Saturday, September 12, 2009

Foot in Mouth Moment

In brief: Last night we had five people over for dinner, two couples we see regularly (hey y'all!) and a guy Matt used to work with. I don't really know him, though I had met him once, a few years ago. He is married with children, but he was flying solo at our house. When we sat down to eat, talk somehow turned to childrearing, and I said to to him, "So, you guys had twins!" It was the one fact I remembered about his family life. He said, "Yes, we had twins, but one of them didn't make it."

Damn.

Then I remembered this other, very painful fact. He went on to say that one baby boy had only lived for two days, and that now his brother was two years old. It all came back to me, and I couldn't believe I had forgotten that this was that man--Matt had brought me regular reports of his twins' premature birth and struggle, and had told me when the surviving baby boy had finally gone home. I said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I remember, I'm so sorry." And he was very gracious and we went on and talked about his other kids.

When I was younger, I thought that these kinds of conversational moments were equivalent to total social agony and failure. I prided myself (still do) on saying the right thing and making people comfortable. If I had put my foot in it like that, back in the day, I would have either gushed in apology until we were all even more uncomfortable, or just have brooded about it for the rest of the night.

But now I feel that, in adult life, everyone is going to say the wrong thing sometime (surely it's not only me?), and you just apologize and move on. Bad things have happened to people, and bringing them up in conversation doesn't make them any worse, though it may lead to an awkward moment. I would tell my younger self, when you make a social misstep or hurt someone's feelings, be quick, warm, and honest with your apology. And then leave it. People get it. And if you are a third party witness to such a moment, do not remark on it, even to try to ameliorate it. Just let it be. A painful or awkward exchange is nothing shameful.

I am actually developing a whole theory of awkwardness as a productive force in social life, based largely on a block party that we had here on Labor Day. But more about that later. I hope y'all are having a good weekend, with few or no forehead-slapping moments.

15 comments:

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

"I would tell my younger self, when you make a social misstep or hurt someone's feelings, be quick, warm, and honest with your apology. And then leave it. People get it." -- you are absolutely right. Absolutely.

Kelly said...

That was a bit of an awkward moment, but I think we all recovered quickly and he understood the mistake. We had a great time last night-- sorry I had to leave early!!

Keely said...

You are absolutely right. This is something that, I think, most people don't really understand until they're much more comfortable with themSELVES (ie, when they're older and are willing to accept their own faults). He probably has awkward moments like that a lot, but I bet he's a lot more gracious when people handle it as you did.

Michele said...

It takes awhile to develop an inner voice that tells us to apologize and move on. You did just right. He probably gets this a lot.

Mental Momma said...

I always remind myself that it is probably just as awkward when people DON'T mention the painful thing and try TOO hard to tiptoe around it.

Jenni said...

I think you're spot on and I feel the exact same way. Everyone has awkward moments - just apologize and move on.

Jane said...

I was actually pretty impressed by how you handled that. It was definitely an awkward moment, but you managed to move us past it rather smoothly. I remember thinking I wouldn't have dealt with it as well.

David said...

Bless you, Dude, for (a) doing the right thing and (b) laying bare this crucial social rule. Michael and I were at a wedding a few weeks ago, where an old family acquaintance of his starting reminiscing about how rough it is was when another, third family lost their elder son in a freak accident: a eucalyptus tree's breaking in a storm and falling on his car. When Michael pointed out that that was actually *his* brother, the guy spent a good five minutes trying to explain why he thought it was the other family's son... and, honest to god, it came across as an argument about whether or not Michael's brother died that way, even including an "are you sure, because...?" Then he walked through every gruesome detail, with Michael saying "Yes, I AM sure: that was MY brother."

I had to violate your third-party non-intervention rule, though, when Michael, eventually and understandably speechless, looked at me with utter beseechment. All I said was "It's fine. It appears you just forgot. So let's move on."... And I hate having to lay those things bare in the moment. It makes me feel so school-marmy, but spousal obligation certainly beckoned.

Good grief -- but good on you for being, as always, perfectly polite.

Becky said...

David, that story is amazing. Poor Michael! I can totally imagine his disbelief as the guy went on and on. Talk about compounding your mistake.

I'd say M definitely needed a spousal rescue.

Cassie said...

AMEN. Well said.

Veronica said...

Oh David you killed me dead with that! Poor Michael. Nice save in your situation, Beck, I think you handled it just right.

Amy said...

David--wow. I am speechless. Talk about an "I wish the floor would swallow me up" moment. Good work on stepping in!

Beck, sounds like you handled it gracefully.

missynall said...

Oh, don't you wish you could go back and mentor that younger you? I sure do. I'd also be sure to casually mention that the hairspray was a bit too ah, much.

Elle said...

When I was younger, I had your Younger-You problem in reverse: I would have never said to you that one of the babies didn't make it, because obvsly you meant well, and updating you would make you feel bad, and how could I possibly broach something like that, which you possibly embarrass you so much? But, then you would have found out anyhow, felt bad because WHY would I not have corrected you, and blah, blah, blah, thus leading to the same outcome: Making a Bigger Problem Than There Needs To Be. Like a superpower.

It's just bad, all of this interior nonsense we thankfully outgrow.

I can't wait to read about yr theory of awkwardness.

Sara said...

I love this post. You are so very right, of course, and I'm looking forward to more on the awkwardness theory. I'm intrigued!

David, jeez, that's insane. Good for you for stepping in. Not sure I would've been even that polite!