On balance, the advice given in this morning’s epic New York magazine conversation piece, “The New Rules,” is sound. Break up with someone forthwith, like an adult! Send the condolence note. Be generous, with your tipping and your random gifts and your texts to friends that you love.
But hey, New York magazine: Unless you want people to think that your readership entirely comprises elderly perverts, I beg you to reconsider your “new rule” number 38, “ALWAYS WINK.”
Are you … are you trying to get me killed? How long do you imagine a serial winker would last in New York City? Just strolling down Broadway, one eyelid aflutter? “The barista punched her; it seemed so senseless.” “Ah, well, she always winked.”
Winking—and this goes for all of us, not just readers of a certain magazine—is simply not for every day. Nor everyone. To wink is to evoke the droning conversation of your parents’ acquaintance, mansplaining your industry to you at a holiday party. An old-school boss with coffee breath and wandering hands. Donald Trump. Even if that’s not the vibe you meant to convey, you winked.
Winking, when it’s unwelcome (and it’s almost always unwelcome), is an inherently performative act without an appropriate response. Somebody winking at you is trying to pull you aside: “We both get it, don’t we?” But they’re doing it in a way that makes it impossible to actually join them. If you don’t get why they’re winking, or get it but don’t agree, what are you supposed to say—“I see you closed one eyelid, attempting to add levity to this situation, but I refuse”? Or, if you do agree, what are you supposed to do—wink back? (OK, maybe that’d be kind of funny.)
The wink emoji—a yellow face with one eye closed—is, according to a survey of hybrid workers carried out by Slack and Duolingo last year, an emoji boomers use to mean “joking,” but younger people use to connote a flirtatious mood. See what I mean? Don’t wink!
Good winks, rare winks, incandescent winks are reserved for those who can pull them off. Like Han Solo or Dolly Parton. It’s got to come from someone whose circle of two—winker, winkee—you want to find yourself drawn into. Are you Han Solo or Dolly Parton? I don’t think so! Don’t wink!
If you must wink, if all other avenues of expression have been exhausted, I suppose you may shoot your winky shot. But I implore you to wink up. Wink at the system. Subvert the dominant paradigm. You hopped the turnstile and made eye contact with another human? Wink away; the MTA deserves it. It’s you against the man. But that lone woman walking nonchalantly down the platform, doing her own thing? Let her go. Keep that wink inside.