This is one of the terms that I often find people using to describe me. Do I disagree? No. I think I am sweet. When I walk out the door in the morning, I don’t hate the world, and I don’t look for things to hate in my experience. I look for the sweetness that life has to offer, and I think this perspective naturally gives me a “sweet” demeanor. This has been a hard-won perspective.
HOWEVER. When people call other people sweet, it can often mean that they feel like that person lacks qualities that would make them compelling, intelligent or effective. I remember having a job that I hated. During the time I was there, a man I worked with told me, “You are too sweet for this job.” I would have to be, in this estimate, much more unsweet—or tough, I guess—to be suited for this job.
In NYC, you often see that people gradually, over time, step into two different categories. The first is HARDENED. The second is DEFEATED. The hardened people are the typical cynical types, who have seen it all and done it all. Nothing impresses them, and they are the types who want to gather with their friends to gossip. They feel like they have conquered New York, and have so cemented their position in their community that there is nothing else to do but mock those who aren’t on the inside. They might be very accomplished in their chosen career, but it hasn’t led to a true sense of happiness. It has simply given them satisfaction at their social standing. They are rigorously attuned to the pecking order, and they assume this to be life itself.
In contrast, the DEFEATED feel as if New York (or the world) keeps fucking them over and over and over. Whatever they do, it never works out. Everything depresses them, and they are the types who want to gather with their friends to complain. They try to get “in with the in-crowd,” but instead wind up forever looking through a window at a world they will never belong to. They plod along through life, hoping things will change, but feeling as though they never will.
These two groups egg each other on. The HARDENED need to feel as though their position in life is extraordinarily enviable, in order to feel like they have any value at all, so they exclude the DEFEATED to keep them in their place. The DEFEATED need to feel like they are not good enough to belong (since their perception of belonging or mattering would mean having to really step up to the plate and truly make themselves known, which they are too insecure to do), so they continue to look to the HARDENED for approval, knowing (subconsciously) that they will always fall short.
So when people call me sweet, I always get the feeling that they are trying to push me into the defeated category. Unfortunately, I do not desire to be either hardened or defeated. I desire to push beyond these categories. These categories are nothing more than lame facsimiles of actual connection. Further, they reveal how much the nature of late capitalism has mutated to define the order of life itself.
I desire to create a world (and perhaps this will never exist in NYC, but I still desire it and will work to create it, perhaps somewhere else) that can think of itself in terms beyond an artificial hierarchy that suppresses objectively necessary qualities like softness, sweetness, caring and most of all femininity. When one thinks of the quality of “sweetness” objectively, one can list its virtues: caring, kind, considerate, helpful, and of a pleasant temperament. These are not weak traits. They do not connote or denote incompetence. Instead, they suggest an individual who does not need to look outside herself (or himself) to find joy and belonging.
There is nothing wrong with desiring a community of like minds to share your life with. That is my primary desire, in fact. But so often, community is not based on this. Community is instead based on negative behaviors, including insularity, exclusion, suppression, exploitation, and rigidity of emotion and thought.
For example: I have known many men in NYC who have revealed to me that they deal with social anxiety. For a time, I seemed to be the flame these types of moths would forever gather around. Socializing and gathering and especially CONNECTING have always come naturally to me. I love talking to people and I literally fantasize about cooking big dinners for lots of people (when I’m not actually cooking big dinners for lots of people). That these guys had social anxiety seemed sort of “sweet,” in fact, like a bit of a chink in their armor that made them human—appealingly so. I was always happy to go out with them, knowing my presence in social gatherings helped them. In general, I really like men and male company, so this never felt like a chore or charity work. But I learned a valuable lesson: never cater to a trait that a man hates about himself.
Here was my biggest discovery: once these social anxiety types found their little patch of green in the community they wanted to belong to, they began to act horribly. I discovered them to be the worst form of excluders, treating the world as though it were an epic and byzantine high school, and every social interaction as though it were some ridiculous popularity contest. They didn’t find comfort or belonging in their social group—they simply found the ability to exclude others and to gossip. This was a really weird thing to discover, a very dark aspect of the male human psyche I had not expected and was deeply disappointed by: poor little Mr. Social Anxiety Disorder was actually just a mean girl in waiting.
But because I am “sweet,” I suppose, I accepted something I should have rejected. The shadow side of sweetness is putting other people’s needs before your own or believing that everyone has purity in their heart. If you are sweet, you need to never, ever do this. This is what pushes sweet into the realm of sucker.
But I want to suggest that the idea of sweetness be dragged from the garbage bin of cast-off qualities, and reinstated as a positive quality. I am not sweet because I am weak, stupid, or lack mental toughness. I am sweet because I see other qualities, like HARDENED and DEFEATED, as being far more unacceptable. I am sweet because it’s more fun to be sweet, and it’s more interesting to be able to gaze into someone’s eyes with a feeling of pleasure and interest and hope, rather than with a feeling of suspicion or envy. We are put on this planet to connect to each other, and when you have an open heart, that comes to you very easily. So please don’t call someone sweet as a subtle indication of their lack. It just reveals your own.