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Style Girlfriend Girl Talk: On Being a Man Others Want to Be Around

9th July 2013
There’s these two men I know.

Young guys. Handsome, too. Successful in work and life, with every reason to be proud of and satisfied with their journey on this earth so far.

One, when you ask how his day was, invariably will respond with a sigh.

“Oh, y’know.” Or sometimes, [sigh] “Long.” Does he want me to be impressed at the hours he puts in at work? Or to follow up on this less-than-enthusiastic reply and ask why it was just “y’know?” I’m not sure, but I usually don’t.

The other, when you ask, will respond without exception, “Totally excellent.”

Totally excellent.
Can you imagine?

He’s not a surfer, not west coast-born or bred. But his response is pure, contented beach bum.

I found out one day that this second man got it from his father. In providing the consistently positive exclamation over the years, the father passed both the phrase and the enthusiastic sentiment behind it on to all of his sons. Not by accident, by indoctrination.

Because you wouldn’t identify these brothers as such by their appearance – their heights and sizes are of the “Goldilocks” dimensions – but they’re marked as kin by their uniform answer to the seemingly banal question, “How was your day?”

This man and all his brothers’ “Totally excellent” response is as contagious as their passion for life. Nothing they do makes them “Oof, so busy;” it makes them “Oh man, so great. Let me tell you about it…”

Now let me ask you: Who do you think people want to talk to? Or work for? Who do you think people want to lead ? The man who responds to the question of how are you with “Eh” or the man who responds “Totally excellent”?

I used to work with Mr. “Oh, Y’know..” when I was still in advertising, a career he remains in today. He’s good at his job, and has since moved on from the sweatshop we worked in together to an agency with better work-life balance; ie, he leaves at a decent hour every day, while the work (pharmaceutical advertising) is maybe…less-than riveting.

Whenever I talk to him, his slightly downtrodden “meh” vibe inevitably launches me into wondering why, if he doesn’t seem to enjoy his job, he doesn’t simply talk about other stuff.

Because of course, one’s work isn’t always what gets his or her engines revving – and for a lot of people, I know a job is just a job…as opposed to a passion-filled career. And I think that’s fine. A lot of people’s lives happen not between nine and five, but between five and nine, as it were. So why not find something you are excited about and tell me about that? There has to be a bright spot of your day that would make for a better answer.

Because all things being equal, my two friends should have the same reply to the “How was your day?” question, right? My friend who thinks life is “totally excellent” and the other who thinks it is “meh” both live in an exciting city with lots to do, have a stable network of friends and family who love them, and make enough money to be comfortable. So why do their takes on the day differ so dramatically?

When you make a choice to feel gratitude and passion for your life, it comes through in your voice, in your conversation, in your actions.

Now, does that mean that what you’re passionate about – your work, or the marathon you’re training for, or your new baby, or puppy – is what I want to hear about for the next ten minutes, without you asking about me at any point? No. And I think sometimes people go too far the other way in assuming that other people want to hear all about what they’re excited about. But too much enthusiasm for your life is certainly preferable to the opposite.

At least, I know who I want to talk to, that’s for sure.

Tell me: Which man do you think is more interesting? Which man do you think women want to talk to? Which man do people want to promote? To work under?

Which man, right now, are you? Which man do you want to be?

  • Tod C

    I’m number 1 but I try to be number 2. Someone claimed once that confidence is 1/3 of looking good – I think that is about right. Attitude is everything. Thanks for this Megan, it’s a good wakeup.

  • TJ

    My default setting is number 1 but lately I have been trying to be more like number 2. I realize that people don’t want to hear me complain about work or my day. I’m also trying to be more interesting in my descriptions other than just, it was good. Great article Megan!

    • Style Girlfriend

      The more descriptive, the better! If your day was totally lousy because a pigeon pooped on your head, that’s kind of hilarious and you might even feel better by telling me about it. And vice versa, if something happened that made you feel kind of great – even just a small thing, like getting a free coffee at Starbucks, or your boss paid you a compliment – tell me about that!

  • Jackson

    Without sounding too trite, it depends. But really it should, unless we’re giving automatic stock responses – which in itself is not necessarily bad. Most people who ask how your day is going don’t really care to know the answer. It’s a colloquial greeting, a pleasantry, a cultural narrative that’s scripted and convention bound. It’s social ritual. It’s prerequisite to conversation.

    Even when we’re talking to friends and loved ones and we really care about the answers, the “how was was your day?” question is still a bit of a “knock knock” line in that it sets up a limited and somewhat rote catalog of reflex responses. So, “totally excellent” in the end doesn’t necessarily tell us anything more about our friend’s day than his/her proclivity for a signature answer. It certainly has more of a flourish than “fine,” but it might be nothing more than a linguistic accessory, and if it’s the answer that’s always given I wouldn’t expect it to be a genuine reflection of mood, happiness, satisfaction or anything else.

