Receive phone call while in the middle of a good thought. “Hello,” I say, and immediately recognize who I’m talking with. No sooner does this recognition hit than I interject, contrary to every exchange I’ve probably ever had with them, “hey do you mind if I go first—maybe distract you with an interesting thought…do you have the time?” Of course they did. If they were just frantically calling to confirm a detail or what have you, they would respond “no, sorry, in a rush…” You relieve them of the burden of explaining what they need from you, making conversation or buttering you up. Plus, they are usually pleasantly surprised and thankful for the brief but novel break from their own habitual mind. This kind of leadership—if your foot is kept firmly on it’s throat—establishes context, rapport, and banishes the awkward silence, if done artfully.
The challenge and burden of assertiveness is staggeringly difficult if you retain a conscience. We actually love the Don Draper-type person for his bold leadership, creativity, shrewd—if bloodthirsty—criticism, the setting of a higher standard, but most importantly, his social graces. Yes, a man can have assertive social graces—though in modern American society these come with social and legal hazards. What I’m talking about is control and assertiveness with knowledge and good intentions. Your girlfriend is getting herself all worked up and you dive in there and hug her, hostile though she seemed, and feel her melt! (Sometimes this requires soft words in addition–of impeccable taste). She might fight you for a second before melting, or you might find a knee trying to occupy the very same space-time as your crotch. Gut call. No advice I can give ya, other than ask yourself beforehand “did I do it?”–but those of you with a conscience didn’t need that advice.
My experience with relationships yields that such interventions are 90% good, super effective—they feel heroic also btw—and not nearly as frequent as necessary (depending on how, um, “passionate?” your lady is). I’m sure you women have been with controlling guys, but that’s not exactly what I’m saying—though you wouldn’t have stayed with such people had their leadership and authority been without any merit whatsoever. No, the great destabilizing force was the unexpected argument, the one where you don’t even get the “honey, we need to talk” warning—or worse, the unwitting, yet miraculously clever, ambush. I’ve even applied the social gung fu move of suggesting a certain time on Saturday where my girlfriend could voice anything and everything and I calmly and patiently listen, for up to an hour. Strangely, Saturday rolled by and she was having a great time—it wasn’t until I was 5-hours deep into a project on Sunday and ready to really produce the goods that a shitstorm blew in from Venus. A man would have to be a god of social acumen to preempt these by careful, well-intentioned assertiveness. So let us be gods! Let us risk our testicular comfort for the preemptive and solution-offering assertiveness of authentic manliness. Is this not a more relevant skill to research and master than pick-up-artistry?