This is a post I have had in my head for a few years. When I moved back to Utah after splitting up with Cristian, I had certain things said to me by well-meaning people that were intended to help, but didn't. At the same time, I was following the journey of a dear friend who had just lost his wife to breast cancer. He also had a lot of things said to him by probably well-meaning people just trying to help, but instead ended up doing more damage than good.
The fact is, we often don't know what to say to others in their times of distress and/or grief. So, too often, we end up saying the wrong thing.
My question is, why, when we are faced with someone else's grief, do we feel compelled to say something, ANYTHING, that may be helpful? Are we afraid of the silence? Are we afraid that just an "I'm sorry" isn't enough? Do we feel like we need to solve the problem somehow? I don't know. But it has been an interesting subject to me, and a conversation I have had with many people over the last few years, including friends who are devastated by other's comments about the marriage they never had, and my sister who really struggled with infertility for a long time.
So, I have compiled a list of common questions I, or others in my world, have been asked for various reasons, and why I feel they are hurtful or inappropriate. I may even suggest a less hurtful approach, but I may not. These are my opinion; feel free to disagree with me. Everyone is different. I will start with the ones I have personally been asked, and branch out to the others.
1: Why did you get divorced?
None of your business. Seriously. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Never ask this. I have had so many people, casual friends and strangers ask me. Guess what. If I want to talk about the "why" I will tell you. I will reach out. Interestingly enough, the people that I am closest to, never asked. Hmmm...
Alternative: "I'm sorry.." Give me a hug or something. You really don't have to say anything, but "I'm sorry" will suffice.
2: Don't worry, you will be married again in no time.
There is so much wrong with this statement. First of all, some variation of this was said to me the most right after I arrived back in Utah, before I was even officially divorced. Inappropriate. I was still completely raw from all that had happened, alternating between the lands of grief and numb, and still in the place of not even being able to think about being with someone else, let alone derive any comfort from it. I had been separated for all of 2 minutes, and people are trying to cheer me up by talking about marriage to someone else? Not OK. Never OK. Second of all, to say this to me, for me, inferred the assumption that I would have nothing else of value in my life until I was married again. As if being married was the only state of being that was worth anything, so of course I would want to get married again as soon as possible, right? Forget about taking the time to be alone and heal emotionally and find purpose again and progress toward a better and stronger me. Just get married as quickly as you can, because heaven forbid you be alone. The only thing I knew when I got divorced was that I would never sit by the sidelines of my life, just waiting for another man to pick me up. So this statement was always really insulting to me.
Alternative: Just...don't say anything. It is fine.
3: You know, you are so awesome. You have so many great things ahead of you. You will be fine.... (or variations thereof)
This seems like a really harmless, great statement. And it may really be comforting to some people. For me, it was kind of annoying because I felt like I had to turn around and comfort that person by saying "I know, it's true. Life will get better. Thank you." I had to reassure them that I knew I would be OK, and I was not on the brink of suicide or something. I was really blessed with the confidence from my Higher Power very early on that I would be fine, no matter what. So I didn't need that type of comfort, and I really did NOT have the emotional energy to give away at that point. It was just too much effort while in survival mode.
Alternative: "I love you." Just give me a hug or something.
4: So, are you in any shows yet?
I moved out here to NYC in September, and have been busting my butt ever since, auditioning and trying to get a job in theater. It is awesome, and there is nothing I would rather do. But it is really hard, and some days I love it and some days I wonder with the $#%% I am doing out here. Sometimes the mental game of staying positive in the face of continual rejection is really hard. I wrote a post about it, if you are interested. Anyway, I have not gotten a paying gig yet. However, in NYC time, 8-9 months of hard work is nothing. I am just getting started. I know that, so I am fine. I get discouraged, sure, but I really am fine, confident that I am on track, and genuinely happy to be here. However, outside of this industry, most people don't know that. They ask me this, and I automatically feel like a huge failure because I don't have a show. I feel this huge expectation placed on me that I can't fulfill, and I can't explain adequately the unique world that is my industry, so I just feel like I have to justify why I don't have a job. I know people are just interested and they care; but this is really a bad question. Believe me: when I get a show, YOU WILL KNOW. I and/or my mom will be shouting it from the rooftops, so...that covers just about everyone.
