DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one deal with false modesty?
I found myself caught flat-footed when chatting with a textile artist. I joked that he could be the one to help me with my blanket stitch, and he responded that his handwork wasn’t very good.
Fine; I’d been mostly kidding anyway. But then he went on to give a rather extended account of his resume — from college professor in a textile department to heading a very important craft council, teaching handwork all the way.
I found myself complimenting him, over and again, which he surely sought. At the same time, I was a bit miffed he’d been so disingenuous at the start and left me to fawn over his accomplishments, which he’d claimed not to have in the first place. My request for help with a simple stitch and his saying he didn’t have the required talent were becoming more inane each passing minute, until I was left feeling foolish, not to mention speechless.
Similarly, my husband, a scratch golfer, will only say he “plays a little golf.” I suppose that is better than claiming he can clean everyone’s clock, but I find it grating nonetheless.
Therefore, I must ask: What’s the best way to respond to an accomplished person who claims they aren’t?
GENTLE READER: Is it possible that being experts has made them genuinely modest — because they know how much else there is to know, or because they know greater experts?
Nah, they’re probably just fishing.
Even so, Miss Manners prefers that to blatant bragging, which is now so common, and can be broadcast throughout the world online. So she would just play along and supply the compliment. It is an easy way to make someone happy.
But if you must protest, you can say, “Now you’ve embarrassed me. You’re obviously an expert in the field, and yet you let me make a fool of myself because I didn’t know that.” (c) MISS MANNERS
Wow. That textile guy… wow.
I’m not equally offended by her husband, the scratch golfer. He didn’t go on an attention-seeking soliloquy about how unskilled he is at golf. He’s either downplaying his abilities or speaking casually (hard to tell).
It sounds like the textile guy was less guilty of bragging and more guilty of monopolizing the conversation in a self-absorbed way. He was going on about himself, himself, himself. That can get old. Even with bragging, you can (and should) have equal conversations. Like, “Yeah, I worked for hours on this garden. What do you think?” Followed by saying, “So, how’s your garden coming along? Have you planted those sunflower seeds yet?”
I have no issue with that sort of bragging. Anyone who’s worked hard on building a beautiful garden (or whatever) deserves to be praised for it, in my opinion. But fishing for compliments in a passive-aggressive sense, like the textiles guy is doing, is sort of… manipulative and disingenuous, not to mention self-absorbed and egotistical. It reminds me of the guy I used to know, Mr. Self-Absorbed. Ugh.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I met a really nice guy a few weeks ago, and we’ve been getting along really well. We’ve been on a couple of dates, we text all the time and I’m starting to really like him. There’s just one problem that I really cannot seem to get past: He has the same first name as my ex-boyfriend. Their name is kind of on the uncommon side, so this is a strange coincidence. I don’t know how far things can really go with someone who inadvertently makes me think of my ex-boyfriend whenever I talk to him. I want to tell him what my issue is, but I don’t know what to say or what he would even be able to do about it. How can I fix this problem? Am I overreacting? — Same Names
DEAR SAME NAMES: If you truly like this new guy, tell him the truth. A lot of couples call each other by other names. Tell him you want to call him something different so that when you talk to him, it is he alone who comes to mind. If he has a nickname from his family, consider that. Or come up with a nickname together that you can call him. In time, the name thing may not matter, but in these early days, it may help to create a bridge to him and away from your ex. (c) DREAMLEAPERS
Interesting, very interesting. Yeah, I’d talk to him about it and definitely come up with a new name. In fact, why does everyone have to call someone the same name? We can have different names for each other, right? Not all the time, but it doesn’t hurt anything. I get the letter writer’s concern, though. It’s a relatively new relationship, and she doesn’t want to trashtalk an ex-boyfriend so early on. It would be poor form. (Although we’ve all been there, amiright?)
It strikes me as an unfortunate situation. Even if he’s openminded to a nickname, she’ll still have to hear everyone else in his life call him “Poindexter”. It might be an indication that she’s not over the other guy, but hold on… I’m trying to think what would happen if I had a new guy I liked with the same name as one of my exes… thinking… [Shudders]. Okay. Nope, that’s not it. I’m totally over them, so I can tell… but… just no. No.
Yeah, there can be a lot of associations with a name, especially the name of someone you dated, and especially if the name is rather unique.
I feel sorry for the letter writer, because it seems as if she’s putting undue pressure on herself to get over it. It’s bugging her, but she doesn’t want to bring up something so whiney-seeming so early into a relationship. But hopefully she can trust the relationship to withstand awkward and unusual concerns being communicated. I mean, there are a lot of harder, worse issues to raise within a relationship. So this could test the strength of their connection. It’s not like it’s that huge of a deal! “Look, I dated a guy once, and he had your name. So… have you ever wanted to be called Studly?”