Aside from my sad yet undeniable weakness for the songs of Nickelback, nothing interferes more with my self-image than being accused of nagging. Once Tom figured that out, he started categorizing a lot of what I have to say as nagging, just to avoid having to hear it. It worked for a while. I got nervous that I was turning into a harpy shrew and started going through verbal contortions to counteract my natural propensity to nag. Here’s my best tip: try turning all your naggy questions into observations. Like, “Hey, I noticed that the laundry never made it to the dryer,” or “Hmm, I guess this garbage isn’t going to empty itself.” You can even act like you are talking to yourself: “Boy, looks like Tate peed in his underpants about an hour ago, because he left urine footprints all the way up to his room! Ha ha.” Indeed, I find that nagging works best if you can play off your nagging as the external manifestation of an internal monologue.
But hold up. What, exactly, is so wrong with nagging in the first place? I mean, things have to get done. And in my house, a lot of those things don’t get done correctly unless I am advising. I’m not saying that Tom doesn’t do his share of the housework, because Tom does about 75% of the non-cooking chores in our house (which, as an aside, only works out to like 7% of the total chores). But big freaking deal. Before you start feeling sorry for Tom, I ask you this: who cares if he does chores, if he does them wrong and I have to redo them? Once, in the crucial last moments before a dinner party, I asked Tom to run to the store for exactly two items: 1) parsley, and 2) parmesan. He returned with 1) cilantro and 2) mozzarella. For you baseball fans, that’s batting .000. Help like that can kill a person.
Last week, as I was pulling a muscle trying to figure out how to say “you bought expired milk” in a less accusatory tone, it hit me that Tom has put one over on me. Because a lot of what Tom calls “nagging” is not really nagging. Like, it’s not nagging when your partner tells you that your pants don’t go with your top. It’s not nagging when she observes that you’ll get kidney stones (again) if you don’t drink any water, especially if that’s what the doctor in the ER (twice) also told you. It’s not nagging when your wife suggests that your five-year old might not be ready for a 10-mile backpacking trip, or that you might stay within cell phone range and pack in some emergency flares. Nor is it nagging when your partner wonders aloud if the shrubs out front may have died because you pruned them with a chainsaw. Most of these things are bare facts, and the recitation of facts does not constitute nagging.
So the next time you think you might be nagging, stop and ask yourself: is this really nagging, or just a necessary suggestion on how the other person might improve themselves or their situation? If it’s the latter, it would really be a disservice not to say something, wouldn’t it?