Just Give It 7 Seconds
Imagine this: You’re out at a bar. Maybe you’re there with some coworkers, and everyone is shaking off that crazy conference call and is starting to get a little loose. You’ve had one drink, and now you’re enjoying another. No big deal. You’re feeling good, and why shouldn’t you? Everyone is laughing at your jokes. Your personality is on display, and I don’t mind telling you that you are simply sparkling. Fuck yeah.
Fast forward a few hours. Now you’re tucked safely in bed. You’ve just woken up covered in an icy sweat, mouth is dry, heart is pounding. You’re going over everything you said and you’re thinking: Was I too loud? Was I too quiet? Did I blink my eyes too many times before responding to Jessica? Why was I so braggy—in an explicitly not cute way—about being right about the fact that the song “Dancing in the Moonlight” is sung by King Harvest and not Van Morrison? (It does feel good to be right, but damn.) Why, actually, did I corner Lauren to talk to her about the different tiers of California colleges for absolutely no reason? Am I a man who was overly complimentary to a female coworker in what was, in retrospect, a creepy way? Was it a good idea to abruptly cut someone off mid-sentence to suggest that we “join those other people over there”? Should I kill myself because I introduced myself to someone and she responded, “Yeah, I’m Leslie. We’ve met like five times,” and then walked away?
Stop right there.
Do not, under any circumstances, think about any interaction you’ve had with another human being for longer than seven seconds. So you got weird at your office Christmas party. Give it a full seven seconds, and release it. Yeah, you did make a weird noise with your mouth when you were alone with someone in the kitchen, and? Laugh about it to yourself for exactly seven seconds and then never think about it again. Anything longer is too long.
Life is a painful and excruciating misery, made worse by the fact that we have a boundless capacity to put our feet into our mouths. Simply by existing, we’re all humiliating ourselves all the time. Why are you making it worse by replaying that time you called someone Ryan but his name is Matt? Oopsies, you did a weird thing, shove it way down deep down inside of yourself, and move onto the next inevitably weird thing you will do. What you should not do, under any circumstances, is spend the rest of your life loudly saying their name correctly at inappropriate moments to make up for it. You just put your little head down and barrel through life like the maddening idiot you are! You simply do not have time to consider anything you’ve ever said longer than seven seconds.
(A caveat: do not abuse the seven-second rule. I am not giving you carte blanche to behave inappropriately or like some kind of sex pervert. If you know you’ve been a dick to someone, apologize. The seven-second rule applies only to benign, awkward, even mildly annoying behavior, but not to outright rudeness. A quick rule here is usually: if you have no idea what I’m talking about and have never overthought an interaction in your life, this rule is probably not for you and there’s a good chance you should apologize. To everyone. Right now. Look up from your phone and apologize to the woman in front of you. I assume you are a man.)
For my birthday a few years ago, I bought myself a massage. I decided to make a day of it and right before I left my apartment, I ate an edible. I don’t mind telling you that by the time I arrived at the spa, I was high as fuck. When the masseuse came out to introduce herself, she said, “Hello, I’m Lorraine.” I stuck out my hand and confidently said, “I’m Lorraine.” Wrong.
It’s fine! Weird, but fine. Instead of laughing at this fumble for precisely seven seconds and then moving on to enjoy a gorgeous massage and a goddamned minute of peace, I spent the duration of the service imaging that the real Lorraine was either:
Furious with me for showing up to her place of business ba...