15 May

Ambiguphobia—the fear of being misunderstood.  (No, I did not just make that up.  It’s a real thing, people.)  I’ve always known I have it, but I don’t think I realized the depth of my ambiguphobia until yesterday when I discovered how many people had no idea what I meant by the title of my blog and my online handle.  It was…distressing.  I think particularly because I had spent so much time congratulating myself on the clever conception of the name when I started this whole blogging endeavor. 

“Look, lbs like pounds and also like me!  I’m lbs!  And when I write something it’s like By lbs!  And when you buy things, you can buy them by the lb!  (Only there’s an “s” in my initials, so it would be by the lbs, which is even better because that makes the play on words even more obvious!)  Buy things like nuts!  I’m nutty!  Nutty goodness!  By the lbs: nutty goodness in bulk or by the pound!  That’s it!  That’s the name!  The perfect name!”

I’m not sure why it never occurred to me before that this line of reasoning wouldn’t be completely obvious to everyone else, especially given how you all wouldn’t automatically know what my initials even are.  I must have assumed that the bythelbs would be sufficiently odd (I mean, who says “Oh yeah, I buy these by the pounds.”  You don’t buy by the pounds, you buy by the pound.) that one would naturally deduce that “lbs” must also represent something else like, say,  initials.  “Oh, this blog must be written by someone with the initials lbs.  By the lbs.  By the pounds.  Snort.  I get it.  Clever girl.”  I am an idiot.

Now that I think about it, it’s really very unlike me to take this kind of thing for granted.  I am like the queen of over-explaining myself.  Well, at least in my mind I am.  I say something to a friend or type something in a comment on a blog, maybe something I think is witty or clever and then I sit there and wonder if anyone will get it, but when you have to explain a joke it’s not really funny, right?  Particularly with the blogs (because you can’t add all those subtle nuances of voice inflection and delivery that are sometimes vital clues to how a joke is best interpreted or received), I’ll sit there staring at a comment I’ve just written, debating back and forth whether I’ve been sufficiently clear.  Am I clear?  AM  I  CLEAR?!  Dare I submit?  DARE I?!  Sometimes in my lack of confidence I just erase my comment and click away.  Better to say nothing than to have people mistakenly think I’m a dork.

And it’s not just about the joke.  I worry about offending people with a misunderstanding.  When I was walking my girls home from school yesterday, Goose and BigHugs had run out a few yards ahead of me.  They are pretty good about stopping at each corner and waiting for me before crossing the street, but they were approaching this one crosswalk at kind of a jog and I noticed a big truck getting ready to turn through it so I yelled, “Stop!”  And when the girls didn’t immediately stop, I yelled, “Stop!  Stop!  STOP!!!”  And then the truck driver looked at me as he drove past with us all standing on the corner, and I was suddenly worried that perhaps he thought I was yelling at him to stop, so I immediately said in a voice I hoped was loud enough to carry the 20 feet down the street he had already gone, “GIRLS, YOU NEED TO MAKE SURE TO STOP AT THE CORNER AND WAIT FOR ME.  THAT NICE TRUCK WAS TRYING TO TURN.”  But in retrospect, he was most likely giving me the evil eye for letting my young children run wild on the sidewalks.

I’m not one for acknowledging strangers I pass on the street.  As I’m walking, I usually just keep my head down and pretend I’m preoccupied with something.  If I’m with BigHugs I might start talking to her  just as I’m approaching someone so that they can think I am too engrossed in my conversation with my three year old to notice them rather than think that I’m unfriendly.  I would be happy to be friendly.  A “hi” or a head nod or even just a smile is not beyond my capacity for interaction with my fellow human beings, but I’m afraid of the possibility of that being misinterpreted as well.  When I walk to pick up my girls after school, there’s this nice young Asian man sitting at the bus stop on the way.  One day I just happened to look in his direction just as he was looking up from his book and I felt trapped, so I smiled.  He smiled back.  A perfectly lovely random encounter.  Then the next time I walked to school, I made a special point of smiling at him because I figured we had already established this smiling relationship and it would just be rude to go back to ignoring him.  He smiled again.  Then the next time I did this kind of combo smile/quick head nod/staccatoed “Hi” thing and he just kind of looked away.  No smile.  Did he see me?  Did I breech some kind of code of social etiquette progression by moving up to the “Hi” so soon after the smile relationship was established?  Was he beginning to worry that this wacko old lady mom was trying to hit on him?  Did he take my head nod/Hi as a mockery of his Asian culture?  It was a nod, not a bow!  A “hi”, not a “hai!”  (No pick!  No pick!!)  Then last Monday I was driving the kids to piano in the opposite direction that I walk to the school, and I saw my young Asian man friend sitting at a different bus stop on the opposite side of the street.  Did he change bus routes just to avoid me?  Did I make him that uncomfortable?  But then yesterday he was standing up at his regular bus stop, and as I approached him he shot me a big, beaming grin.  So either I had nothing to worry about to begin with, my paranoid delusions getting the best of me yet again,  or my young Asian man friend has thought about it, weighed the pros and cons, and decided to accept my unintentional advances.  I suppose either way, I’m golden.

