Comfort Stops The Dancing by Rachael Zipper
Would you like to come back to my place for some desert? If someone had asked me this question I would probably ask what kind of desert, not knowing that the underlying meaning of this question was sexual. Why are people purposely vague about what they truly mean? In Steven Pinker’s essay, “Words Don’t Mean What They Mean”, he uses many examples from different forms of media in order to prove that people play with their word choice to keep a relationship. This “linguistic dance” is common in sexual relationships as Pinker explains because partners are often afraid to offend one another by either being too bold or vague with suggestions. I agree with Pinker’s argument that people purposely choose words that have a double meaning, for them to not seem forceful or offensive. Relationships can be different based upon how comfortable each person is with each other. I believe that this “linguistic dance” fades as the relationship grows and people become more familiar with each other and that this is similar with friendships as well.
From watching couples that are dating, just friends or married, there is a linguistic difference with how they speak to one another. The dance depends on how long a relationship has been and how comfortable the people in the relationship are with each other. People use the dance that Pinker references in order to shield the true meanings just in case the other person would judge them for it. This is not the case for people in longer relationships that are closer to each other because they know that the other person loves them and that they would not be ridiculed for a slip in wording. My parents have been married for seventeen years and during those seventeen years, they grew comfortable with each other. I would almost say they are too comfortable with each other because they do not use filters when they converse and they are not afraid to argue and say what they truly mean out loud. This is due to the feeling of acceptance that they both have from one another and they both understand that the other one loves them therefore they would not be judged for what they say amongst themselves. They may make fun of one another, but it is only because of how much they love each other.
Close friendships are similar to marriages due to the commitment and time that best friends give to each other. I have observed what a relationship with a best friend is like and I have experienced it as well. Like long lasting relationship partners, best friends are able to tell each other anything and not be afraid of judgment because they both know that the other accepts and loves them for who they are. Joseph P. Kahn, a journalist for the Boston Globe wrote his essay “What Does ‘Friend’ Mean Now?” about how social media has affected our perception on what the word “friend” means. He believes that friend is starting to be used looser due to social media and that people are having difficulties seeing the difference between an acquaintance and a real friend. He states that, “As the meaning of ‘friend’ gets stretched and changed, many admit to making conscious decisions about who fits the definition who does not and why”(Kahn 381). The definition of a true friend would be someone that a person could tell anything to and who is always there for them. True friends are the people that laugh with you and not at you. Therefore they are always easy to joke with, and they should understand each other’s sense of humor so they know that the other person is not being offensive. They do not have to reword their phrases and linguistically dance around each other because they are comfortable with one another and know what is offensive to the other person and what is not. In the same way that married couples and longer lasting couples fight with each other, true friends argue in the same way. From observing my parents fight and say every thing that they mean to say, I have noticed that my fights with my best friend are along the same path. Yes we may both be mad at each other, but we know that we say during an argument is only to get things off our mind about the other person. In the end, like my parents, my best friend and I always resolve our conflict and we never stay mad at the other person because we love each other too much and value our friendship just like my parents value their marriage.
“As the meaning of ‘friend’ gets stretched and changed, many admit to making conscious decisions about who fits the definition who does not and why”
Couples in the beginning of their relationship or even people who want to spark a relationship between each other linguistically dodge phrases that may harm or end their start of the relationship. Pinker refers to in the tv series, Seinfeld that this indirectness can often times become too vague for one to understand, for instance, when George takes the woman’s invitation for “coffee” literally, and he misunderstood the underlying question of having sex (114). Terms such as wanting coffee are used in a nuance of terms such as the one, “Netflix and chill” which is code for wanting to hook up with another person. Early couples avoid directness for many reasons, such as not wanting to sound bossy or too demanding and avoiding embarrassment and judgment. The same can be said for early friends or even “friends” online that are more acquaintances. Because these people are not familiar with each other, they do not know how to converse with out being afraid of offending the other person or coming off the wrong way. In Kahn’s essay about the word “friend” he quotes a sociologist, Sherry Turkle who states that social networking “gives the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy”(380). Social media allows people to linguistically dance around each other because they have time to think about what they are going to say which allows them to be cautious and hide who they truly are based upon what they type. These relationships are not real friendsips, because they have to linguistically dance around each other due to how unfamiliar they are with one another.
Women in early relationships linguistically dance more than men sometimes due to older gender norms that even though they are out dated, still hold back women from speaking up in their relationship. Women often times feel uncomfortable with being too direct and assertive in their relationship because they do not feel like it is their place to boss men around. Women are often afraid to make the first move because in the past, it was the men that needed to court the women. When I was in middle school, I helped out my friend who had a crush on a boy. She was texting him one day, and I was helping her text what to say because she was afraid to tell the boy that she liked him and that she wanted to go out. We spent a lot of time “linguistically” dancing because we were trying to hint at her liking him while also get him to make the first move. We were waiting for the boy to ask her out because even though it is the twenty first century and women can ask men out, we were afraid that he would not be into her if she asked him out first. This could be because she did not want to seem desperate or make her crush obvious.
Being in a friendship and relationship is quite similar. They both involve sharing a bond between one another and becoming almost way too comfortable with each other. One of the main signs that your relationship and friendship is real is when both people are able to say anything to each other. The lack of filter proves how comfortable the couple is and that they have reached a point in their friendship and or relationship where both of them accept everything about one another. Pinker questions why people cannot be direct towards each other and that is due to comfort levels with in individuals, and Kahn hints towards real friends having to share a special connection. This connection can relate to Steven Pinker’s idea of being direct towards each other. Being direct towards each other depends on how comfortable the people are in the relationship and not having to “linguistically dance” while talking to one another proves who a true friend is and what a real relationship is.
Joseph P. Kahn, “What Does ‘Friend’ Mean Now?” From The BostonGlobe, May 5 © 2011 The Boston Globe
Steven Pinker, “Words Don’t Mean What They Mean.” From The Stuff of Thought.