Emotional Rubberneckers

I have noticed that people are emotional rubberneckers. And I don’t think that I like it–mostly because it’s not genuine.

After Conner and I got engaged, my high school love died. All of a sudden, my phone was ringing off the hook from people I hadn’t talked to in years wanting to see how I was doing.

I don’t mean to imply that I think that those people–or any emotional rubberneckers–have bad intentions. I think that, in general, people have good intentions. But it comes across in conversation that they are saying the right thing without necessarily meaning it; that they are wanting to walk away from the conversation feeling like the good person. So, let’s say that Sally calls me after this guy dies, and asks how I’m doing–if I cry on her shoulder, she feels good.

It was weird in that specific situation because I actually had some people tell me that I was not acting appropriately upset. I realize that death is one of those weird things that makes people all crazy and stuff, and do and say weird things. But I didn’t know that there was a formula to follow when you find out that someone who was incredibly important to you… just isn’t around anymore.

I generally play my emotions pretty close to the chest (although I admit that lately I’ve been trying to change that). So, I cried about him. I did the blubbery kind of cry that leaves you out of breath and ugly for days. But I did it alone.

Anyway, Conner often tells me that I’m a really good listener and that people just open up to me in ways that they generally don’t open up to other people. I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case, but if it is, I wonder if it’s because when I ask how someone is doing, I mean it. I actually wonder how people are doing. I actually want to listen to people’s problems. I think that people are interesting. I think that the way that people express what they’re going through is fascinating. I think that discovering different approaches to dealing with problems is exhilarating.

I think that perhaps when most people ask how you’re doing, they don’t care. If they ask on a normal day, the only answer that is really acceptable to give is on the level of ‘fine’ or above. And if they ask during a crisis, I think that people want to see a breakdown. To belabor the metaphor, it’s like when you’re stuck in traffic on the highway. Traffic is only acceptable if there is a spectacular accident that’s causing it. When you’re stuck in traffic because some dolt decided that he wanted to drive 10 below the speed limit and an hour later that means that 400 cars aren’t moving, that’s just sucky.

The reason that I bring this up now is that, due to Oliver’s surgery yesterday, I’ve been dealing with some emotional rubberneckers. Not everyone–I have some friends who are just fabulous (you know who you are). But I also have some people who, when they ask how am I doing (with the “you” that they say being spoken in that kind of deeper, fake concern kind of tone), I get the feeling that they want me to cry and throw some hysterics, or expect that I am going to confide all of my deepest darkest fears about my children or something. And you know what? If you come to me, and you make me think that you actually are interested, and actually want to hear about it, I might. But if you are just slowing down to check out my carnage–enjoy the view from the road.

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One response to “Emotional Rubberneckers

  1. In Germany people rarely ask how you are doing, and they think it is crass and shallow that Americans do it all the time without being genuinely interested in the answer.

    Sometimes I think it’s fine, like as a meaningless conversation lubricant.

    but when you know someone is doing poorly, there’s a fine line between genuinely wanting to help or genuinely seeing if they need someone to talk to and this “emotional rubbernecking,” which is a kind of self-gratifying catharsis whereby people mostly just want to see your car crash because they want to gawk.

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