Hello and welcome to our advice column, “Ask MR,” where we answer your burning questions in the hopes of being the ointment to your life rash. Ask us questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “ASK MR A QUESTION,” or leave yours in the comments.
Hi Man Repeller,
I’m going to put this out there before I lose the nerve. Is it common among women to assume you’re being annoying to others? It gets in the way so often, it’s distracting during interviews and work/school situations, and makes me act irrationally and do entirely too much. Is this even a *normal* question to have? Cause I feel like it’s not a normal question.
Without looking at any data (who wants to look at data in an advice column?) I assure you that yes, it is common to assume you’re being annoying. The slew of articles, books and Ted Talks that give women “permission” to do things like ask for a raise/have an opinion/live a damn life are proof enough.
A few things can happen when you fear being annoying, none of which are productive. One is that you replace your natural inclinations with safe, programmed, accommodating responses. Robot-you. The other is that you abandon your natural inclinations entirely and let a Fear Monkey steer your brain. (I think this is what you mean when you say you “do too much,” where you feel as though you can’t help but overcompensate and make the situation worse.)
The third thing that can happen when you fear being annoying is that you take up as little space as possible. You speak softly. You ask fewer questions. You ask no questions. You go along with various itineraries without making a peep. You hold your shoulders and arms close to your body, as though you’re on the world’s sweatiest subway, trying not to touch a single soul or pole. You follow. You smile and allow others to go first. You inconvenience yourself so that you inconvenience no one else. You are also very careful not to come off as “too nice.”…So basically, don’t smile too much, don’t share too much.
And the jury is just completely out to lunch on whether or not it is annoying to blink — try to read your company’s mind to gauge his or her tolerance.
THAT IS NO WAY TO LIVE, IS IT? It is debilitating.
I can’t stand anything that tells us what we “should” or “shouldn’t” do, but I believe this vehemently: You should never apologize for existing. You should never feel sheepish or embarrassed for raising your hand, having an opinion, questions or emotions. You should never feel badly for needing love, affection, a break or answers. Yet that’s how “being annoying” makes us feel.
In interviews, if you are the one being interviewed, remember that you were asked to be there. You did not wander in by mistake, dump a can of juice over a superior’s head and then demand to be grilled for some position you cannot handle. (That’s your imposter syndrome being annoying, not you.) Until the interview wraps, that chair you’re sitting in is just as much yours as the one under the interviewer’s butt is hers. You two share the air and the room. If you feel yourself doing all of the talking, it’s probably because the question required a long answer. Take a breath. The floor beneath your feet is there to ground you, not to shame you for stepping on it.
As a student, you are literally paying for your teacher’s time and attention. You could take all of that money and run away to the moon, that’s how expensive education is. But since it’s locked up in school funds, at least until the end of semester, you better get your money’s worth and learn. You are helping everyone else in that room by asking the questions no one else will, probably because they don’t want to seem annoying. (I would advise that you “check the syllabus” first — the teacher’s version of “google it.” But sometimes those things make no sense! So whatever. Ask.)
Just as I can’t tell you how to make someone fall in love with you, I can’t tell you how to “not be annoying.” The reason for this is that I cannot control how others perceive you. Neither can you. And that’s great news. Once you can somehow accept (easier typed than done) that there are people who will gaze up at you as though you’re a wonderful mountain to behold, and people who will look down at you as though you’re a pebble in their shoe, you will realize there’s not much you can do to swing them either way.
I stopped worrying about being “annoying” when I realized that I found people annoying. All the time! People who I really, really love annoy me. (Have you ever been home for the holidays?) Total strangers who turn book pages too loudly in the quiet car of Amtrak annoy me. This list is long. It’s so long I just cut a paragraph. But here’s the thing: This feeling is always, 100% of the time, MY problem. Not theirs.
I’m going to close this with what is most definitely a platitude, but it’s one I repeat to myself often: those who mind (i.e. who find you annoying) don’t matter. And those who matter [may very well find you annoying when you ask them the same question 100 times or leave the bathroom floor wet after your shower but they really, really, really] don’t mind. I promise.