THERE was a time when my relationships were going through a rough patch. It wasn’t my man or daughter or friends. It was me. I suddenly found that everything in the world around me was not to my liking.
Everything and everyone was too much. Too loud; too cold; too exhausting. I was tired and parched. Most of all, I had stopped being happy with myself. Too many wrinkles, too many bad qualities, not enough good.
Once we get in a negative loop, there’s a rhythm that runs away with us. So I took myself to my spiritual teacher, who was running a meditation retreat in Bali, and I sat at his feet trying to regroup. Amid all the usual enlightenment yada yada, which is brilliant in theory but hard to do back home, he said something that has already changed my life. Simple yet profound.
“There are two main states of mind we are in. Grumbles or Gratitude. When we are in grumbles, we are miserable. The world seems hard, life is difficult and we become unhappy. When we are in gratitude, we are happy. Same life, same problems, different perspectives. So it’s logical to be grateful, not grumble, is it not?”
A light bulb went on. I’d been heading towards depression, which does start this way for me. Chicken or egg first, I’ve never established, but moving from biology into practical common sense, the question emerges — is it really necessary to grumble, given the cost? For women, the answer is apparently “Yes”. Helen Tanner, a US-based professor of linguistics, in her brilliant bestseller You Just Don’t Understand says the basis of female intimacy is “trouble talk”, with women bound together by complaining about partners, kids, frustrations, what other friends did or didn’t do.
Men communicate in a way that solves problems; women like to dwell on them. Hence, a stereotypical interaction — where the female starts running down her friend: “Jenny did this to me, then that …” The logical male’s reaction is: “Well don’t see her then.” The female feels terrible, she just wants the chance to complain, which she regards as being “close,” and “sharing”.
Girlfriends collude with our trouble talk, but at what cost? When we complain, our faces go sour, it sets us in a mood, and once we start complaining, it’s hard to stop. There’s also a lot of guilt in grumbling for both sexes when we are well and safe.
Now what? Is an ex-grumbler like an ex-smoker? Intolerant of other fellow grumblers, judgmental and boring to be around?
I will be left with no girlfriends. That almost sounds like something that someone might be justified in grumbling about. But not me, of course.
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