I have a friend, 29, who chronically uses a “sexy baby” voice: high-pitched, syrupy and incredibly jarring. She doesn’t use it simply for greeting friends. (“Hiiii!”) She uses it for full sentences at a stretch. As women, we are often conditioned to speak like this, so I can see how she might use this voice when she is feeling nervous or uncomfortable. But this has been her default mode for years! I am embarrassed for her when I hear her talking to friends and strangers. Still, I may not be the best person to say something to her. I only see her a few times a month and never at work (where this voice would be unacceptable). How can I help her break this habit without offending her?
Oh, you’ve come to the wrong advice column, friend! As a gay man with 50 years of experience constantly calibrating my masculinity for the comfort of others, I suggest you keep your (unsought) advice about your friend’s voice to yourself. Promoting gender equality means giving all people the freedom to express themselves as they choose.
Now, I bet you mean well, though it’s hard to be certain: Your letter is largely framed by irritation at your friend. You don’t provide any examples of her using this voice to cover discomfort, as you hypothesize, or to her detriment. Though you are certainly correct that a lot of gendered behavior is socially conditioned.
The fact that you are aware of this phenomenon makes it stranger (to me) that you want to police your friend’s voice — as if there were only one acceptable tone for women to use. What’s next: her clothing or body size? No, if you want to help your friend, be kind to her. Supporting her as she is will give her greater confidence to be the person she wants to be.
An Odd View of Even-Steven
I am a 71-year-old widow with a caring new boyfriend of five months. We live in the same condo complex; it offers many (free) activities and clubs that we participate in. But when I suggest dates outside the condo, he asks how much they will cost and suggests we go Dutch treat. I am confused by this. He receives a good pension and Social Security payments. I am willing to share costs, but I would like to be the one who makes that decision. Your thoughts?
No one told me it was Gender Week! Forgive me if I misunderstand you, but you seem to be suggesting that you should decide who pays for dates because you are a woman. Do I have that right? You don’t mention being broke or shouldering other costs — such as regularly cooking or gardening for your boyfriend, for instance.
I hope you will reconsider your view. We all like to be treated once in a while, but you are an independent woman. Why do you require a man to pay for you — and why should he? Try to enjoy your new relationship with this “caring” fellow on an equal financial footing. If you can’t manage that, talk to him about it. But beats me how you make your request without making him feel like an A.T.M.
Take It to the Court (or at Least Out of DMs)
I became friendly with a guy who plays pickup basketball with my group about six months ago. We have a lot in common and started getting together to play board games and one-on-one basketball. Over the last month, he hasn’t responded to my DMs or texts in our basketball group chat. But when I see him with mutual friends, he acts as if nothing were wrong. I’m confused (and a bit annoyed). I’m not afraid of confrontation, but I don’t know what to do here. Thoughts?
I’m glad you wrote! When people don’t respond to my DMs or group text messages — fairly casual forms of communication — I sometimes read rejection or dislike into their silence, and I am often wrong. Still, I get your hurt feelings.
Talk to your friend when you next see him — but without the hostile vibes of a “confrontation.” Ask him if he saw your texts. He may be busy or uninterested, and he may view DMs and group chats as optional communications. A talk in real life should help clear things up.
Highly Credentialed, but Empty-Handed
My wife and I invited a new neighbor for dinner. She is accomplished, worldly and affluent. When she arrived, we were surprised that she brought nothing with her — no bottle of wine or flowers. It seemed to us she had broken the unspoken rule of bringing a host gift to a dinner party. We enjoyed ourselves, and she promised to reciprocate. When she does, my wife and I disagree about whether to bring her a host gift. Your view?
Many people bring token gifts to dinner parties to thank their hosts for entertaining them. It’s a lovely gesture. But to punitively withhold a host gift because your neighbor was running late or simply forgot to bring one for you strikes me as petty and a violation of the openhearted spirit of hospitality. Bring a host gift (and stop keeping score)!