Those of you who know me, know that I love the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm. I had the privilege and pleasure of being a ‘featured extra’ in two scenes on what I think was their best episode, Palestinian Chicken! What luck! One of my other favorite episodes was when Larry David was making empty gestures, thinking that they are really ‘default terms’ that nobody takes seriously. He later found out how perilous it was because some people actually called him out on it.
I think very much like Larry (but thankfully do not act like him in public) and very careful about the words I use. I really dislike empty gestures because there is no need for them. People use them as ‘closing comments’ in a conversation to fill in the “goodbye” part. Many people use them to make more of themselves for the moment, knowing damn well that most people would never call them out on those gestures. I, on the other hand, like to think that people are real and what they say is what they mean. I know…this is too strict an interpretation of some remarks. However, let’s explore some of the top 7 empty gestures people encounter all the time and what you can do to hold them to their word.
“You know you can call me anytime”
Really? Anytime? And under what circumstances?
This usually comes up when you are speaking with someone who feels down but you really are not that close to them. You might say, “Jessica, I know you are upset that your manicurist has moved away, but I am sure there are plenty others. Listen, you can call me anytime and I will help you find a new manicurist.”
There is NO WAY that person really means it. It is simply a reply to an asinine comment this person made. You actually cannot believe how shallow these people are, but you almost half heartedly feel the need to give some support.
If she calls you at anytime and it happens to be at midnight, Be forewarned that you asked for it!
“So, how is the weather in Miami?”
This beauty is meant as a gesture that you feel obligated to ask, but not wanting to hear the real answer. You are freezing your butt in Minnesota in January and that is the last thing you want to hear from him . He goes on to say, “Thanks for asking! I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful stretch of 78 degree weather we are having, and hardly a drop of rain to boot!”
You fool! You deserve that reply! You know damn well that you could not give a rat’s ass about how nice it is in Miami. Worse, it actually comes off as insincere because the recipient knows how horrible it has been in Minnesota as evidenced by people drooling on the street and then freezing into ‘drool balls’ before reaching the ground. When it is -3 degrees, 25 miles per hour sustained winds and the real feel temperature is -35 degrees, you don’t want to hear about someone else’s great weather, but feel compelled to ask the question because you were not creative enough to simply avoid the ‘obvious backfire’ to your immediate predicament of depression and agony.
“I haven’t seen you in a long time…you look so much younger!”
I hear this one ‘way way way’ too often. If you are 40 years old or over, there is very little likelihood that you feel that person you haven’t seen in at least ten years looks so much younger.
How about just a teeny weeny bit of honesty? Flattery is nice, but if the man became fully bald on top with just a ring of remaining hair around his head like a hula hoop, then you are being exposed as phony. Likewise, if it’s a women who has a few new wrinkles and her facial skin is not as tight (unless they went under the knife of course), then you are actually making her feel older because she will undoubtedly know that she does not look younger and the ’empty gesture’ was a psychologically coy statement.
Next time, stay away from appearance gestures unless you are absolutely certain you mean it.
“Lets get together for lunch sometime”
You barely know this person and this ‘blob of dog poop’ comes out of your mouth. I know you are standing on a long Starbucks line and feel the need to strike a conversation with a person who you met 5 years ago at a cocktail party that is a friend of a friend. And yes, you had a nice “small talk” conversation with them, but only with the help of too many glasses of Patron Tequila straight up! This does NOT mean that you feel the need to impose on them for a more intimate lunch! Did you ever think that they may not want to have lunch with you? Perhaps the reason you never heard from this person is because you were such a fool that night and too drunk to remember?
Even if the one time conversation went ok, you both know that someone would have tried to get the phone number of the other one through their mutual friend. Nothing…nada! Years have gone by and the amount of time they remember or revisit your interaction is probably as much the time is takes to pass gas after the first bite of a nacho from Taco Bell…around 10 seconds or even less if you added that artificial hot sauce that you rip open with your teeth!
This empty gesture is one to ALWAYS avoid, as it not only comes out insincere and heaven forbid you are actually called out on it! Then what, genius?
“I got the check next time”
This one is fraught with so many traps of ‘bull poop’ that a standard shovel from Home Depot is not big enough to remove it!
First, if you are out to dinner with a couple who you don’t normally see, and the person wants to be magnanimous and pick up the check, why do we feel the need to say I got it next time? Why isn’t it enough to say “that was not necessary but very much appreciated.” That would actually make the giver feel better!
Do you think that there will be anyone who remembered the ‘possible next time’ when you get together who picked up that check? Does everything in life have to be a quid pro quo?
If it was so important that you wanted to be ‘fair’ as ‘you see it’, you should have insisted that you at least share the check when it first arrived. If you are part of the Jewish culture, there is this ‘song and dance routine’ that is acted out in an art form all the time! There is this ‘perceived fight’ for the check. Both parties are insisting that they pick it up knowing that this empty gesture hopefully will not be called. Some professional Jewish culturalists will actually have a tug-of-war with the leather check folder. This is when a person who is insincere is rooting to be the loser of the fight. The person who really does not want to pay but pretends they do then simply releases the grip of the case holder every so slightly, as to signify that they tried their best, but could not win against the person who wanted to pay a smidgen more. Then, as if there is a consolation prize, the ‘loser’ might ask if they can at least leave the tip. This empty gesture is unnecessary as well, as if the giver had a certain ‘cap’ on how much they wanted to spend, and the tip brought it over the top.
Just leave the tip next time, or zipper up your mouth and accept the dinner graciously.
“How are your kids doing?”
Do you really want to hear them brag that one is in Yale and the other is in Columbia Medical School when your children are still living in your house at ages 23 and 27? I don’t think so!
Now you have to give that smile that is composed of the mouth smiling and the eyes in rage with jealousy. Further, you pretend to want to hear more about it (a dangerous double down)! While they go on and on about their kids accomplishments, you are now comparing your own ‘darlings’ not even doing their laundry!
“I hear what you are saying.”
This masterful gesture is learned at the False Statement Con Institute – Doctorate Program! You are saying something, but you are really saying nothing. Congratulations on giving the recipient false hope!
For example, you are listening to someone’s problems and they are seeking advice. You may or may not necessarily agree with them. You want to look compassionate but do not have the guts to state your mind. So, you listen and listen and listen for a long time, repeating to them that ‘you hear what they are saying.’
Well OF COURSE you hear what they are saying! They are moving their lips, and with the magical addition of their lung and tongue, words are coming out! What an unbelievable action you are witnessing…the concept of hearing! What you are not saying is more telling. You see, they also have discovered hearing and guess what….they heard what you were saying. Nothing!
I hope you enjoyed these empty and misleading gestures in the spirit of self awareness, and most importantly, having a good laugh at yourself.