On Being Nice (and Tapping into Your Inner Karen)

If I die before my time, I would guess that my epitaph would read “She was just so nice”… and I am nice. Pretty much always. I go out of my way to be nice. Nice to my employees, nice to my kids, nice to my friends, nice to strangers on the street. There is nothing in the world I would not do to keep from being seen as not nice to anyone. At all cost. I make eye contact with every clerk at every store I ever check out at. I make small talk with the lady scanning my groceries. Eye contact and conversation at the bank, at the gas station, at Walmart. I say so many thank you’s, so many I’m sorries, so many excuse me’s. Always just so nice. I am the anti-Karen.

On the surface this niceness seems like a good thing, a positive attribute. And most of the time it is. But sometimes my incessant need to be nice is unkind. To the people in my life, and to myself.

Running a business means that I get approached frequently by companies offering all kinds of products and services. Sometimes these companies have something significant to offer, but more often than not, it is just a time and money waste for what I am trying to accomplish. They all want a meeting, and I nearly always commit to this. To be nice. Many times I cancel. Repeatedly. Until they give up. Sometimes I take the meeting. And then ghost them when they try and follow up. I don’t want to say no. It doesn’t feel nice. But wasting the time of these professionals trying to make a living isn’t kind. It would be kinder to say “no thank you” as soon as I know I am not interested. I am working on it.

Back in my younger days, I danced. Not well, but I did it. Year after year, until high school, when I realized it was not a talent I would ever excel at. When I was around middle school age, I was in a dance class with a girl I will call Carolina. At that age, every girl in my dance class was a little awkward, with our budding womanhood and our constant musky smell. But Carolina was a bit more awkward than the rest of us. She was reserved and a little homely. Nobody was mean to her, but not one of us went out of our way to befriend her. She was just so odd. For one of our dance performances, we were supposed to wear jeans over our leotards. This was in a day that hip-huggers and flared jeans were all the rage. I would describe what Carolina was wearing for our performance as “mom jeans”. The waistline was at her belly button and the jeans tapered at the ankles. The exact style my teenage daughters embrace now. But back then, totally not cool. A friend of mine who was in the same class approached me and whispered “look at Carolina’s jeans!” She giggled as I made eye contact with Carolina. It was clear to anyone watching that we were talking about her, and Carolina knew it. I did not participate in making fun of Carolina. But I did smile. And I said nothing to my friend about her unkindness. What a jerk I was. I should have done something. I should have pointed out how unkind my friend’s comments were. I wanted to. I knew what she said was not right. But I also didn’t want my friend to feel uncomfortable. I wanted to avoid the conflict. I didn’t want my friend to be mad at me. So I did nothing. I hate this memory. In fact, I have repressed it pretty successfully until recently. I wish I could go back and make an effort to be kind to Carolina. To befriend her. I wish I had stood up for her. This is a painful memory that I don’t like thinking about. And a perfect example of a time when I could have chosen being kind over being nice.

It is easy to justify this experience by blaming my youth. But this pattern has continued my entire life. I was no bully in high school. I witnessed bullying. Sometimes I stood up for my classmates. But sometimes I stood by and watched, and did nothing besides shake my head. I wish I could go back. I would do my best to make every one of my classmates feel loved and accepted. I wish I wish I wish.

And then there is dating… Every so often I decide to crawl out from under my rock and go on a date. So far it has pretty much always ended the same way. With me realizing instantly that I am not interested in whoever I am meeting. Post-date I spend an unreasonable amount of time writing and rewriting text messages to let the guy down easy. I thought I was ready to date but I am not. I have too much going on right now to be involved with someone. You seem like a great guy and you are super good-looking, but I am just not in the right place for a relationship.. Why can’t I say “I’m just not interested”? This is what I would want, were the roles reversed. I can handle it. So can they. People are tougher than I give them credit for.

I hate to admit this. It hurts my soul to say it. But there is a good chance that my failed marriage would have lasted if I had been less nice. Niceness makes it hard to draw boundaries. To stand your ground. Niceness makes it hard to demand what you need. In order to be nice, you let a lot of things go that you shouldn’t. In a relationship, this can be detrimental. In mine, it most certainly was.

Growing up, my family was religious. Sundays were church days. No exceptions. We showed up to church early. We sat in the second pew without fail. Nobody sat in the first pew, so essentially we were front row church goers. I don’t practice the religion of my youth anymore, and for what I think are good reasons. No bad feelings. Growing up in this religion provided me a very safe and happy upbringing. I am grateful. But I feel I have gleamed all the good I can from this religion. I have moved on. Much of my family still does practice. And I think that is great. The family members who still practice don’t know why I chose to leave the church. Because they have never asked. And I have never volunteered. I don’t share, because I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. I would bet good money that this is the same reason my family doesn’t ask why I left the church. We all want to be nice, to be polite. To not offend. To avoid conflict. So we tip-toe around it. When the topic of religion comes up, I listen and I contribute where I can. In the least offensive way possible. I don’t know that this is the wrong approach. But there are times I wish I felt comfortable with letting it all out, even if it means offending the people in my world that love me the most, unconditionally. If I cannot be open with the people who love me regardless of anything I have done in the world, who can I be open with?

A few weeks ago Rachel was hanging out with a new friend. A boy. She texted me from his house and asked me to make up an excuse for her to come home. Apparently he kept trying to touch and tickle her. It was making her uncomfortable and she could not figure out how to exit the situation without hurting his feelings. I called her a minute later and told her she was in big trouble and had to come home… now. Of course I did. That’s what I am here for. My kids know they can use me as an excuse any time they want to get out of anything. I have told them this on many occasions. They can tell whoever they want that I am the worst in the world if it gets them out of a bad situation. But…. I really wish I had provided Rachel with the emotional tools to tell this boy she was uncomfortable. And to walk out the door on her own accord. This compulsion to be nice is clearly something I have passed onto my own kids. It fills me with regret. The situation does however illustrate the limit to my niceness. I don’t have any issue being a huge bitch if it helps my kids. I will be the biggest Karen ever if it benefits the four humans I love most in the entire world.

Ahh Karen. We all joke about Karens.. the stereotypical woman who throws a fit when things don’t go her way. She stomps her foot. She screams when she doesn’t get what she wants. She sends her meals back. She insists on exact change. She wants the seat at the restaurant she feels she deserves. She demands people behave appropriately. She does not care who she offends. On Instagram, I watch the reel videos of all the Karens. And I laugh and shake my head. Confident that I would never act that way. But in a small way, I respect the Karens of the world. Good for you for fucking politeness (sorry mom). Good for you for standing your ground when the rest of the world calls you crazy. Good for you for being unapologetic. May we all tap into our inner Karen when needed. I will tip my hat to all the Karens, as long as they are ultimately kind. Niceness has its place. But kindness is the key.

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