    • Style Girlfriend

      To me, guy #2′s response says more about his ability to look for the positive in his life. As you said, the question of “How are you?” or “How was your day?” is an opener. I’d rather continue talking to someone who responds in a positive, excited way about their life, than someone who brings you down. Sure, there will always be times when not everything is “totally excellent” as it were, but if it’s just a typical day in someone’s life, I’d rather hear about the small victories than to hear the small violins play as someone tells me how the barista got their coffee order wrong that morning

      • Dave Coakley

        What you’re saying is you have absolutely no time for somebody who might well be suffering from depression, or anyone who isn’t 100% cheerful/always snap back with a cheerful floaty comment?

        That seems a shame.

        • Eric

          I agree with Megan though. It’s so emotionally draining to listen to somebody’s complaints all day. Sometimes I just stop the conversation if somebody is moaning and groaning about nothing, because they’re just spreading a bad mood like a virus, and it’s not healthy or constructive for either party.
          That doesn’t mean I’m not there for my friends and family if it’s something important, but my own happiness is more important to me than their coffee order problems.

        • Enrique Ollero

          I don’t think Megan really intended it to be that black and white. Yes there were two options, but we know its not that cut and dry.

  • average joe

    Tip of the iceberg with this one.

    There’s so many possibilities and scenarios… “Tell me: Which man do you think is more interesting? Which man do you think women want to talk to? Which man do people want to promote? To work under?…depending who’s involved, all the different personality combinations that could potentially be put together, it’s hard to pinpoint one preference over the other.

    I think we’re conditioned by our culture to respond to the question “How was your day?” With an answer such as “Great” or “Not bad!” (Unless it’s with trusted friend/family/ significant other). The person that responds with the Eor-esque melancholia tends to get satirized both in real life and in media and thus we shy away from anything but a “cheery-o” answer. That said, I think it’s ok to amend “Not bad” with “Not bad, I just stubbed my toe, but I’ve had worse days” eg. when greeted by those around us. And if we are having the worst day of our life, there’s nothing wrong with finding that trusted friend/family/ significant other and bottle of whiskey and starting the conversation with “I’ve just had the worst day of my life…”

    • Style Girlfriend

      True, and maybe I could have done a better job of conveying that you really can feel the enthusiasm from guy #2. When he says he’s doing totally excellent, you know he’s found a way to mean it.

      • average joe

        Actually I wasn’t knocking on either :-) I thought it was a good post and represented 2 very real people that we encounter everyday and may be one of those people ourselves. I was trying to comment on the “space between” those two personalities and that we (collectively) might have a little of both in us.

  • Jon B.

    Definitely should strive to be number 2, but with one condition: that it’s an extension of how you actually feel. I totally agree we all can and should find something to get excited about and have a positive, hopeful attitude on life. We also need to make sure it’s an honest reflection, and not just a front. An always positive response can be a barrier to hide behind just as a negative response can be a way to seek attention. Having positivity is great, as long as there’s honesty to it. Really good post. Makes ya think.

    • Style Girlfriend

      Definitely agree on the need to be sincere. But if you sincerely feel that your life – day in, day out – is merely “ehhh” then maybe take a look at why you can’t seem to find anything to get jazzed about.

      • Jon B.

        Certainly. And hey, if using a positive response helps you get jazzed about something, then go for it. As evidenced by the responses, this definitely a question with many answers.

  • Mark

    There’s a guy I know who when asked the standard, “Hey, how are you?” invariably responds with a sort of slow, thoughtful, “I am so stinking good, Mark.” He’s literally the happiest guy I know and always a sincere pleasure to talk to. It may help that his office overlooks the beach in Southern California and he spends his days doing charitable work but still, I enjoy asking him how he’s doing to hear his emphatic, “so good” which is usually followed by him throwing up his hands to the palm trees surrounding us and saying, “now this is living!” I suppose what I’m saying is that I agree with you. The “totally excellent” is a much more inviting response even if it’s not totally true every single day. I usually give a “good” at least when asked. Nobody needs or wants to hear the reality of a more of less interesting day with some mundane phone calls and administrative work sprinkled throughout. I figure a reasonably positive “good” and the occasional “great” about sums it up when asked.

