This article originally published on Better After 50.
Is It Time To Clean Up My Act? Let me know what you think.
A really good friend of mine, a well-respected lawyer, in his late fifties, was late for his daughter's swim meet. Tense and a little bit lost, he realized he was heading in the wrong direction, so he pulled into a parking lot to turn the car around. As he drove out into traffic, he cut off another driver. That driver, also a middle-aged man, leaned on the horn, and they both came to a stop, missing each other by inches. There were words (and perhaps a gesture or two) through closed windows. And in the heat of the moment, as my friend's wife lovingly recalls, he actually rolled down the window and yelled out to the guy, "oh, EAT ME you douche bag!"
She laughs when she tells the story, because it was so totally out of character. She was of course horrified and appalled, but her response to him at the time was something like this: "Are you kidding me? 'Eat me, you douche bag?' Really, James, Who says that?" We have laughed about this for years, responding to any perceived slight from or by any of us with this exact verbiage. Really, who does say that? We still don't know what came over him, but it made for a great story.
I grew up in a house where the adults didn't swear. My mother said "Sugarbush," "Heck," "Fudge it," and "Fiddlesticks." Swearing was for the ignorant, the low class, the uneducated and the unimaginative. Swearing was disrespectful, hostile, and those who didn't want respect. It represented the dumbing down of America. And while you can see I was raised properly, I turned out to be a bit of a potty mouth. I can swear like a sailor when the situation warrants (and yes, I often let it all out when sailing out of my comfort zone.)
But in my mid 50s, I don't excuse it, I don't try to stifle it much (unless I am talking with newspaper reporters, clergy, business associates or schoolchildren). I relish in it because it's raw and real. It's not that I don't know any better -- I certainly do -- but at midlife, here's why I find myself letting it rip with impunity:
1. Swearing can be bonding. Swearing between friends shows that we are totally comfortable with one another, that we are open and forthright, that we are not stuffed shirts, that we are real, down to earth, we are a lot of fun.
2. I could give a shit about impressing anyone (and yes, I could have used better words to say that-- I chose not to).
3. Swearing spices up a conversation. It adds color, texture. I have found that a swear word or two is often a part of a good story (see opening paragraphs above -- even if I can't quite figure out the actual swear word in there -- I am pretty sure it qualifies).
4. When punching someone in the face is not an option (and when is it?), swearing out the tension is a fabulous alternative.
5. I have found clarity to be a priority lately. When I say, "Lay the F*&k off," no one is wondering what I am thinking. They are stunned into silence and I don't have to waste time explaining what I mean.
6. I am often at a loss for a good adjective, noun or verb. When it simply won't come, I fill in with a swear -- I never, ever think, "oh what was that word that begins with the letter F?"). And we all know how versatile the F bomb is.
7. Swearing helps with pain relief (and this one has been scientifically proven). The next time you fall on your ass, swear away -- it activates the so-called fight or flight response, leading to a surge of adrenaline and a corresponding analgesic effect.
8. Swearing keeps one calm by elevating endorphins. This week I roamed the parking lot in the rain for 20 minutes looking for my car. As I walked all over the lot, I murmured over and over to myself, "F*&k me, what did I do with the car?" It helped. I found the car and didn't lose my mind.
All of this is, of course, is an attempt to rationalize the irrational conversation with my youngest daughter this week, when I lost it with her talking about her impending homelessness in NYC. I was frustrated, angry, and what I meant to say was something like this: "Beautiful and responsible daughter, I worry so much about you living alone in a studio apartment in a dangerous area of the city. How can I help to make sure that doesn't happen?"
What I said, however, was actually something along the lines of this, "There is no f&^*king way I am going to let you live alone in a shitty little studio in the bowels of Brooklyn where you might be raped and murdered..." It was then that she stopped listening, and I gave the phone to Mike for some rational discussion.
I left the room having made my point with utter clarity, elevated endorphins, and my blood was circulating like it hadn't in days. However, I am not sure this was a family bonding experience. No doubt it simply confirmed her opinion that her mother is a complete whack job.
Heck, maybe I should try to lay off the swearing for a while, despite all the benefits, because this mundane "Life Flop" experience can best be described in three words: Fudge My Life.
And I don't mean I need a chocolate truffle from the Whitman Sampler.