Ask the Weekly – 3/13/15

My friend that I really like has horrible manners, and sometimes I’m embarrassed for him. He even mentions it and laughs it off, but seriously it’s bad. How do I tell him in a way that he actually gets it?

I think this is a situation where role-reversal might be helpful. How would you want your friend to tell you about your slovenly behaviors? Would you even want them to tell you? You should consider these questions because I think the stakes are relatively high here. This is a sticky subject because, frankly, no one likes to be told they are yucky. Though I don’t think you think your friend is yucky (just his specific behavior), when confronted, there is a strong possibility he will conflate your criticism of his behavior with a broader critique of his person and end up hurt. Hurt friends are bad. So, I would be wary of any intervention-esque approach wherein you just inform him of how awful his behavior is. In my experience, people are both highly sensitive to other people’s opinions of them and disgusting.

The older I get and the more time I spend in close quarters with other people, the more I realize how futile cleanliness/perfection/etc. all are. Bodies do weird things and people are messy and imperfect. Often, the messages we get from culture and society edit these bits out. Sometimes we just have to accept the messiness of ourselves, and by extension, those around us.

However, if you think his behaviors are negatively affecting his life, by all means have the conversation. If his chewing habits are driving others away, for example, it is in the interest of your friendship to bring it up. When you do, do so gently and gracefully. Make clear that’s why you bring it up, so it doesn’t ring as criticism without purpose. For example, “I love you buddy, but I think more people would invite you to dinner if…” You’ll find the right tone, one not too goofy or too somber. Learning to give your friends the truth is an art that, like acceptance of messiness, also comes with time and experience. All the best!