on being polite

Spurred by my experience at the soccer game the other day, I got to thinking about what it means to be polite.

When the now infamous swinger soccer dad took our conversation down a particular path, I should have stopped him short: “Excuse me, sir, but I’m trying to focus on my son’s game.” I could have achieved the same result by relocating my seat. I could have told him to shut the fuck up. But I didn’t do any of those things, because I didn’t want to cause a scene.

Nor did I follow my instincts last month when a particular situation made me uncomfortable; I didn’t want to offend my friend and/or her significant other by changing course. And I’ve regretted that decision.

What does all this say about my disposition? I’m not a pushover, but I don’t like to create waves. In fact, I loathe confrontation. I like to keep the peace. And I’ve been doing just that my entire life, starting with my divorced parents, continuing with feuding roommates, and still now when the moment calls for diplomacy.

But there’s a balance to be struck. We teach our kids manners. We tell them to let us know when they seen an injustice being committed. But what if calling out that injustice requires us to temporarily shelve those manners? Frankly, being polite isn’t always the best, or safest, approach. It’s not impolite to protect yourself, be it from jerks sitting in the bleachers or worse.

Does anyone think Creepy Dad is sitting at home thinking, “gosh, I was really impolite to that soccer mom the other day.” Hell, no. He’s probably charting a new course of action to try out at the next game. And I will be prepared with a strongly worded response. If he thinks I’m being rude, then so be it.



a funny thing happened at soccer

For the first time in his eight-year soccer career, Jack plays for a travel team. Making this big league move was just short of monumental; the time and financial commitment is greater than any activity either kid has pursued to date. But so far, three games into the season, the only real difference between the travel team and the town team seems to be longer drives to games, better uniforms, and new parents to get to know.

On that note…

Before yesterday’s game started, I staked out territory on the bleachers, book in hand to entertain me until kick off (or whatever you call it in soccer). Soon after I took my seat, a dad I didn’t know walked up and sat beside me.

Stranger Dad: “Hey, whatcha reading?”

Me: “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing.”

Stranger Dad: “How is it?”

And I knew like you know when a chatty passenger sits next to you on an airplane that no matter how good I proclaimed my book to be, I would no longer be reading it for any duration of the game.

I marked my page. We talked. The game commenced. We did that eyes on the field multitasking conversation thing sports parents are good at.

Stranger Dad: “What do you do? Hey, he’s offsides!”

Me: “I’m an aspiring writer-slash-lobbyist. Go defense!”

Our conversation proceeded like this for the first half of the game. I abandoned hope of picking my book back up at half time. The second half got underway. And then there was a shift in conversation. I’m not sure what cued him, but on a warm pre-fall day, watching our kids run up and down the field, this happened:

Stranger Dad: “Do you have any friends in an open marriage?”

Me: “Um, yeah. I do know one couple in an open marriage.”

He proceeded to ask details about their arrangement, but I’m not deeply involved in my friends’ private lives, nor would I share them with a stranger even if I were up to speed. I stammered out an answer.

Stranger Dad: “My wife and I have an open marriage.”

I’m never sure what protocol is when a complete stranger over shares. In this case, I choked out a squeaky “oh really?” as my spidey senses kicked in: this was more than chitchat. It was a proposition. He mistook my silence for interest. He explained in great detail the terms of his arrangement with his wife. She prefers not to know what he does outside the marriage, but he wants to know everything. In fact, I got to hear all about a “date” she went on recently. He leaned in close and told me that while he’s a stay at home dad, he’s the aggressor in bed.

Me: “Run, Jack! Defend the ball! Get in there, Jack!”

The game ended in a 1-1 tie and a handshake. I’m pretty sure he expected more. I collected my kids and quickly herded them into the car. I immediately checked the game schedule to see how many more games I’m likely to run into this guy. Because while I turned it into a humorous story to share at a backyard BBQ later, honestly, he made me uncomfortable. I was happy to have a new parent to talk to when the topic of conversation bounced between living in New England, raising boys, and the unpredictable DC weather. But he pushed the bar, and I’m not exactly sure why. Was it how I was dressed? Because I was alone? Did he misinterpret my friendliness for flirtation? Or is he just an aggressive asshole? All I know is instead of being excited that my son is a starting defender who played all game, I’m focused on ways to deflect unwanted attention from this creepy dad.

And that really sucks.