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One fateful day in the Garden of Eden, Eve innocently asked Adam if she looked better in a magnolia leaf or a eucalyptus leaf. Adam helpfully noted the magnolia leaf provided more coverage. (She’d be warmer!) Eve retorted, “So you think I’m a whore?” and stormed off. Ever since, women have asked their mates questions that don’t need answers and the male population remains clueless as to why.

Nah, not really.

I have no idea what drives us women to phrase things certain ways or ask questions with only one good possible answer. I am not a proponent of “brutal honesty” (because you don’t need an excuse to exercise tactless a**holery). But I do think it’s a trap to ask someone a question and get mad at their honest, unpopular answer. Or to phrase questions in such a way to put the onus on the person you’re asking.

Passive-aggressive trickery at its finest.

And I’m the queen of that stuff! I hate confrontation. I recently thought about some of the language I use when I want my husband to do/say something. My words very rarely sound like, “Babe, can you do…?” Or, Babe, “I want you to do…” Or, “Babe, I want you to tell me I look good.” No, no. That would be too simple, too easy. And too vulnerable.

Even in a long-term relationship, I have a bad habit of masking the parts of me that are tender and easily bruised. I think it’s part of human nature. But in my haste to protect my feelings, I employ imprecise language. Also, I recognize that I sometimes phrase uncomfortable questions differently to avoid confrontation or accusation.

But I’m never really fooling my husband. He recognizes my coded language for what it is and answers accordingly. When he gives an honest answer I am not prepared for, I have to own up to my passive-aggressive way of seeking affirmation. I am actively working to get better at saying what I mean, tactfully, or not looking for exact answers to broad questions. Prayfuhme. Here are a few of my worst-abused passive-aggressive sayings.

Did “we” do XYZ? (take out the garbage, pick up the mail, etc.?)

Now I know good and well “we” ain’t do a single thing when I say this. It’s a way of shifting part of the blame onto myself. It sounds much more accusatory to say, “Did you pick up Bean’s bookbag from the car?” But it’s exactly what I mean. I already know I didn’t do it. When I ask if “we” did something, I am really wondering if he did it. That’s why I’m asking.

Do you want to do XYZ? (go out to eat, send your Mom a card, etc.?)

When I ask a very pointed question like that, it serves two purposes. 1) Tell him what I want without saying I want it 2) Ascertain if he’ll go along with it. Chances are, #husbae has not been thinking about going out to eat. But have. Is it reasonable to expect him to form an opinion about going out within the five second span of an expected answer? Nope.

It would probably be better to say, “I want to go out to eat.” Instead, I am shifting the burden of the decision onto him. Now it’s his problem. Sometimes, he’ll pick up on this and answer truthfully, “No. Do you?” and rightfully shift the question back to me. But then that generates another passive-aggressive saying.

I’m good with whatever you want to do.

Not really. I really have a hankering for ramen right now and I don’t feel like cooking. Am going to say that? No. I try to mean “I’m good with that” when I say it. However, usually, if I brought up an idea, it’s likely I want us to follow through with it. I just don’t want to appear pushy. The end result is him making the decision, which is not always what I really want to do. Sometimes I am disappointed. That’s on me. I said I was good.

What do you like best about me? (what dress/hair/shoe do you prefer, etc.?)

I don’t ask this question often. But when I do, it’s often in my “small voice” or my “nonchalant voice.” Women can walk a strange tightrope between wanting to please their man but not wanting to seem too invested in the process. Asking requires a measure of vulnerability and the politics of attraction make this question a trap.

What if he doesn’t like the part about me that like best?

I was telling a Twitter buddy that women often desire affirmation from their men, but we also understand affirmation comes with certain implications. Someone asked Black men on Twitter what they most loved about Black women. So many men said, “They stick with you no matter what you take them through.” Loyalty is a good quality; Black women just don’t want to be reduced to doormats for dusty-foot men.

If I feel my mind is my best asset and #husbae feels my boobs are my best assets, that fact doesn’t mean he lacks appreciation for my intelligence. But I don’t want to feel reduced to a pair of knockers. He has triggered an insecurity and I will probably react in hurt.

The moral? Be prepared for an honest answer that will likely not match up to how I see myself. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, especially when we ask the beholder what they see.

Do what you want (…you’re going to do it anyway.)

This sentence is among the worst I am guilty of using. It’s a conversation-ender, really. I say it when I’m tired of arguing about a course of action with which I do not agree. It’s also a warning of sorts. If I say, “Do what you want,” I also mean, “I don’t have to like it, though.” If I said, “I don’t want you to do that,” it would be much more honest. We’d also never quit arguing. Stalemate.

I’m fine (AKA the Queen of Passive-Aggressive Phrases).

You don’t even have to tell me. I know this is the worst. It lands on every list about “What Women Mean/Say” and it probably drives men crazy. Well, not my husband. When we first started dating, if I told him I was fine, he’d leave me alone, like I was really okay. Drove me nuts. Instead of fawning over me and responding to my tone (as opposed to my words) he paid me no never mind. Went on about his business. Serves me right, right?

Although I’m talking about women (okay, me, I’m talking about me here), I want it to be clear I understand men use passive-aggressive phrasing, too. It’s a hard task making body language, tone, and verbiage align precisely. It’s not a “female trait,” but a human failure to communicate exactly what we mean. I wanted to title this post “Passive-Aggressive Things I Say that Drive My Husband Crazy.” This post is more about me than “women.” *looks at final title*

Guess I have a few things to work on, huh?

What passive-aggressive things do you or your significant other say that kinda drive you nuts? 


For more from wife, mama and word ninja Dara Tafakari, check out where you can find Dara’s writing on the crazy collisions of life, race, popular culture, and the occasional nerd activity–with an offbeat dose of humor and clarity.

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