I always have plenty of complaints. It seems like I’m always playing “Devil’s Advocate” to whatever is going well in my life. No matter what wonderful things are going on, I can always name what’s wrong, too. I’ve learned to, mainly, keep it to myself. I know that when folks hand out a “how are you,” what they want, in return, is a “fine!” I’m happy to give it to them. It’s not hard. I usually am, in fact, fine, and happy with my life. Give me an opening, though, and I can also espouse on everything that is not going well.
My sister, Brenda, is a very good conversationalist. I’ve watched her, over the years, draw people out, encouraging them to talk. I fall into it every time. No matter how much good news I have to tell, a few minutes on the telephone with Brenda’s sympathetic encouragement, and I am reporting on everything that is frustrating me. Sometimes I hang up the phone, and wonder if I’ve even given her a chance to speak, for all the time I spent complaining!
Brenda is a good listener, too. Though she’s one of the most positive people I know, she is always willing to lend an ear to my problems. She hears, and sympathizes, but doesn’t try to “fix” me. There are those who, when they hear me complain, want to tell me how to solve the problem. Rarely am I looking for a solution.
I live alone, and often just internalize things. When I voice my feelings, it is simply to share. I’m not trying to show off, when things are going well – and, when I’m frustrated, upset or mad – I’m not looking for answers. I just want to commiserate.
Remember the feeling you get when, as a mother of a two year old, or of a teen-ager, you meet another mother with a child of the same age? Or when you’re buried in a remodeling project, overwhelmed with holiday preparation or underappreciated at work, and you run into a friend in the same situation? That feeling? It’s joyous relief. That’s what I’m looking for, when I share my complaints.
I’m hoping for assurance that I’m not alone in this world, in my situation. I want to know that there is no judgment, no feeling of superiority, no chastisement for the the problems I’ve amassed, or for my weakness for wanting to talk about them. Simple understanding. Empathy. A little righteous anger. That’s what makes a good listener.