How eavesdropping led me to a resolution

One recent morning I sat in a coffee shop doing some freelance work and half listening to two mothers who sat chatting in chairs beside me. One of the women did most of the talking, and she complained. A lot.

She complained about her schedule, about her kid’s teacher, about long emails and too-short spring breaks, about the cold, about her husband’s not taking her seriously when she said she wanted move to California.

The impish part of me wanted to interrupt and ask if anything good had ever happened to her, or at least in the last week. For crying out loud, here she was hanging out with a friend on a work morning, drinking hot coffee and wearing comfortable clothes while the red-eyed, suit-wearing masses lurched in and out around her, desperate for their morning fortification before a long day at the office.

But after a few minutes of listening I winced — yes, physically winced — as something very unpleasant occurred to me. How often have I been that person pouring out all my tales of woe, my insecurities, my frustrations and worries and fears into the ready ears of sympathetic girlfriends over similarly warm cups of coffee on pleasant days off? In fact, come to think of it, when was the last time I had a chance for a heart-to-heart that didn’t turn into an all-out Mabel Venting Session?

I can’t think of a single time.

Because, truth be told, I’m a world-class whiner. That might be too modest, actually. I wrote the book on whining. (The book itself was pretty negative and sales were weak, so I don’t talk much about it. But I digress.) I have a pretty amazing life when you look at it objectively, but somehow there’s always something to complain about. Negative feelings will crop up, and they must be given their day in public, mustn’t they?

When I’m not whining I’m backhandedly expressing my petty hurts over perceived slights and offenses. This acquaintance didn’t come to my dinner party last week, that roommate has been giving me the cold shoulder ever since I innocently remarked that she could clean her own dishes every once in a while, and my sister hasn’t called or texted me in weeks, which must mean she hates me. There’s always something to mutter about.

We strive so hard to avoid hurting one another’s feelings that we just end up being ugly. Instead of addressing issues head-on directly with the person who is causing us an issue, we “play nice” to their faces and then vent our frustrations in completely unproductive ways. Okay, I say “we.” Some people have learned the fine art of confrontation, but too often I still hide behind the mask of “niceness” because it avoids unpleasant discussions and emotions.

But when the mask comes off? It’s hideous. There was nothing attractive about that woman I overheard in the coffee shop. Indeed, I don’t even remember what she looked like because I was so distracted by the ugliness of everything she had to say. Yet she’s probably a lovely person, a good wife, mother, and friend, and I probably caught her in the middle of her purging session, when all the ugliness came out at once because she’d kept it bottled up for so long.

I have a long way to go, but that morning forced me to take a good look at myself, and to make a promise: to live honestly and speak openly with those who have to live with me, instead of bottling all my emotions and pretending nothing is wrong. I’m terrible at it, but maybe confrontation gets easier — or at least a little bit less terrifying — with practice?

If it doesn’t, don’t tell me. I may not have the stamina to keep it up. But I’m determined not to let long-held bitterness over trivial things make me ugly. That’s not what God made community for, even if the realities of Other People can drive you crazy sometimes.

Mabel

 

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Social Media: Not Always the Best Option

I am in the middle of a Facebook hiatus. It’s mostly self-imposed, I admit, but there were others present when I made the challenge, so I’m telling myself they put me up to it (if for no other reason than accountability).

Yesterday I needed some information that I knew was in a Facebook message from last week, so *gasp* I had to log on briefly, find the message, resist all urges and use tremendous willpower NOT to click on my notifications, get the information I needed, and then log off. Easy Peasy.

Well……yeah. Except for the fact that I saw plain as day that in the 4 days I’ve been off, I had 9 notifications. 9. NINE. I had a minor interior meltdown when I saw that, and my first thought was “DOES NOBODY EVEN MISS ME??” I normally get at least 10 notifications per day, so why this dreadful lack of love? (Don’t worry, I slapped myself upside the head for thinking that – I know that my self-worth is not based on my Facebook relationships.)

Catharsis!

I have a disordered view of friendships, based on social media. Facebook has made having “friends” so easy! Add someone to your friends list, and then read what they have to write. Occasionally “like” or comment on photos and posts, sometimes write on their wall, and maybe even sometimes send them a message. It’s great for keeping in touch with the meaningful friendships that already exist, but for those mere acquaintances, It’s easy to tell yourself you’re great friends (because Facebook says so).

We’ve all said it at least once: “It’s not legit until it’s on Facebook!” What started as a joke has, sadly, become reality. Engagements, relationships, marriages, babies, etc. All are supposed to be posted to Facebook according to societal norms, and we are even almost indignant when someone tells you “Oh, I’m not on Facebook.” Or when they never change their relationship status even though they’ve been dating or married for years.

And then, for those who are as transparent on Facebook as I am, they even get upset and feel genuinely disappointed when their page gets minimal activity despite their absence. I admit it wholeheartedly; I’m much more popular online. Online I am witty and humorous; I can post only the photos I like and crop out parts I don’t like or even discard photos that don’t make me look like a hottie-batottie. I have hundreds of friends, and I post awesome stuff (don’t deny it). I can hide that I’m currently on a “nursing break” and am working in a coffee shop. I love the coffee shop, though! I just don’t necessarily like blasting that nursing and I have had a minor falling out (we’re reconciling though, so more details later). In real life when people ask what I do for a living, to say anything other than what I really do is called LYING, and is generally frowned upon.

In real life I can’t crop out the parts of me I don’t like – not instantly, anyway. I can work on them, but it takes time and practice and dedication and work (lots and lots of work). I talk to too much, I enjoy playing with my hair more than I should, I’m constantly second-guessing myself and the compliments people pay me, and I care far too much about what others think or say about me than is healthy. So yeah, sometimes I like online Virginia better. Which is silly, because who wants to live a life with only online relationships? I need physical connections, I need real relationships, and I need more face to face or even phone conversations. When someone is so available on Facebook, it’s easy to take communication for granted. All the conversations I have are over a social media site, and as soon as I’m off, I get disappointed by the lack of communication in my life. I have been texted by 4 people this week, whereas on Facebook I’d have had numerous conversations.

So where’s the disconnect in all this? Sooner or later this was bound to happen: I needed to find the disconnect and somehow reunite it or at least reconcile it. And since retreating online completely is a terrible idea, the only way to do that is to get offline and make the real-life Virginia better. I need to work on my real-life friendships. That’s not to say that I’m getting off Facebook entirely, but I just need to become less involved with my relationship with Facebook.

We’re “taking a break.”

That being said, I love phone calls and I love texting. Heck, I even love emails.

–Virginia

(Also, I have my settings such that this posts automatically to Facebook, so when my friends come back with “YOU WERE ON FACEBOOK! You posted your blog. I WIN!” I can say “You didn’t actually read my post then, did you?” I consider this a win-win.)