Sunday, July 18, 2010

You Know What They Say about Opinions...

Everybody has one (yes, I know that's not exactly what they say about opinions, but close enough). And lately, it feels like everybody has an opinion about my life in particular.

I'm a talker. It's how I process my thoughts and emotions, and I tend to talk through things with my friends. Sometimes I'm looking for their advice, other times I just need to get something out so that I can figure it out on my own. I realize that by talking to people about my life, I'm implicitly inviting them into it and to some degree asking for their commentary. What I have trouble with is the way these opinions are sometimes delivered.

With some people, it's just the tone of voice, facial expression and choice of words. They communicate their disappointment/disdain/disapproval/etc. when they could quite easily keep it themselves or at the very least, better disguise it. I find this most irritating when I haven't explicitly asked for an opinion and I'm really just thinking out loud. 

What's worst is the people who take what I call the "Erin is a Child" approach. These people like to issue edicts and impose "rules" on me as if they are, apparently, all-knowing and infallible. It is irritating, to say the least (and infuriating, to be more accurate). "Don't do ____." "Only date ____ type of guy." "You should sell your house." "You need to date multiple people at once." "You should keep your house." "You should only date one person at a time." "You shouldn't have a long separation. File for divorce and get it over with."  My (unspoken) response to these opinions is always the same: "Shut the hell up. Seriously. Right now. Before I smack you."

I realize that these people are doing me a favor by listening while I talk through my thoughts, and it would be rude to preface every conversation with "Now, I'm gonna talk for a while, and it's your job to just sit there and listen and nod and not really participate in this one-sided 'conversation' one bit. Good? Good." In addition, that isn't actually what I want. I do want a sympathetic ear and I would like my friends to give helpful input. On the other hand, blatant judgments and blanket edicts are hurtful and not really useful to me, and unfortunately, it's not always easy to predict how someone is going to respond. The same friend might provide a soft shoulder to lean on one day, and treat me with visible disdain the next. This means I can't simply decide not to talk to certain people (although some are more predictable than others, for sure).

These aren't bad friends either. These are good friends, and I know that if push comes to shove, they'll stand by me through nearly anything. They're doing what they think is best for me, and I have a hard time faulting them for that. But on the other hand, the judgey-ness is not what I want. Or need.

I've considered censoring myself and just not discussing certain things with the people I've known to respond the strongest, but this feels a little dishonest about who I am. When I first started this blog, a good friend from college sent me an email commenting on one of my posts and digging down to what was going on beneath my surface. I responded by joking, "Wow, am I really that transparent? Actually, I know I am. Heart on my sleeve, open book, and all that BS." 

He wrote back with one simple sentence: "Wouldn't have it any other way." 

That response resonated with me then, and I cling to it now. In the midst of my divorce, while the life I had and expected to have was unraveling, as I was losing my sense of who I thought I was and rediscovering who I am, I learned that I really don't have much if I'm not being honest with myself. Authenticity is something that's come to mean a lot to me, and the truth is that I am not someone who censors herself. I never have. As a 4-year-old I earned myself the nickname "schtick pisk" from my great-grandmother, which I understand to mean "big mouth" in Yiddish ("big mouth" as in "sassy and talks back," not "blabbermouth," although the latter isn't far from the truth either). For better or for worse (and sometimes, it's definitely worse), I give voice to my thoughts. I do it because it's the only way I know how to be. It's who I am, and honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way either.

As I was thinking (and talking) this conflict through, I realized that all the advice I've been given, solicited or unsolicited, judgmental or helpful, comes directly from these other people's experiences. It sometimes has very little to do with me. The person who tells me to hurry up and get my divorce over with says that because that's how she imagines she would want to do it. The people who tell me I shouldn't be dating yet say that because when they got divorced, they weren't ready to date at this point in the process. The people who tell me to sell the house only say that because they can't imagine staying in the house they shared with their former spouse. Their responses come from their own experiences and really have very little to do with the fact that I needed time during my separation to think things through before coming to a final decision, that I feel ready to try dating now, and that I wanted to keep my house as one of the few stable things in my otherwise chaotic life. I'm not even sure that very many of them have thought about who I am or how I navigate the world before giving their input. Obviously, some friends have made an effort to think about me before commenting, and perhaps not surprisingly, these are the same friends who seem to be the least judgmental.

Knowing all this makes people's comments a little easier to accept. They're not about me, they're about them, and they're responding in the best way they know how at that moment.  I'm still not 100% sold on this line of thinking, but it helps some, and it's more socially acceptable than randomly screaming, "For the love of all things right and good in the world, please please please keep your judgmental opinions to yourself!"

Although, really, that's a pretty attractive option, too.


Rena said...

Does this mean I have to get a new hobby? :) XOXOX

Caroline said...

Well wow. a) Are we related? - I am the same way in terms of saying what I think, when I think it, and I appreciate that in others. b) I think I agree with you - regarding advice, that is probably what most people (including me, and maybe you? don't know), do when they offer advice, they rely on their past experiences to form an opinion. It would be nice if people thought about who they were giving advice to, before they gave it, I know some people do, but I think that's rare. Not that we are all self-absorbed people, but that we think our friends are like us or share so many things in common that we don't stop to think that they are actually possibly very different. Anyway - you don't need to hear me babble, but you know, like I said in a. :o)

Erin said...

@Rena - Certainly not. Just expect a fair amount of hmphing and eye-rolling on my part.

@Caroline - a) Possibly. Are you Jewish? Or Scottish? I'm both. b) I think that you're probably right that most people's (including me in many cases) first instinct is often to give advice based on their own experience. It takes much more thought (and self-control) to pause, puzzle through where your friend is really at and what they're looking for, and then respond accordingly. It isn't that personal experience can't then come into play - it's that (in my opinion) it really only ought to when it's actually relevant to where the other person is at and what they need and want. That's all.

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