The Right Kind of Like

I wrote this a few years ago, sent it to some friends, but mostly it sat on my computer.  Recently, at a gathering of graduate school friends, I told this story and a woman who works with military wives told me that she was going to take my suggestion and use it.  I decided that if it was useful for her, maybe others would find it useful too.  Let me know what you think:

One afternoon I was invited to lunch at a friend’s house.  She is married to a rather high profile and somewhat intimidating man I had never met.  Her warning that I should not be offended, as he probably wouldn’t say much to me didn’t do anything to alleviate my discomfort at the thought of making small talk with him over lunch.  So I was surprised when he sat down at the table in his backyard, turned to me and asked,

“So, what do you LIKE to do?”

With the addition of that one simple word, “LIKE” — a word I’m usually trying to erase from my family’s California born and bred vocabulary — he so chivalrously lay down his cloak, welcoming me to step daintily across that first impression hurdle.  With that one word the possibilities were opened and her husband got a real answer.

“Well,” I gulped.  I decided to go for it.

“I like to take my children on cultural adventures near our adopted home in Hong Kong.  I like to cook and have friends over to enjoy healthy meals with me.  I like to run, hike, paddle board and do yoga.  I like to write, but I’m not as good at it as I’d like.  I like to organize events, watch TED Talks, drive in Hong Kong, and read about neuroplasticity, compassion and mindfulness.”

“What kind of yoga do you do?  Because your arms are very fit,” he replied.  I liked that question too.

With that one word, he spared me that awful other question that stay-at-home moms have not yet figured out how to answer with the force and authority we used to be able to muster when we “really worked.” Had he asked me, “What do you do?” my answer would have been an apologetic jumble of volunteer parent advisory groups, ad hoc writing gigs, glorified travel agent and bus driver for my family, that trailed off with, “You, know, that kind of stuff.” Just think for a moment how much better his question is, and what a difference it could make if we all added “LIKE” to our vocabulary in the right places.

And, it was a good thing he had built up some good will with that question, because I had a bit more trouble answering his next one.

“Are all bankers assholes?” he asked.

“Well,” I gulped.

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