Nice Fights

Long, long ago I mentioned that on those rare days when my kids would act truly awful and I’d maintain my cool, it felt like one of the most supremely awesome triumphs in my world. I would feel downright heroic. Now that they are (shockingly enough) 17 and 19, that hardly ever happens, just because they are 85% wonderful, 10% lowkey annoying, and 5% majorly annoying because they are right and I am wrong.

But, I realized recently that I receive a similar charge when I get the chance to Nice The Crap Out Of Someone. When I was growing up, one of my grandmas would talk about having a “nice fight,” which was when one person would say something like, “I’ll go to whichever restaurant you want to go to,” and the other person will answer, “No, I like anything, what would you like?” and then it goes back and forth until you just want to shake everyone’s shoulders and demand an honest opinion.

I’ve come to redefine that “nice fight” term for those moments in which I become a superbly passive aggressive nice person in the face of petty irritation. It is clear to me (and my children, oh my lordy, the girls can spot it in an instant) that when I do this I am ready to rip out somebody’s hair, but weirdly, I win nice fights, and sometimes it even turns around and becomes shocking good karma.

Back when I lived in New York City, sometimes someone would throw a piece of trash down while riding a subway train, and I would pick up the trash and hand it back to them and say, mock earnestly, “oh, here, you dropped this! Let me get that for you,” and what could they do? They would roll their eyes and put it into their pocket. Did they wait until they were out of my sight and drop it again? Possibly. But I hoped that I had instilled a smidgen of shame, at least, and that was good enough for me.

One time I was in the Target at Mohawk Commons parking lot and a woman drove by so recklessly that I legitimately feared for my children’s lives. I yelled something so loud and sarcastic at her open window, like, “Oh, I’m so sorry that we’ve inconvenienced you by trying to walk here!” And I thought it was obvious that this was me telling her that she was a terrible driver and possibly a terrible person. But, I guess because I smiled really big while saying it (my smiles and giggles are a stress coping mechanism), and she responded as if it was an entirely friendly interaction, and then we chatted back and forth for a moment and she drove away more slowly and I walked away, mystified.

Mystified, and triumphant.

Or there was that time when I was so amped up on adrenaline that I thought that I was going to get into a fist fight with a soccer mom, but because I critiqued her parenting with a smile, she thought it was idle conversation when I thought she’d understand that I was Condemning Her Life Choices.

For years, I thought that this super passive aggressive way of dealing with total strangers was a character flaw, but lately I’ve decided that I’m okay with it.

Most recently, I have enjoyed using it with people who need some sort of assistance from me via email. Many people think that the problem with email is that you really can’t sense someone’s tone. The perk of email, it turns out, is that you really can’t sense someone’s tone. So if you are sending an email that is unbelievably-nice-but-in-a-passive-aggressive-way, your recipient can’t “hear” the “but-in-a-passive-aggressive-way” part at all. So when someone complains to me about something entirely outside of my control or accuses me personally of doing something malicious that I did not do, or tells me that a task, which is both possible and easy, is impossible, I can respond with the patience of a saint and continue to follow up with so much niceness that next thing you know, my new sworn enemy is thanking me and even saying things like, “I apologize for being so cranky before.” And suddenly, my passive aggression has drained away and like the Grinch, my heart grows a few more sizes.

And it feels pretty nice.


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