Disclosing personal stuff about yourself can be kind of a nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching experience. While I try to live most of my life pretty out in the open, sometimes I meet people who don’t know anything about me, and it’s getting to know new folks is a process akin to coming out. I think that being pretty honest about who you are and about your experiences goes a long way to de-stigmatize shit like addiction, abuse, and sexuality. And it took me a long time to get to a place where I can talk about all of my baggage pretty clearly. (Most of the time – there are always going to be times that it’s especially hard, of course.) It’s not always easy but for me it’s pretty important.
For the most part, the people that I disclose my various baggage to respond pretty well. They’re affirming, not overly sentimental, and for the most part just add the disclosed facts to the list of stuff they know about me. But for a few people, these conversations are kind of a game-changer. It’s frustrating, because while I appreciate what they’re trying to do, this new information that I’ve given to them doesn’t change who I am or the relationship I have to them. I call this experience Pity Eyes, because I feel like it changes the lens through which people view me. Instead of being Sarah, Ryan’s partner or Sarah, the pink-haired zine lady from the Wooden Shoe, I’m Sarah, who has been through so much. As well-meant as the intentions are, I still find this sort of pity fairly simpering and patronizing.
I think that there are a couple of things at play here. People, myself included, love a good sob story. Why else are shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Army Wives so popular? It is certainly not for the well crafted story lines. (I’m looking at you, Shonda Rimes.) There’s something sort of evocative about using that sort of fictionalized sadness as a catalyst to cry.
In real life, it’s kind of disingenuous. I feel like the sort of person who gets weepy about my sad life is personalizing something that doesn’t belong to them, and it makes me feel weirdly angry. I don’t want to be comforted over things that happened thirty years ago. But I don’t want to comfort you because I had kind of a shitty childhood either. Taking my honest disclosure and making it about you feels like you’re appropriating stuff from my life.
And the thing is: I feel like Pity Eyed Folks don’t realize what it is they’re doing. I feel like there are probably good intentions and a big weepy heart behind all of this.
I think some of the blame can be laid at the kind of prescribed responses to things we’re taught from an early age. How many times have you heard someone say any of the following at a funeral, wake or memorial service?
“Well, at least he/she isn’t suffering anymore.”
“He/She is in a better place.”
“You know, God calls his most precious angels home first.”
Awkward, right? I feel like these are pretty conditioned responses. They’re sort of expected and while your concern might be authentic, these responses aren’t what anyone really wants to say. So, what I propose to combat Pity Eyes is this: say what you feel. Ask the questions you want answered. If someone has been comfortable enough to disclose something, they’re probably also comfortable enough to decline to answer questions they don’t want to.
I don’t know, dude. This has just been on my mind lately. Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining that my friends are too compassionate and it makes me feel awkward. I started this off with a point, but maybe the point is just to talk about it. What is your experience with Pity Eyes? What are your suggestions for shutting it down in favor of something more honest?