Newsflash! You're Not Being Bravely Honest, You're Just An Asshole

I have so little patience these days with people who declare themselves to be “brutally honest” in the same world-weary, jaded way as someone gritting out, “I’ve been a political reporter in Syria for the last decade or so.”

Aug 16, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

Wedding season stresses me the hell out. To be fair, I am a huge sap, known for crying all over my face and writing shit like, “The way you two look at each other makes me believe in love again,” in couples’ guest books after one too many mimosas.

But like any self-absorbed asshole present at any event where many photos will be taken, I also worry unduly about my “look.”

Being femme has always been fun, but never instinctive, for me. So when I took to Buffalo Exchange for my friend Ryann’s wedding, I found myself yearning for the presence of my “meanest” friend: my hetero lifemate TOK, currently stationed in Cape Town. She’d tell me whether my chosen outfit was likely to provoke my date into a sexy half-rage and drag me back to our hotel room by the Spanx.

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The picture I eventually texted TOK: "Where the balls did these hips come from?!"

One of my favorite things about TOK is that she never really pulls her punches. In college, our impressions of her would always begin, “Let’s be honest,” in our drollest voices. She’s definitely the person to whom I will always bring stupid relationship problems when I want a real answer, not a kiss on the mouth and baked goods. She’s also got a damn good eye for style and tends to say things like, “You’d have a great ass if you wore pants that fit.” Definitely someone you’d want on your side for the zombie apocalypse. 

Yet, somehow, she manages to do all these things without being a gigantic dickhead about them. (Most of the time.)

And frankly, I would know. Call me oversensitive, but I have so little patience these days with people who declare themselves to be “brutally honest” in the same world-weary, jaded way as someone gritting out, “I’ve been a political reporter in Syria for the last decade or so.” 

I feel like everyone has that acquaintance: The one whom you awkwardly introduce to mutual friends with a hurried, “She’s just really blunt,” immediately before she launches into a face-to-face diatribe about the nearest person’s physique. The casually racist dude who lauds himself on being an equal-opportunity bigot. The old friend from high school who tells you, in a tone that means she’s Just Looking Out For You, that your babies with your boyfriend would be super-ugly. Those people.

I have a fragile ego and a rejection-phobia streak half a mile wide, so I try to steer well clear of those types. And I’ve been lucky enough to mostly keep them out of my inner circle. But according to everyone’s favorite Internet sensation, Samantha Brick, they may be back with a vengeance, with sociology on their side! 

According to Brick, scientists at the University of Notre Dame have decreed that being honest with one’s friends and family ultimately resulted in closer-knit relationships with everyone involved. In Brick’s article, she uses this discovery to go on a blunt-rampage, apparently driving away not a few friends with her unflinching willingness to turn down wedding invitations and tell personal trainers they were too out of shape to teach fitness classes for a living. You know, real relationship-building forays.

I understand, a little. As a giant pushover with a people-pleasing complex, I’ve often been tempted to outright refuse invitations with no excuse save, “I’m spending my evening eating refried beans out of a can and staring at GIFs of 22-year-old man-boys.” I’m sure that my ensuing sulkiness at being dragged out isn’t winning me any personality pageants.

And because women are socialized to be affable, I’m naturally inclined to rebel against any involuntary wincing that occurs when I, say, tell someone that, um, I’m sorry, but, uh, I don’t, er, want to go to dinner with them, um, sorry?

So it’s seductive to imagine completely doing away with a brain-to-mouth filter altogether.

The problem, though, is that these Brutally Honest types seem to fancy themselves as the lone purveyors of truth against a storm of daily bullshit. Their judgment is rooted in a black-and-white pseudo-morality: For them, there’s apparently no difference in pointing out a barely-acquaintance’s love handles and giving a close friend constructive suggestions for form-flattering clothing. 

Sometimes, of course, it’s a little gratifying to actually eke a compliment out of the brutally honest, but it’s usually not worth it to have them hovering around social functions like a specter, sighing discontentedly and telling everyone how many calories are in a mojito.

The way Brick tells it, for example, she might as well be marching fearlessly toward utopia, pushed onward by the sound of her own voice telling her friends that they’re fat. 

“I believe friendship shouldn’t be based on platitudes and insincere flattery,” she says, after a friend dumped her for telling her she could stand to lose a few stone. She also, by her own admission, refused to go to a wedding because she didn’t think the couple would last. Frankly, I can't see the relationship-strengthening potential in either of those scenarios.

In real-person life, of course, there’s a lovely gray area between couching everything one says in lavender-colored lies and just exploding in a fury of “You look like a shark with ass acne!” every time anyone asks you if you like their new bikini. Especially where friendship is concerned, it is completely possible to omit key details of your opinion to spare people’s feelings. It’s called tact, and rejecting it doesn’t make you brave or innovative. It just makes you an asshole, and no one will want you at their Tupperware parties.

I’m sure that the friend who invited Brick to her wedding wasn’t looking for a commentary on her relationship. She’d just tried to include Brick and her husband in a moment that was, at that time, pretty fucking special to her. Likewise, the friend who asked her whether she looked fat was probably not seeking out actual advice on the Atkins diet or whatever. People have feelings, no matter how shiny their robot exterior, and they are occasionally plagued with anxiety and insecurity. Sometimes, friendship means being honest with people. And sometimes, it means putting your “integrity” at stake to make people you love feel good.

Ultimately, I think the dividing line between assholery and honesty lies in motivation. Ye blunt-commenters of the Internet, perhaps it’s time to be honest with yourself: Are you genuinely trying to help out a friend by being semi-bitchy? Or are you just using the “I’m just soooo honest” excuse to get out of spin class with your work friend? 

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t feel free to behave as truly to themselves as they’d like to. But by swathing it in self-congratulatory accolades about how daring they are, they’re just making themselves look like dickwads. 

I trust the opinion of people like TOK because I know she has my best interest at heart when she gets snappy about my size-too-large jeans. And admittedly, I think she and Samantha Brick would have a grand ol’ time taking me shopping. I just would only invite one of them out for burritos afterward.

If you must critique Kate’s inane tweets at @katchatters, please do not be surprised when she weeps in your general direction.