I can list many words and phrases guys shouldn't say to women.
There are the usual immature vulgarities about females that I can't repeat in this newspaper.
Asking a woman if it's her time of the month is an obvious death wish.
And then there's the "Yeah, but ..." clause that follows — and promptly nullifies — an apology.
But a seemingly unassuming word also has the potential to draw an icy stare from a girl: "Relax."
Don't let the simple meaning fool you, fellas. The word is loaded.
Used in the right context, such as during a foot massage or a weekend getaway on Kaua'i, "relax" can be quite soothing.
But carelessly tossing the word at a woman during an argument or when she's intensely focused on doing something important is a big no-no.
It doesn't matter if the woman really does need to relax.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, guys, we don't like being told how to feel or what to do.
I was reminded of this word's powerful effect recently when a co-worker and I were having what I'd call a discussion over creative differences. You could say I was intent on getting my way and was probably getting on his nerves.
And then it happened.
"Relax," he said.
My head whipped around. "What?"
Gasp! Oh no he DIDN'T!
Suddenly, I was ready to throw down my notebook and assume a kung-fu position a la Ziyi Zhang in "House of Flying Daggers."
Did he just tell me to relax? I AM RELAXED!
In the end, I calmed down (maybe I did need to chill out), and we both continued our work like professionals.
Later I pondered the complexity of the word: how in some situations it can be helpful and in others it can be — as my girlfriend put it — "a throwdown."
Gently wrapping the word in genuine empathy is reassuring. Sandwiching it between "Honey" and "I'll do the dishes" gets major kudos.
But telling a woman to relax when you're the reason she's wound up in the first place is just asking for trouble.
Trust me boys, it won't be pretty.
Fortunately for me (and him), my boyfriend understands the difference.
When I brought up the subject recently, he pointed out it's not just a man-woman thing. In any heated argument it can be a fighting word, he said.
Needless to say, my guy never springs that word on me, even when it would probably do me some good to take a couple of deep breaths.
He knows I'll eventually take a time-out and simmer down.
See? I can so relax.
Just as long as no one tells me to.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at firstname.lastname@example.org.