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Politeness is killing your relationships

Day-to-day politeness may be a useful social contract. Most people, if asked, will claim that they are perfectly aware that a flight attendant’s smile is fake, but that they don’t mind that. A friend once said: “I will choose fake politeness over sincere gloom, every time”. I feel he could easily be speaking on behalf of modern humanity.

Yet, being surrounded by fake smiles from birth, it’s simply impossible not to start seeing them as a norm - that is, when you expect them not only from a flight attendant, but from a close one, too.

When was the last time you heard your partner or friend casually saying they find the story you’ve been telling actually boring, or that they don’t feel like talking right now, or maybe that tonight they would prefer a book to a dinner together?

Such things, no matter how amicably they are expressed, immediately raise an alarm. Something is painfully off, like the person is seriously pissed. You must have done something wrong. Some might even think it’s all over.

On the other hand, how realistic is it that the desires and needs of 2 adult individuals are in sync most of the time? “Compromises” and “not being selfish” are usually what’s behind that appearance of an agreement. But this tension accumulates, and on some lovely day, triggered by a minor annoyance, it gets spilled out. Then it’s called “an argument”, and guess what: for too many people it’s the only opportunity to hear the truth. Often belated, as it may simply be too much to swallow.

This is why politeness wins over honesty: honesty is strongly linked with tension, problems, irritation, a “moment of truth”. Politeness, even the most fake sort, is easier to take. A direct expression of a conflicting desire or opinion sounds like the beginning of a quarrel, and nobody likes quarrels. Those who do try to be more honest, often feel obliged to resort to long and elaborate explanations, which makes it sound all the more suspicious.

So, hiding feelings in a relationship is the way to feeling lonely, which defeats the whole purpose of a relationship. Speaking your feelings, on the other hand, is asking for trouble. Is there a way out? A good start would be to acknowledge the very problem, and this post won’t attempt a much bigger goal.

Compromises can’t be completely avoided, but they can be attempted to talk about openly. This way both sides are at least aware of each other’s inner conflicts, even if they are minor. Minor issues, by the way, are much easier to discuss, so they can be a good start for building real trust. Once you get a taste of such trust, it’s priceless: there’s so much relief in not having to guess whether the other is genuinely happy with where they are at, or they are quietly losing their mind over trying to not be selfish.