    I do think you get back what you give out. If you want an engaging, positive interaction then you’re way less likely to get it with an “Eh,” than with a “Totally excellent!” I see it every day with my kids. If I’ve had a bad day or am distracted or whatever when talking to them that attitude comes right back at me. That usually prompts me to stop, evaluate my mood, tone and attitude and to try and be a little more present in the moment rather than stewing over some problem from work earlier in the day or whatever.

    • Style Girlfriend

      Yes! Totally. If you give me an “ehhhhh” reply, you can’t be that surprised when I don’t want to stick around and hear about the reason it was ehhhh. Because the truth is, whatever made it ehhh is probably not all that bad, and in fact, most likely able to be changed if you bother to change it. If it was HORRIBLE TOTALLY AWFUL, then of course, tell me (and that goes double if we’re very close).

  • N Sanders

    I have always been known to be calm and passive. I tend to answer “how was your day” with, “It’s been Good, Just moving slowly but surely.” That response seems to be positive enough to turn the conversation toward what I am positively accomplishing but truthful enough for when my days are a little rough.

  • Junior

    Seems to me like one guy dislikes his job, and the other forces a positive response. Even if you love what you do, there are bound to be days you get worn down, whether it’s by the people you work with, or the amount of effort you have to put in, which from time to time means the “Excellent!” guy is bluffing at some point.

    Also, guys, lots of talk about number 1s & 2s on here, grow up

    • Style Girlfriend

      I think it’s true that guy #1 dislikes his job, but I think it’s more important that guy #2 focuses more on what’s going right than what’s going wrong. His answer isn’t forced or false, because he truly can find something about his day (whether it’s work or personal-related) that was positive.

  • Jack

    i feel like i usually complain to those ppl i trust more.someone im not totally comfortable with will definitely get a “great! doin great!”as an answer to that question… ha not sure if thats a good thing or a bad thing.

  • WellBuiltStyle

    Nice article Megan. Fair or unfair, the world does not like complainers and this is especially true for men. People have their own personal issues to deal with and they certainly do not want to deal with yours.
    There’s also the fake it until you make it effect. If you’re always looking at the negative, it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re trying to stay positive no matter what, you keep plugging away until you make something good happen.

  • Alexander

    This highlights an interesting thing that’s especially apparent in Industrialized nations. And I’m not saying this in a condescending manner, people have no fault that they live in an affluent economy with ample opportunities – but it also skews the picture, especially with certain factors such as the media catering to our negativity bias.

    Sure, shit might be happening but there’s also something deeper to that question than just pleasantries or just an answer. If you think about that situation in a bigger picture what about THEM? What if THEIR day was shit? I doubt that anyone wants to hear about how shit this and that is when they might not have had a good day or even worse when they just had an awesome day and somebody is going to ruin it, sometimes deliberately. That is one of my big gripes with people who criticize holidays like the 4th of July, it’s about more than historical occurence and accuracy – in the present it’s more about people’s emotional connections to an ideal or ideals, to “their home”, to their family and their friends. (and this is coming from a German, people who unfortunately have partially an incredibly skewed perception of the outside world – especially some of our “allies”)

    The thing is, once we enter into any kind of social relationship it’s not just about us anymore – it’s a mutual thing and considering how many people are busy complaining about everything and everyone and sometimes find absolutely no faults of their own it’s just nice to talk to someone who isn’t going to put one on top of that. Because as someone else has said, such a broody mood can be like a pest or a devilish cycle that won’t end until someone stops it. And this doesn’t just go for social relationships in the sense of out of work environments, it’s same thing within. I’d rather make 50-70k a year in cool work environment with good leaders than make 100-500k a year in a mechanic work environment with petty office wars and leaders who treat their employees like suboordinates that have to attend to their every whim.

    As for what someone said about serious psychological issues: Even those don’t doom someone to be generally negative at all times. Sure, there’s a general tendency but the amount of alternative treatments to long-term medication is increasing. Plus, even for those the same thing applies that applies to everyone else of us: There are things that happen to us like disease and disaster and they’re out of our control but how we deal with it to a certain extent is within our control. And quite frankly, if someone is completely unwilling to do anything about his or her problems even after being offered help I see no reason to spend more time with that person if it’s just a self-defeating self-fulfilling prophecy – it does no good for anyone involved – at least until this changes. (plus there’s a reason there are professionals out there)

    tl;dr: I’d choose any person that genuinely and sincerely reponds and acts like #2 here most of the days.

