John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love my husband, but as great a guy as he is, he is also extremely talkative. I mean like when someone asks him how he’s doing, he launches into a 20-minute conversation with every little detail of his work, health, money concerns, etc. Sometimes people just want to hear “I’m fine!” and not a life story. How can I get him to shorten up his conversations and not bore people to death? I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I don’t want to lose friends and family when they start avoiding us! I suffer from this problem myself, only it’s never about health or money. It’s just loving to tell stories about seemingly everything. At least once a day I say to myself, “Shut the hell up.” So you have to solve this problem with some humor. Everyone asks us all the time, “How you doin’?” Or “How are you?” Never tell them the truth. They do not really care. Tell your husband this and advise him to answer “How are ya?” by saying things like “Every day’s an adventure,” or “My doctor tells me that I’m growing a second head.” The answers are short and provocative. And they don’t leave room for long answers from the other people. People have problems of their own. They don’t want to dwell on yours. I have friends, a married couple, who have a rule when they go out for dinner with friends: Whoever first mentions health issues has to pay for dinner. Or you can just tell your husband to shut up. Works for me.
My wife is awesome but she is constantly on her iPhone. I mean at the table, at dinner, in the car… I think I’m starting to get jealous of the smartphone. Every morning she’s on it before she’s out of bed… help! Sometimes I think that marriage is an unnatural act. To be successful over a long term, all kinds of compromise is necessary. The great comedian Lenny Bruce used to tell a story about his wife catching him one day in the midst of an unnatural act with a chicken. They had a huge fight but eventually calmed down and went back to their daily routines. A week later, Bruce brought a bag of dirty laundry to his wife and said, “Could you please wash these things?”
She looked at him and paused, then said, “Let the chicken do your laundry.”
Lots of petty annoyances crop up in all relationships. So I suggest you begin doing several things that may prove equally annoying to her. Like always leaving some article of clothing on the floor before you head off to work, or always leaving the toilet seat up. Or suddenly starting to whistle when you’re around the house and she’s asking you something. When she can’t stand it anymore and calls you on it, you can bring up the subject of compromise and move toward modifying your behavior if she’ll modify hers.
Living with someone else is always a game. Sometimes it’s like chess, sometimes checkers. And sometimes Pokémon.
I’ve been asked to play golf with my boss in a one-day tournament at his club. I know it’s an honor to be invited. And I am a pretty good player. But my game can be very unpredictable, and I know my boss has invited two of our biggest clients to play as well. The problem is I told my boss that I was an excellent golfer, and I’m sure he wants me around to impress his clients. I’m having trouble sleeping, I’m so nervous about this outing. What do you suggest, other than taking tranquilizers? It’s a very tough thing to live up to a legend you’ve created for yourself, especially about golf, the ultimate head game. But remember, when it’s client golf, it’s all about your parent company and showing the customers what a congenial guy you are and how much you love your job. There’s an old cliché, “You should never beat your boss at golf,” but that’s really not true. They like to show off their special employees, thinking it reflects well on them. You’ve kind of screwed yourself by pretending you’re a fine player. So when playing, be self-deprecating and as charming as you can be. Also be particularly complimentary to the good points of the clients’ game; make them have a memorable day. Tell a few amusing stories about your company to humanize it. Almost everyone you ever play golf with will say, “I basically stink. Can’t hit irons, can’t putt, have the shanks out of nowhere.” And the clients will say in this case, “That’s why it’s a four-letter word,” and other hoary, timeless reactions.
But golf is a great judge of character. You can learn a lot about people in the course of almost four hours. So be a gentleman. Be congenial. Make your boss proud to have you for a companion, even if you don’t break 90. You’ll learn a lot about how business is done on the golf courses of life, and even more about how you react under pressure to perform.