One of my friends recently posted on facebook that his car had just attained 200,000 miles on the odometer. Was he bragging about his high mileage and still-functional car, or complaining that his car was so old and he couldn’t afford a newer one?
Often, people make statements, and others read into them — make inferences from them, that may or may not be accurate. Sometimes, people will make back-handed statements — they will speak deprecatingly about themselves or their accomplishments, when they really want people to pat them on the back for their accomplishment. [I am reading Pride and Prejudice again, and noticed that Elisabeth, Darcy and Bingley have this conversation at Netherfield — Bingley admires Darcy’s style of letter-writing, and particularly his neatness, saying that he himself writes too fast to be neat, and also ends up forgetting to write half the words he intended. Elisabeth compliments him that he cannot write fast enough to keep up with his thoughts; but Darcy points out that Bingley is appearing to be self-deprecating, but is actually intending that Elisabeth have just that reaction — of turning a self-confessed fault into a compliment.]
Was my friend bragging or complaining? I believe he was truly bragging. In any event, several of us posted comments about our own high-mileage cars, bragging about how far we’d driven them, how good condition they were in (or not), how long we hoped to keep driving them, how many miles we’d hope to get out of them, etc. There were a few in the 200,000-mile club; my brother bested them all, with nearly 350,000 miles on his ’99 Accord (he bought it new, has maintained it well; drives it a lot in his job as a piano tuner — not to mention driving to his wife’s family in Nebraska and elsewhere [he put over 5,000 miles on it within a few weeks this summer, doing one of those trips]; and the only problem he has is that it has recently started leaking a little bit of oil).
Some of you may be cheering my friend and my brother on, in their high-mileage bragging; but I daresay that some of you may be at least nervous, if not nearly aghast at the thought of driving a car that long.
I wonder what the mood would have been, had my friends reacted negatively to this friend’s announcement. How might it have been different, had somebody responded, “200,000 miles?!?!? That’s insane! I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving a car that had over 100,000 miles on it!! You need to sell that thing before it leaves you stranded on the side of the road somewhere, or blows up on you, or something! That’s just ridiculous! I’ve never heard anything so stupid in all my life!” Or, “Why in the world would you drive a car with that many miles on it?! Can’t you afford a better car??” I think that might have dampened the cheerful aspect of the post a wee bit, don’t you?
Doesn’t the same thing happen when women gather together and the subject turns to birth?
I remember being in a conversation with several women, just a few months after I gave birth the first time. We had gathered up around a first-time pregnant mom, and the women in the group were going around telling the “MY birth was worse than YOUR birth” game, a.k.a. “let’s scare the first-time mom about labor and birth so much that she chooses an elective C-section under general anesthesia, so as to miss the whole process entirely!” I don’t even remember who all was there, nor do I remember who the pregnant woman was, but I do remember getting pretty irritated at all the women there. And as soon as I had an opening, I interrupted, “Oh, it wasn’t like that for me at all!!” And I painted a positive picture of how empowered I felt after giving birth. And what do you know — the mood changed! Suddenly all the women were trying to outdo each other in positive aspects of labor and/or birth!
That conversation has replayed in my mind numerous times in the nearly 5 years since it happened, but it has only been recently that I realized that probably many of the women were trying to be like Bingley — they were wanting… confirmation?… a compliment? … somebody to tell them, “Oh, that does sound bad, you must be a strong woman to make it through all that!”? They were complaining in pretense. What they were actually doing, was bragging. Sure, there was room for complaint, undoubtedly — but I think they were wanting that pat on the back for having given birth under such adverse circumstances, but couldn’t just say it as honestly as that. It rather reminds of the old grandpa telling his grandkids about how he had to walk to school when he was a boy, five miles, through the snow, uphill both ways!