  • Delight

    I would be surprised if there are girls who would like to be around Guy #1. Who likes a downer?? No one’s life is perfect. That is how life is. It doesn’t mean that life is full of roses but before we start complaining we need to remind ourselves that there are a lot of people in a lot worse situation than us. And if we start to complain we can complain about everything. But lately what I have realized is that no one wants to hear a guy complaining ALL THE TIME. There is a difference abt being complainer and having a bad day now and then. And for people who claim that we don’t want to be around with people with depression, let us be honest if there is anything that we can do we would love to help them. But that is why they go to their Dr appointment and take medications. I also believe words make a difference in our lives. If you claim negative things all the time, you will be surrounded by negative things and negative thoughts but if you claim positive things and thoughts you will start to see the positive things life has to offer. I def would be around the guy # 2. It is just like going to the store and when you want to take a look at anything the sales person will come and tell you how bad the product is cauz of this or that….who wants to stay in that store???!!!

  • Enrique Ollero

    I’m definitely #2. I’m not so sunny as to always respond that everything is totally excellent, but I always try to start a response positively. It opens up a flow of conversation by really inviting the asker to participate. When someone has a negative response you feel (momentarily anyway) a little off put. It’s not that you don’t feel sympathy or empathy, it’s that your starting point is suddenly heavier and lower and that can be taxing. Think of it like a mix-tape (or whatever I would call it if I were a teenager now) – there should be some natural ebbs and flows, highs and lows, but if the mix starts with Morrissey you do lose some hope that there may eventually be some Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

    Now I work with someone who starts everything, I mean everything, with a sigh. Not just responses to the question “How’s it going?” When she comes to tell you something, ask a question, present information at a meeting, walking into the break room to get a cup of coffee – it all starts with a sigh. It’s instantly off-putting and I rarely want to talk to her. I mean I know from passing comments that we actually have some things in common – including a love for the West Wing – but I really don’t want to have to go digging through the Eeyore facade to get to it.

    Of course it isn’t just as simple or as black and white as being positive or not. There are obviously circumstances when I’d respond more negatively. For example when talking to frustrated co-workers at work then I’d be more likely to chime in negatively. When I meet those same co-workers outside of work, though, I wouldn’t. Context is always important to consider in conversation, just like with fashion – linen might be great for summer, but not at a black tie event.

    But when it comes to that knock knock opener (thanks for that Jackson), I like to respond positively. If the conversation gets deep enough to get to the nitty-gritty, great! If not, then I’ve had a pleasant little chat. And if I don’t have much to lean on positively, I just throw the question right back because someone usually opens the lines of communication because they have something to say, too.

  • Dan from Wisconsin

    A guy from Jimmy John’s delivered my sandwich the other day and I asked him how he was and he goes “livin’ the dream!” Made for a much more fun interaction than the regular chatter, and having gotten Jimmy John’s a lot over the past few years, his is going to be the interaction I remember.

    If a man doesn’t have a good, positive answer to “How’s it going?” it’s all his fault. No matter how bad life is, you can always be WORKING on something good.

    • Style Girlfriend

      1. I love Jimmy John’s. And don’t have it enough either.
      2. That answer is the best! So Matthew McConnoghey (sp?) of him!

  • Arkhangael

    Dear Megan,
    If you allow me:
    I am a total liar when I answer this type of question from people who are not close to me. Generally. I will wear my brightest smile and reply, convincingly, that things are fine, implying that I mean everything is fine from dusk till dawn, just with ups and down like everyone.
    I will however add that I do so with the most positive attitude, regrouping in my head all the fantastic moments of the day, or, simply,my most fantastic thoughts.
    Who wants to bother anyone with worries nowadays, because most people do not care that much about the answer.
    Just as the correct and polite answer in the up-towns of the UK to ‘How do you do?’ is .. ‘How do you do?’

    However, I will admit not being as enthusiastic – when things are not that bright – in the sole presence of the people I love, and who, I am enclined to think, love me back. It is in their presence that you are allowed to be more honest, right?
    Judging by the general responses I get when things are, i think, letting me down, it seems that it would have been better for me to crack the same cheerful responses that make me a bit of a liar.

  • Joseph Dougherty

    I was #1 for a long time, and then decided to become #2. I can testify to the unbelievable power of being guy #2. Within 5 months of starting a new job (which is when I decided to become guy #2), I’ve gotten a raise, and a promotion to a position they had to create just so they could promote me. People older than me ask me for advice, and I’ve had more fun (and more dates) than I had in the previous 5 years. Also, to some of the previous commenters, I have been diagnosed with depression. Fake it til you make it guys! :)

    • Style Girlfriend

      Thanks for sharing your story, Joseph! And congrats on the new job AND promotion!

  • jbird669

    I almost always say “doing well” with a big smile on my face when asked. Things can always be worse and I can always find something positive in life. But this post and subsequent comments give me a way to jazz it up. Thanks for broadening my horizons!

    • Style Girlfriend

      The smile definitely helps sell it!