There’s a Doris Day picture by this title, Please Don’t Eat The Daisies. I saw it once as a child, and can only recall the central premise, but somehow that stuck with me. Day has three (I think) sons who are extremely ill behaved. If she hasn’t specifically forbidden an activity, they’re sure to do it, so she has to clearly state all the possible rules, up to asking them not to eat the daisies in her garden.
Throughout my life, a handful of people have reminded me of this phrase, as common sense and typical social rules aren’t enough and they require explicit details of what they should not do. “Be good” is too broad to be helpful. I don’t mean people who have social disabilities or awkward natures, but people who pretend as if they don’t know what’s expected or allowed.
It’s the people who respond to my request they not use “stupid” on my Facebook wall by using “idiot” and “moron”. Rather than absorbing the general rule, no ableism, they require me to detail all the many ways they could violate that rule. It’s the ex boyfriend who needed to be told more than once not to initiate sex when I didn’t want it; “not right now” is ignored and only “don’t touch my crotch, or my legs, or my waist, or my breasts” gets any acknowledgment.
I made the personal decision not to have such people in my life, because my experience of them is drained exhaustion and pent up resentment. I don’t want to feel like a “nag”, to constantly be correcting others. I want friends who can behave themselves without lots of labor on my part, labor that is almost never appreciated.
Young children often do need details to understand general principles: they may need you to tell them “keep off the grass” signs mean “keep off the grass, and the weeds and flowers too”. It’s normal and reasonable for children who are still learning to need help understanding categories of behavior, and the situational exceptions of when the rules don’t apply (like at the park where walking on grass is allowed).
When adults require as much social emotional labor as toddlers, they’re often being unfair to others. While some adults are simply slower than others to pick up social rules, or may need them spelled out, that’s not what I’m describing. I’m referring to people who could guess your boundaries but decide not to, decide instead to err on the side of pissing you off and doing something unwanted.
I can handle saying ” Please don’t eat the daisies” to someone who really doesn’t know they shouldn’t; my labor is usually worthwhile in that context. But for the rest, I am done presuming incompetence is to blame when malice is a more likely culprit.