And now I don’t remember where I thought I was going with this whole thing, but I’m afraid any further attempts to explain myself will only serve to muddy the waters into muddied waters oblvion, so I’ll just say, “Hi.  My name is Bythelbs.  I mean LBS.  I mean my actual initials are L.B.S.  But I go by Bythelbs.  Like by the pounds, as in by the pound, and also by the lbs, as in my actual initials.  And I’m an ambiguphobic.”

Are you?


Classic crazy.


16 Responses to “Ambiguphobia”

  1. madhousewife May 15, 2009 at 12:08 pm #

    I like to be ambiguous so I can always claim later that people misunderstood me.

  2. Evitafjord May 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    I have done that! – explaining myself by saying something to the kids loud enough for all to hear. Often.

    And I often over explain or misexplain or just plain give information that isn’t necessary. Today the school called because my 7yo wasn’t feeling well and was running a fever. After the nurse’s explanation of what was up, I said, “Great, I was just on my way out the door into town so we’ll be right there.” By which I was trying to convey that, unlike other times when I have to dress the boys because they are still running around in PJs, dress myself because I’m still running around in PJs, etc. that usually cause the time between call and pickup to be longer than the average good mom with her crap in order, THIS TIME I was going to be there in just minutes. After I hung up I worried that she had misunderstood and thought that I meant that if I hadn’t been coming into town already that picking up my sick daughter would have been a huge inconvenience for me because I don’t love my daughter enough to jump right over to the school and get her when she’s obviously nearly dead with fever. I mentally kicked myself all the way there, trying to decide how I could explain myself to the nurse and make her see that I was not the crazy mom I appear to be. Of course, when I got there they were super sweet and fortunately I forgot all about explaining myself because that would have just made things worse I can see now in hindsight.

    And when I realized the other meaning of your title (yesterday) I thought I was lame, not you. I thought, “Oh, that’s so clever. I wish my initials made a word too.” Or an abbreviation would be fine too.

  3. bythelbs May 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    Madhousewife—That’s a valid life strategy.

    Evita—Thanks for sharing that. We are so kindred spirits. It’s good to see you again!

  4. Julie May 15, 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    Wow. I had no idea we were so very much alike. Well, I sort of did, but not in this way.
    And I love that your anniversary post, or better — your initials on a tree in your anniversary post — led to all of this. Awesome.

    BTL, YAA — By The Lbs, You Are Awesome

  5. Julie May 15, 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    Just making myself very clear there….

  6. Susan M May 16, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    I guess I don’t have a fear of being misunderstood. I like to crack jokes that only I will get. I do it in person and in blog comments too. Who cares if anyone else gets it? I think it’s funny! ha.

  7. tawnya May 16, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    OH MY GOSH. I usually explain myself into deeper trouble than if I would have just left it. And then when I hit that point, I, you know, go just a tad further in the clarifying. Add to that my irrationality that a) SOMEONE SOMEWHERE is talking about what a giant dork I am RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND and b) my fear of screwing everything up and it’s a relative miracle I ever leave the house. Or got married. Or have friends. Or something…

    And, yeah. I figured out the “lbs” about a week ago. This says nothing about you, but I did spend 1/2 a day thinking what a complete douche I was for not getting it sooner. So…yeah.

  8. flip flop mama May 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    Sorry we gave you such trouble over your name! But this post was awesome.

  9. Janelle May 16, 2009 at 8:04 pm #

    I smile at nearly everyone I see.

    I am very like Susan that I crack jokes that I know no one else will get. Well Alex now anticipates them, but everyone else looks confused.

    I do erase a lot of my comments for fear of being misunderstood.

    I think I asked you how to address you on your blog and then learned about the LBS and thought, ooo that is clever!

  10. boquinha May 16, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    I’m so proud of myself for calling you lbs even though I didn’t get it.

    Great post.

  11. E May 17, 2009 at 5:23 pm #

    When I first saw bythelbs on Alison’s blog I didn’t get it, but I was sure it was something clever that I would figure out eventually. I was right.

  12. bythelbs May 18, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    I just love all you guys!

  13. Alison Wonderland May 20, 2009 at 2:29 am #

    Oh I get bythelbs, or at least I did once I got here, actually what always bugs me (since you asked) is that you buy things pre packaged OR in bulk by the lb. But then I’m an overanalytical freak.

  14. bythelbs May 20, 2009 at 10:05 am #

    You’re right, Alison. I actually thought about that, but for some reason I liked the sound of the “or”. So I told myself that I buy stuff in bulk at Costco that isn’t by the lb., and when I buy just a pound of something that really isn’t very bulk-y. It really wasn’t hard to convince myself that was legitimate reasoning. I’m easily swayed by my own arguments and rationalizations. So I guess “nutty goodness in bulk or by the pound” means you can take as much or as little of my crazy as you like.

    But yes, you’re still right.

  15. Jaime January 20, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    OMG! I’m so glad I found this blog. This is so me. I know it stems from constantly being misunderstood as a child so I have a phobia of it now but you are NOT alone, I promise.

    • bythelbs January 20, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

      Jaime–I so love it when someone stops by to validate my feelings and phobias! Thanks for the support! 🙂

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