Plight of the All-Too-Polite

Plight of the All-Too-Polite

The following essay was originally written and published across several markets of the national women’s publication, skirt! Magazine in January 2009, as well as online at skirt.com. I had decided to share a personal story about a little affliction of mine and after divulging it, quickly learned that I was not alone and that women everywhere (and even some men) suffered from it, too.

You can also hear me read this essay aloud. Click here for a listen. And if my plight sounds familiar to you, too, do share. I’d love to hear your feedback. I promise. No judgment here. Only empathy. ~ Chris

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Most people who know me wouldn’t suspect it. I don’t usually talk about it. I’ve been in the closet about it for well over 15 years.

When I was 22, I had a whirlwind marriage. Not whirl-wind in the romantic “whisked me off my feet to Paris, ate cheese, drank wine and lived like a Bohemian” sense of the word. If we’re talking funnel clouds, plenty of devastation and wind damage, that’s a little more like it. A year later, thud. Divorce.

I attribute my early dalliance with divorce to a self-debilitating affliction that I, and many women suffer from (and I suspect even a few men out there). Politeness.

“I wouldn’t dream of cutting in line and ruining someone else’s chance for great seats.”

“I couldn’t take the last appetizer because that will leave the hostess with an empty tray.”

“I can’t possibly stop the wedding now. People have their airplane tickets.”

Okay, that last example may sound a bit extreme, but for the all-too-polite, it is yet another situation to confound. How does one tell their family the night before the wedding that the honeymoon’s over before the ceremony’s even occurred?

“Um, I know this is going to be a mistake. I’ve known for weeks this is going to be a mistake, maybe even months. But I haven’t been brave enough to do anything about it. I need to call off the wedding.”

I didn’t actually utter those words though I wish I had. I certainly recited them in my head numerous times. I told myself as so many women do, “Go along with everything as planned, it will get better, it’s just nerves, give it more time.” I had committed myself to making this relationship “official.” His staunch Republican ways no longer irritated me, though we disagreed on nearly every issue on the ballot. And I was sure I could get used to his affection for Civil War history and John Wayne movies, though I could do without his penchant for swimsuit issues, incessant spending and frequent unemployment. I’d gotten over it. Hadn’t I?

As someone prone to not finishing what I’ve started on more than a few occasions, I was determined to complete this mission. And for Pete’s sake, the personalized cocktail napkins had already been ordered. This wedding was happening!

So I finished what I started. And then 18 months later, I finished it again.

The wedding was beautiful. The marriage? Not so much. When I did finally share the news with my parents about my plans to get a divorce, they were completely understanding and supportive. It made me question myself even further why I just didn’t come clean earlier. My whirlwind life started as a mistake one Memorial Day weekend and the restoration period began two Thanksgivings later. (To this day, I have a soft spot for the holiday that certainly gave me something to be thankful for—ridding my life of one serious turkey.)

I know I’m not the first person to go through with something doomed from the start. I hear this from other people all the time, especially women. Jobs accepted when clearly there were telltale signs this wasn’t the right fit, relocations that only led people down the road to heartbreak and hard times and partnerships formed when a clear sense of distrust lay between the two people though ignored and unspoken. Then of course all of those engagements and weddings that should have never been—the yeses and I Do’s burying no and not-on-your-life replies. Is it another demonstration of women’s continuous struggle to say “no,” overcommit and please others before themselves? Or maybe it’s just that plaguing politeness?

Like every painful life experience, divorce at such a young age taught me several valuable lessons. Listen to that inner voice—it’s okay to be alone (and stay away from men with large comic book collections).

I continue to struggle with my politeness in work and at play every day. I almost didn’t apply for my current job out of politeness. A friend in my department had submitted her resume, and from a corner of my curiously courteous brain came a scolding for even contemplating my own application. “You don’t want to compete with a friend or take away a potentially inspiring job opportunity from her. How would you feel if they picked you instead of her?” Interestingly enough, she pulled her own application and later moved away. It led me to wonder what opportunities I’ve lost by not pursuing things out of courtesy. How many good things have I missed along the way?

As I assess the past and all that my politeness has cost me, I set forth this declaration today—in a new month, on a new day. And I urge my fellow well-intentioned but misguided mannerly folk to join me:

I will listen to that inner voice beckoning me to take risks, put myself out there and try new things, even if it means the possibility of putting my own interests ahead of others.

I won’t chastise myself for making last minute changes to plans if something just doesn’t feel right.

And I will not, under any circumstances, give up a perfectly good place in line to the people behind me.

Except those people with crying kids.

Or adorable honeymooners.

And sickly grandmas.

 

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