Alternative: "How is New York?" "Are you have a great time?" "What are you up to?" Really, almost anything but THAT question. I appreciate your interest.
5: Why aren't you married?
Really? We live in 2013 and people are still asking that question?
Alternative: Nothing. Just shut your mouth. It's none of your business.
6: Are you dating anyone?
This one is on the fence for me. It depends on the context. Again, I know people are interested in my life. But sometimes, especially when the person asking is married, it just feels condescending. If I am in a place where I really wish I was dating someone, it is hurtful to have to answer in the negative. In other situations it may be totally fine. I just suggest using this question with caution. If the person asking me is an old friend or someone who knows me really well, I am fine. Just pay attention to the context with this.
Alternative: "What are you up to? What is the dating scene like out there?" Or some variation that doesn't point out my real or perceived shortcomings if I am not actually dating anyone in particular.
7: When are you going to have kids? / Why don't you have kids?/ Don't wait too long...
I think I am stating the obvious when I say, NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Do I really have to go in to the great harm that can do for a couple who is trying really hard to have children, and are unsuccessful? Why do we still ask these types of questions? Shame on you. But, my sister got it all the time. Plus, since she was working and putting her husband through school, people assumed and made comments to the assumption that she was just too focused on her career, therefore, she was selfish. ???
Alternative: Just shut your mouth. Never go there.
8: Are you pregnant?/Wow! You are ready to pop!
Again....why? I am not even going to go into this. If you don't know why these questions are inappropriate, ask your mom. Or your wife. Or some woman who has had a child.
Alternative: Shut your mouth.
9: Don't worry, you will see them again. Families are forever! Be grateful for the Gospel, because if you are faithful, you will be with them again.
Now, there are some people for which these words may help in the wake of a loved one's death. But consider this. I have more than one dear friend who has expressed to me that these words are not, in fact, the comforting words that we might think they are, even in the Mormon culture where we believe in eternal families. The reason? My friends have told me that in those moments and days and months and sometimes years after the death of a loved one, all they know is that person is gone. And even if they still believe they will see them again, it does not actually bring comfort here and now. It doesn't bring that person back, and that would actually be the only real remedy. Therefore, there isn't one. Furthermore, apparently it can really feel preachy and like an ill-timed sermon to say "if we are faithful..." It only rubs salt in the wound. No one wants to think about having to stay faithful so they can see someone again. They just want that person back.
Alternative: "I'm sorry." That's it. Give a hug. Give service. Give time. Give silence. Silence is fine too.
I am not trying to be negative. I have just found it really interesting over the last few years to discuss these things with others, and most people I have talked to feel the same way I do. So I thought it might be helpful to post about. I leave my opinion here. Please, I would love to hear what you think. Agree, disagree? Any ideas on good alternative ways to show interest in someone's life without crossing a line? Any other subjects I forgot to mention? Post them in the comments. I will delete any that I feel are inappropriate. :-)
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Crossed off Coney Island from my NYC Summer Bucket List this week. It was super fun, and I just really adore my friends. It was a beautiful day, and we went to the beach and then to Luna Park, the amusement park in residence. I kind of got giddy, like I was some teenager again at Six Flags with my friends. It has been SO LONG since I have been on a roller coaster and I was so excited.
Then I got sick on one of the rides, and remembered why I don't do certain ones. And that I am old.
But no matter, I sat out for a few that I knew I would hate, and then got right back on the roller coasters. It was crazy; they were so fun and so painful at the same time. How is that even possible? Why was this an OK combination when I was a kid? This warning on one of the rides really made me laugh, for some reason:
Not a kid anymore. And I sure can't get away with two helpings of ice cream. Lesson learned.
Coney Island: Check.
At least I did well with my sunscreen. Safety first.