A few years ago, I was astonished to hear an intelligent friend of mine declare her unashamed adoration of Britney Spears. This extremely smart woman had no shame in admitting how much she loved this much-maligned singer’s music, long after her rise to fame and before her Vegas residency. Incredibly shy myself at the time when it came to expressing any beliefs that might be ridiculed, her simple confidence in what most would term a tacky affection stuck with me.
At Walgreens yesterday, the guy in front of me bought himself a pack of smokes. As his buddy bought some too, he glanced at my purchases, lined up on the counter, and said, “You know, that stuff can drive you crazy?”
“Excuse me?” I said, confused.
He pointed to the two bottles of Coke Zero that I had on the counter. “That stuff. It drives 3% of the population crazy.”
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. He explained how when a company he used to work for made a deal with Coke, he and his buddies “Googled the ingredients on Zero and it turns out that there was a study that showed that 3% of the population who drank it went crazy.”
We all know how reliable Googling something is. After all, it can tell you a number of distinct facts about Donald Trump’s hands–this week, at least. Totally inerrant.
Given the Internet’s immense and indisputable reliability, I decided to take a different tack. “That’s funny,” I said. “How big was the study?”
“Well, obviously they don’t know what the effect on the whole population actually is, because that’d be nearly impossible to test,” I said. “So how big was the study sample?”
At this point, the man was realizing how dumb he’d been to offer his opinion. “Aw, well, y’know, I’m buying cigarettes, so I probably shouldn’t say anything.” He laughed it off, apologized, and left.
FYI: I’ll never defend the healthiness of diet drinks. If a close friend or family member were genuinely concerned about my health and said something about my intake–particularly if, like my sister, she/he were someone scrupulous about their* own nutrition–I’d be receptive. I’ve even quit drinking soda, coffee and all types of caffeine at different points in my life, just for kicks, to see its effects. But as a teacher, I have received regular flack from students, both here and abroad, about my Coke Zero habit. That wouldn’t be so bad if random men didn’t feel the need to lecture me about pseudoscience they discovered online about my personal purchases.
Teachers are subjected to unsolicited opinions all the time; I’ll never forget the time a kid one week asked why I didn’t wear socks with my flats, and then a child the next week complained how ugly it was when I did. I’ve been asked if I were pregnant (never been, and I’m a healthy weight), received huge reactions every time I change my hair, and more than anything, been told that Coke Zero is unhealthy–by male students. It’s uncanny.
I don’t care what teen boys say (the girls usually just tell me when they like something I’m wearing**). I do, however, feel a little fatigued about men telling me what to drink, and more explicitly, how to live my life.
Women don’t generally feel the need to tell me how to live. Yet “the beard” with whom I shared such a spark on our first date? Our next outing, he mentioned that he had researched how I could have my student loans forgiven if I taught a few more years, despite the fact that I a) had no interest yet in his financial advice, and b) had already made it clear that I planned to change careers.
He proceeded to ignore me when I told him that I wasn’t ready yet for an exclusive relationship with him after two dates. After another date, when I mentioned needing to move slowly on a physical level because of bad experiences (and because that’s what I straight-up wanted), he pressured me to let him sleep over anyways. A few weeks later, after more creepy, boundary-ignoring behavior (“I’m in your neighborhood! What are you doing? Did you ignore my texts last weekend because you were going out with other guys? Why won’t you go out with me same day when I ask you out at 5 PM that day for dinner?!”), when I permanently cut things off, he replied by using personal details I had shared about my past to label me some extremely unkind things.
Unexpected? No. But disappointing.
A guy I liked before “the beard” also straight-up ignored what I said I was comfortable with and lectured me about being “childish” when I sent him home after our second date. How dare I not sleep with him! That night, he directly shot me down when I said he couldn’t come in, as though it were his decision. “I’m sorry, that’s not okay,” he said. (It made me glad that I’d given his name and information to my sister before meeting up–no more OKCupid for me!) Days later when I asked for his take on the evening–giving him a chance to apologize for overreaching–he proceeded to tell me that because he was “long-term relationship” material, my sending him home was “bullshit.” Even worse, much to my surprise, he said that he was drunk despite feeling sober enough to drive me home, so I should have let him spend the night at my place and just TRUSTED him not to “try anything” after he had already pressured me to have sex, and it would have been my fault if he had crashed on the way to his house since I had not let him in.
Because clearly, the best thing to do when a man comes onto you and says, “No, that’s not okay,” when you refuse to let him in is to to say, “Oh, I’m sorry! You must be so drunk that I should ignore my instincts and right to not allow crazy men into my home at 2 AM, just in case your stupidity is more likely to make you wreck than rape me.”
In China last year, an incredibly well-meaning guy who became downright stalkerish started our relationship by saying that–surprise!–I shouldn’t drink Coke Zero. It’s cultural thing to offer unsolicited advice there, so I wasn’t as offended (i.e. both men and women offer health advice a lot, especially to Americans), but then it extended to the annoying fact that I didn’t want to date him. This guy tried to follow me home one night and stood and argued with me on a subway platform for a half hour about how we really should be together, even though I didn’t want to be with him. Like if he just ignored me enough, I would want to be with him. FIVE MONTHS after our initial break-up.
Last but not least, after I broke up with him, an ex-boyfriend’s final retort in a long, passionate letter included a random bit of advice about my career, that I should have stayed in the first state where I taught to take advantage of yet another loan forgiveness program.
These programs are great, drunk driving is bad, and diet drinks are not healthy.
These facts are not what I’m debating.
Rather, I would like to know what bizarre place in these men’s heads makes them feel the need to offer unsolicited advice to a woman they barely know. Do they really think, at the point of rejection, I am going to pause and go, “Oh, yeah, you know, I’m not really interested in you as a life partner, but that little bit of telling me what to do you just did? Game-changer.”
Did the guy at the convenience store expect me to go, “I’ve never smoked a day in my life, but you have a definite right to; on the other hand, I should put this soda back up on the shelf, because I totally believe your Powers of Google, and I do NOT want to go freakin’ crazy.
“NOT listening to you–now, THAT would be nuts.”
Further, remarkably, I have the gall to 1) not feel like sleeping with a guy after a few dates, 2) not let him into my adorable home, or fuck, 3) not tell him where I live, until I’m good and ready. What a rebel!
I even believe that I have the right to imbibe chemicals that might cause cancer if I want. Do I want to die on that hill? Nah. But why make me?
Normal soda is a migraine trigger because of what “real” sugar does, and I like how the carbonation settles my stomach; but really? It’s none of their concern.
After this rash of men telling me what I should or should not do, I’m feeling particularly reckless. Much as I once declared my startling ability to choose whether or not to take birth control (revolutionary, in 2015) and wear makeup or even (gasp!) enjoy sex, I am declaring now….my right to drink Coke Zero, and more importantly, to exercise the use of the Block function on my iPhone and social media accounts. It’s the 21st century, suckers, and I don’t have to interact with you one second longer than I want. Yay for technology!
Life today is pretty awesome. But unsolicited advice-givers can fuck off while I go drink my Coke Zero…with CHERRY. ‘Cause I’m scandalous like that.
* Proper grammar is his/her there; I used “their” to avoid being annoying.
** It’s not that I think women should be socialized not to offer their opinions; I just think the world could stand less unsolicited advice in general, and since the men I’ve encountered tend to be the bigger offenders, I’ve focused on them in this post.