To the beautiful, smart young woman I saw today,
I was one of the passers by at the restaurant you were at this afternoon: a nameless face walking past while you sat on the patio with your friends. I heard you before I saw you, telling a story about pillows. You called them f*!#ing pillows. It got my attention. By the time I got near to where you were at I’d heard a little more about how f#*@ing frustrated you were about having to change them, and you asked your friends beseechingly: “how was I supposed to f@#*ing know?”
By then, I was near my car and nearly out of earshot, so I looked back quickly one more time. Yes, you are beautiful. And you had everyone’s attention. And I could tell by your collegiate sweater that you are smart too: it takes a 4.0 to get into the school whose name you wore today. And I wondered if you knew how very beautiful and smart and captivating you are – and how the constant use of F@*# in your dialog detracted, rather than added, to your attractiveness?
I wasn’t with my kids today, so it wasn’t that I was worried they’d hear and do their repeat-the-new-word playbook all the way home. It also wasn’t that I was offended. I have said similar things in times of extreme stress (it is a tough ask to find a woman who has given birth and didn’t reserve some choice words for the process). But the story you were telling was about pillows. And housemates. And chores. And I think you wasted the big words on such very not-big things.
Which is a pity.
I can remember a time when I swore a lot more. At the time, the words tasted like independence and free speech and power. They said “I’m an adult – I can say what I want. The teachers and my parents can’t hear me or stop me.” But a few years down the road I realized they left an empty taste in my mouth – and my words were powerful, more independent, and actually freer without them. There were so many other, marvelous, descriptive adjectives I had been missing while relying on the cheap-thrill of the F-bomb. Like pusillanimous. And geriatric. And wretched. And bombastic. Even once I’d realized that swearing wasn’t doing me any favors, it took a while to break the habit… but it was a habit worth breaking.
Really, adulthood means not just saying what you want – but saying what is needed, what is true, what is right. Even if you’re telling a story about pillows.
Just a thought, from a stranger who thought you were lovely, and could have been lovelier yet with a few less words.