I’ve had a blog swimming around my head for a few weeks now. “Blog” is a generous word for it, actually. “Rant” might be more accurate. The topic of this blogrant is the seemingly ubiquitous use of the expression “No Problem.” I hear it almost everywhere I go, particularly at restaurants or similar venues where you’re being served or waited on or whatever. Once I was out to dinner and the waitress said it so many times it was like a tic. “I’d like a ham and cheese omelet.” No problem! “Can I get more water?” No problem! “Just the check, please.” No problem!
Imagine my relief to know that it’s not a problem to give me the check. I’m sure her manager will be equally pleased. Her incessant insistence that nothing was a problem had me scratching my head wondering why it would ever be a problem to order food at a restaurant.
So, yesterday I went to NYC to meet my two college housemates, Bebe and Hebe, neither of whom I’ve seen since 2010. We met on a corner and within two minutes Hebe was sharing personal details about a new love interest, Bebe was admitting her dislike for an in-law, and I was recounting my recent “date” with a proctologist. We don’t waste time.
So, now you’re probably thinking this is going to be one of those “there’s nothing like old friends” blog. And I guess it is. We spent four hours eating and drinking — and apparently doing so rather loudly because a woman at the next table wanted to know how long we’d been friends and how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other.
At one point in the lunch we lamented that we didn’t have more friends like this. That as we got older, we have work friends, neighbor friends, gym friends or couples friends. But did we have friends where we could pick up as if barely a week had passed since we last saw each other and no context was required the topics that came up?
Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of friends and I share plenty of secrets with them. But there’s a different category for the people you spent four years living with – where you grew up in front of each other without adult supervision. The people who knew you, arguably, at your worst. Who took your cigarettes without asking and played the same song over and over again in the room next to yours. Who made bad decisions and then made them again and watched as you did the same.
So, at some point I told B&H how much I hated this “No problem” pandemic and Bebe admitted that she finds herself often saying the equally trite “It is what it is” line. But, she argued, while she knows it sounds insipid, she believes it is true. This led Hebe to school us on some principles of cognitive behavior therapy. I still am not sure how it related to hackneyed phrases, but she seemed on a roll and it was fun to hear her use a bunch of big words to say some relatively simple things.
So, today I found myself a little sad and thinking about my old friends. I was trying to figure out what it was – really – that made us tell each other things, without editing ourselves, or watching exactly how we phrased it. And at first I thought, “well, it’s probably because we don’t judge each other.” That sounds plausible, right? Good, old friends who have seen each other in less than flattering circumstances, always willing to be a kind ear and listen and not pass judgment.
Wrong. In fact, the three of us pass judgment with abandon. And I realized, that’s probably at the heart of what makes these friendships so unusual. We are, in fact, willing to give unadulterated opinions and advice. To call it like we see it. To start sentences with “You should.” To tell each other that, yes, you do in fact have a problem and you can do better than sit back and say, “it is what it is.”