The Casual Is the Enemy of the Good

The Office Casual Friday

There’s a piece on The Cut today titled “Nobody Wants to Be the Girl on a Diet,” in which Lauren Bans sets out all the reasons why something as simple as making thoughtful choices about what you eat can become so frustrating:

—the coworkers who always want to grab burgers

—the fact that between birthday parties, office parties, showers, and other celebrations, it’s always somebody’s treat day, and you don’t want to be the person who “brings fruit and yogurt to the office pizza party”

—the idea, which I also wrote about last week, that “friends are made over wine”

And then, when Bans is writing about the difficulties of combining food and dating, she hits on what I instinctively understood as the core of the problem:

Maybe mindful eating is complicated and “complicated” is a turnoff, an obstacle to casual “should we grab a slice of pizza?” courtship.

How many of us, whether we’re dating, with friends, with coworkers, or with family, have eaten more than we wanted, spent more than we wanted, slept less than we wanted, or otherwise overextended ourselves in the name of being casual?

The word casual by itself is an affront. It implies that everything is going to be all relaxed and happy, but what it really means is “we won’t take this seriously.” It is responsible for both terrible outfits and wicked hangovers, not to mention the concept of “casual dating,” which usually ends with one partner in tears, though, to be fair, nearly all types of relationships end with one partner in tears.

“Casual” is associated with “spontaneous,” though it is not necessarily the same thing. As I’ve written before, I’m a Bert, so certain types of spontaneity make me nervous. I have definitely been the killjoy who’s piped up with a weak “you know, if we go see this movie, we won’t get home until 3 a.m.,” or “um, we aren’t going to get out of this restaurant without paying $150 each.”

Spontaneous is something you do, spur of the moment, that everyone involved enjoys. True spontaneity is mutual consent.

Casual is when people go along because they want to look cool.

Nobody really likes casual Fridays.

In the end I think it’s the casual that gets us: the freelancers who say “sure, I’ll do that job” without asking for a contract, the offices where managers say “hey, we need someone to stick around tonight,” the difficulty in finding a pair of pants that cover your underwear when you sit down. The casual spending of “whoops, I didn’t plan to spend this money but we were out and everyone wanted to buy another round of drinks.” The casual “should we grab a slice of pizza?” and the split-second decision.

Complicated may be a turnoff, but life is complicated, and living and spending thoughtfully is even more complicated, and if we’re going to do it, we have to figure out how to walk that balance. (Every life balance seems to tip on a fulcrum of fake simplicity vs. actual complexity. How much are you going to fake that you can give everyone else what they want?)

But know this: if I ever ask you to buy a slice of pizza and you don’t want to, I won’t think any less of you for saying no.



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