicated—fast. And when they do, or when you can’t even picture what the “right thing” might look like, that’s when you’ve stumbled into Social Q’s territory.
Lucky for you, you’re not alone anymore.
I’ve sifted through years of columns (and thousands of questions I haven’t had space to answer)—hunting for patterns and culling my sagest advice—to help you navigate the horrible range of awkward moments we all suffer through right now: at home, at work, online, and (even more frequently these days) in the crossroads. From hotsy-totsy bosses on Facebook to scorched-earth exes moving in across the hall.
In this book, chapter by chapter, we’ll visit the awkward nooks and crannies of our daily lives, from the moment you wake up (and hopefully, brush your teeth) to your last act of waking consciousness (checking your Match.com mailbox, of course). I’ll give you some tools and techniques for making those sticky situations less so. And in the process, I’ll answer a raft of illustrative Social Q’s from my intrepid readers at the New York Times.
But before we begin, I need to ask a favor …
Starting Principle: Forget Everything You Know!
Well, not everything, just that little thing we learned in third grade about treating everyone the same.
Because that’s crazy talk!
Our country may be founded on the proposition that “all men are created equal,” but that hardly means we’re all the same. Simply put: Handling a stinky boss is just plain different from handling a smelly housekeeper. (I’m sorry, but it is.) And the faster you master the difference, the sweeter-smelling the world will be.
Navigating the Black Forest of awkward moments demands a gimlet-eyed assessment of who we are versus who the other guy is. Angelina Jolie is not the girl next door, and Reese Witherspoon never plays the sexy stripper. Self-knowledge allows them to choose their roles wisely—and figure out how much of their clothing to keep on.
The same goes for the rest of us. If you’re the smartest-gal-in-the-room type, the best response to your awkward problem won’t be the same as for the people pleaser down the hall. Our personalities establish the parameters of our most plausible behavior. Because the Bible was right: Leopards do not change their spots—not without laser surgery anyway.
And who is the other guy, by the way: a microphone-grabbing Kanye West or a poor little Taylor Swift? (Or for the old folks: a booming Barry White or a high-pitched Joni Mitchell, preciggies.) Is your opponent a teeny-tiny Olsen twin, while we tower over her like LeBron James? Or is she the dragon lady CEO, playing against our milquetoast from the mailroom?
Responding to life’s thorniest problems is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It requires a keen awareness of who we are in relation to other people. Call it contextual IQ. And the more we hone it, the more likely we are to skate over life’s thinnest ice without plunging into freezing water and ruining our makeup.
So armed, Social Q’s will guide us toward our best behavior, helping us navigate the trickiest obstacle courses we can stumble into, and increasing the likelihood of making it through the day in one piece.
Okay, let’s get started. And please don’t forget to turn off your cell phone, pager, and other portable mobile devices.
© 2011 Philip galanes