There’s a great joke in the movie Old School. Vince Vaughn is about to say something inappropriate and he says to his son “ear muffs” and the child promptly covers his ears. If he is anything like I was, he probably strained to hear every detail.
Lately, I’d like to blatantly shut out some of the information people have been sharing with me, starting with horrifying stories of unborn babies or deliveries. I do not want to know about someone’s miscarriage. It may appear insensitive but it is precisely because I am so sensitive that I do not want to know. One person’s unsolicited story about a tragedy when she was seven months pregnant haunts me because it’s probably a fluke that happened to her that could easily happen to me.
My grandmother’s attendant’s niece is sick and every day she is late for work she updates my grandmother on her progress, surgeries and prognoses. My grandma in turn, would relate these stories to me. I listened politely the first time then had to say I do not want to know. I just don’t.
I was with a few moms sharing horror stories of our deliveries. My daughter’s birth was particularly awful, and one mom had to top it not with her story but with her girlfriends gruesome and painful delivery, the thought of which paralyzes me as I remember it. Thank you!
I’m happy to listen to my neighbor’s tribulations as she breaks up with her long term partner and father of her children. She thanked me for listening the other day because her sister’s are no longer tolerant. For them it’s probably frustrating to watch their sister struggle and still want to salvage what is left of what was a miserable relationship. They must hate seeing their sister beg the ex to work things out while forgetting his horrible behavior. I’m sure I would feel the same way if my sister lamented over the loss of a loser.
These sisters would potentially be more tolerant of hearing other people’s tragedies so long as they are not in a similar situation. And of course, if a friend was suffering I’d lend an ear, but I have no interest in doing so for these peripheral relationships/ encounters.
When my mom passed away people would tell me how they had lost a parent however recently or distantly. My sister and I agreed that we did not care, especially from people who were older. It was not the time or place for us to offer any sympathy, even if the person’s goal was empathy. Of course I find myself wanting to relay my loss to people who are suffering even knowing it could be counter intuitive. Hearing my dad talk about his depression with his aging mom, I remind him she is 97 and he 67 and this is inevitable. He says it doesn’t make it any easier.
All of these things are hard: miscarriages, illness, divorce, old age. So is life. And each of us do what we need to do function well. So if we/ I offend by not listening or requesting a change of subject, it’s part of my survival mechanism. And given my bulging belly, perhaps it’s the speaker’s responsibility to better screen her audience.