Social Exhaustion

I follow quite a number of academics on twitter for obvious reasons. If I write about higher ed, I should know what professors are talking about that day. I particularly follow political scientists, because they’re family, but I also follow people from other fields.

Recently, a group of female, African American scholars were talking about how exhausting it is to hear middle class, white women talk about dieting and fitness. When these conversations tend to pop up on twitter, I usually tune out, particularly when they start referring to all white women as “Becky’s.” But I read the whole thread about how these academics feel alienated, when small talk turns to topics that are not usual topics in their circles.

Sometimes when I’m walking through the supermarket in town, I’ll run into a neighbor or someone from spin class. I’ll ask her what’s up and she’ll sigh and complain about her busy schedule taking her kids to birthday parties and sports events. And OMG prom dresses are so expensive. And college applications are due soon.

And here’s what I’m thinking (or used to think when things were rougher) …

My kid is never going to go to the prom. My kid is never going to go to the prom. My kid is never going to go to the prom. Deep breath. Deep breath. Don’t start crying. My kid hasn’t been invited to a birthday party in two years. My kid’s only social activities on the weekends are trips to tutors and music instructors and grandparents. My kid is never going to the prom. OMG. Now, she’s going to show me pictures. OK. I can handle this. Oh, her daughter is absolutely beautiful. That’s just awesome. I am really happy for her. 

And when I rant to my childless friend, Susan, about IEP meetings and reading scores, she’s probably also ready to do a suicide scene from Airplane. But she’s my friend, so she sucks it up.

Social empathy is a good thing, and it is very much a two way street. You have to have the good sense to think of how your conversation makes the other person feel. And you have to be patient when another — presumably good-hearted — person goes on and on too much about a topic.

Yes, it does take energy to talk with people with other social experiences. It’s really nice to hang out with my group of special ed parents who don’t talk about proms or driving lessons or SAT scores. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. But that’s not real life. Every day, I talk with people from all sorts of ages, incomes, family or non-family types, and so on.  And once we get past the conversations about proms, these diverse group of friends – as opposed to random acquaintances that I have to deal with in the supermarket — listen to my stories, too.

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7 thoughts on “Social Exhaustion

  1. I don’t blame the African American women for tuning out when white women (or any women, or men) start talking about their diet and exercise routines. Any person who talks about that is a bore.

  2. Oddly, diets (including all of the crazy fad ones) are a bonding topic for my African American dept chair, a very well-off white female prof, and our criminally underpaid dept secretary. All of them have struggled with weight issues in one way or another. I find these conversations supertedious but – like sports and other tedious topics – it seems to span economic status and race.

    As a childless person who loves kids I am more than happy to talk one-on-one with my friends about their children’s delights and tragedies. But when there’s a group that gets on to the “here’s-everything-that-happened-in-Mrs.-Johnson’s class” conversation, it gets annoying.

  3. I had been unfamiliar with the term ‘Becky’. Thank you for enlarging my understanding:

    “According to Plies, “Becky” is referring to the act of fellatio. Plies terms the act “Becky” because of the widely held notion and/or stereotype that Caucasian women are somewhat more sexually liberal in terms of frequency of encounters, random partnering, and overall lasciviousness. With “Becky” being a popular name given to females at birth in the White society, one can assume that Plies simply chose this name because of its unique association to “Whiteness”, particularly where the female is concerned.
    Give me that becky!”

  4. “My kid hasn’t been invited to a birthday party in two years.”

    We had some drama this summer over birthday party planning. Kid kept going back and forth on whether or not to do it (somebody had expressed lack of enthusiasm for her chosen movie the previous year–apparently not everybody loves “Galaxy Quest”!), while I felt like I was dropping the ball if I didn’t give her a party.

    Then I talked to the child psychologist and the psychologist told me something very interesting–namely that at some point in the teens, people stop doing kid birthday parties. Her theory was that around that time, a lot of kids don’t feel like it’s fun unless there’s alcohol involved. I have some related theories–like that at some point kids’ interests diverge and they have more individual ideas of fun and also get more self-conscious about whether their proposed birthday activity is cool enough/what other kids will think about their idea of fun.

    Tulip said,

    “I don’t blame the African American women for tuning out when white women (or any women, or men) start talking about their diet and exercise routines. Any person who talks about that is a bore.”

    Yeah–nobody wants to hear about what you eat or don’t eat and why. At least not at great length.

    “Plies terms the act “Becky” because of the widely held notion and/or stereotype that Caucasian women are somewhat more sexually liberal in terms of frequency of encounters, random partnering, and overall lasciviousness.”

    WHOA!

    1. Yep on the alcohol. After I discovered drinking, whole bunches of people and activities became much, much more tolerable.

    2. “I have some related theories–like that at some point kids’ interests diverge and they have more individual ideas of fun and also get more self-conscious about whether their proposed birthday activity is cool enough/what other kids will think about their idea of fun.”

      I agree with you. It’s very stressful. I went all out for parties when they were 5-9, but after that, if they didn’t want one, I didn’t push. And they didn’t want one. We do however insist on having ice cream cake whenever they, me or my husband has a birthday.

      My memory of why my birthday in 5th grade was my last birthday is that we were pretty poor then, and I felt guilty about the expense (my youngest sister was born that year), but it could have been self-consciousness and I just internalized the excuse. That was all so, so long ago….

  5. Wendy said,

    “I went all out for parties when they were 5-9, but after that, if they didn’t want one, I didn’t push. And they didn’t want one. We do however insist on having ice cream cake whenever they, me or my husband has a birthday.”

    Our big kids have always wanted parties…and then our oldest got suddenly ambivalent this year (16). It really caught me by surprise.

    “My memory of why my birthday in 5th grade was my last birthday is that we were pretty poor then, and I felt guilty about the expense (my youngest sister was born that year), but it could have been self-consciousness and I just internalized the excuse.”

    I can imagine some social self-consciousness hitting around that 6th grade.

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