Hellooooo Faithful Readers, and welcome to February’s edition of Gothic Charm School. Readers who have been visiting for ages will remember that during February, the Lady of the Manners likes to give all of you advice on romance (or the death of romance). Now, this month is going to be a little different—just a little—because a nice young man named David is asking for help in talking to a girl. A goth girl, to be precise, while he is NOT a goth. What makes this different from advice given in previous Februarys is that David doesn’t say that he’s, y’know, “interested” in this lady. No, he just wants to apologize for previous boorish behavior on his part. Mind you, the Lady of the Manners has her suspicions about what is motivating young David to try to make amends, but the Lady of the Manners will keep her suspicions to herself (for once, some of the Lady of the Manners’ friends would add).
What David has to say for himself is this:
Dear Gothic Charm School:
I am not a goth, and I only come to this site because I’m a horror writer and like to read the fiction, but I do have a question. There is a goth girl that lives down the street from me and before I knew any better, I used to stare and maybe make jokes that could have been hurtful to her feelings. Now, she sits behind me in my College English class and at first I was thinking “oh great, here we go,” but since she has sat behind me, and I have gotten to know her a little better (from listening in on her conversations with those around us) I want to be her friend (or at least I don’t want her to think I don’t like her). Now that I have gotten a little bit of information on this site and others, I realize that maybe I shouldn’t have been so prejudice in the beginning. Now, even though I’m not a goth, I need some help with my manners.
Isn’t that a heart-touching plea? Doesn’t it just beg to be answered? (Yes it does, and you can quit being so snarky. Yes, you, don’t pretend the Lady of the Manners isn’t talking to you.)
The thing that David (and anyone else in his shoes) is going to have to accept in this sort of situation is this: even when you apologize to the young lady (and yes, you should … scratch that. You MUST), there is a very good chance that the young lady in question will stare at you in a disgusted manner, say, “yeah, whatever,” in a withering tone, and still think that you are more vile than a very vile thing. That’s just how it is. Because it is a VERY rare thing for a person’s tormentors (which, David, you were, even if you didn’t realize it) to decide later to make amends. While it happened all the time in those glorious ‘80s-era Pretty in Pink-style teen movies, it doesn’t often happen in Real Life. Which means that when it DOES happen, the person that it is happening to tends to be a trifle … skeptical? Wary? On the lookout for the unpleasant punchline to this sort of set-up? So you see, you are going to have to work very hard at convincing this young lady that no, really, you DO wish to apologize for your past behavior.
So what should you do? Try to speak to her before or after class. Don’t expect to be able to talk to her without her friends being around—she will most likely feel uncomfortable about talking to you in private. Then, in your best sincere (but not overwrought) manner, say something along the lines of: “I used to say things that probably hurt your feelings, but that was before I knew you or knew anything about goth. But now that I’ve learned a little bit about goth and goths, I know that what I did was mean. So I just want to apologize for how I treated you in the past, and would like to be able to talk to you without you thinking that I’m going to be a jerk.”
(Of course, say that in language that would be natural for you to use. The Lady of the Manners isn’t up to date with teen vernacular, and doesn’t want to become up to date, either.)
Will you feel silly/sheepish/uncomfortable saying something like this? Of course you will. Everyone feels that way when they are admitting they did something wrong. That shouldn’t stop you from apologizing.
Now, as to your future behavior…you realize, of course, that you now can’t engage in casual rude or unkind comments about this young lady or her friends, don’t you? Even if you’re not around her, even if you’re just hanging out with your friends. Because it WOULD get back to her, and prove to her that you were merely apologizing to try to set her up for something else. This means you will have to possibly go against the teenage hive mind, and be willing to refuse to pick on someone just because they’re different. This is an important lesson, and the Lady of the Manners fervently hopes that you are up to it. You don’t get to just be nice to the girl when you’re in class with her and then tear her down in the company of your friends, you don’t get to make disparaging “It’s not Halloween” comments, and (this is the difficult bit) you don’t get to make fun of OTHER goths. No, you don’t.
You see, you don’t get to be selective. You don’t get to try to make amends with this young lady, but shout insults at other goths you do or don’t know. If you’re going to try to be nice to one person (which you should), then you need to try to be at least civil to everyone else. Yes, there are people who are goths who are dreadful, but you still have to be polite to them. It’s a cliché, but “Treat people as you want to be treated” is timeworn because it’s TRUE. Everything would be much, much simpler if people would just remember that basic idea, but it seems to escape a lot of people.
(Of course, the Lady of the Manners hopes that EVERYONE will be polite to EVERYONE else, but isn’t going to hold her breath until it happens. Swooning is lovely in theory, but does give one a blistering headache.)
Well David, the Lady of the Manners hopes that you take her advice, and that you remember to be polite to everyone, even if you think they’re weird. And that, snarklings, is that.
So, pop by next month and see what sort of trouble the Lady of the Manners can dig up. Until then, if any of you darling creatures are in need of advice, send something off to firstname.lastname@example.org