How adversity affects us

by Grace aka costofcollege

This topic was touched upon in a recent Totebag thread.

The Funny Thing About Adversity

Does adversity harden hearts or warm them? Does experiencing deprivation, disaster or illness make a person more — or less — sympathetic to the travails of others?

You’ve probably encountered examples of each: survivors of hard knocks who lend a compassionate ear to beleaguered souls, and those who offer only a disdainful “suck it up.” As a result, it may seem that adversity’s effect on kindness is unpredictable.

Some studies help explain this unpredictability.  In general, adversity increases our compassion.

… Those who had faced increasingly severe adversities in life — loss of a loved one at an early age, threats of violence or the consequences of a natural disaster — were more likely to empathize with others in distress, and, as a result, feel more compassion for them….

But it’s different when we have endured the same adversity someone else is facing.

… reflecting on your own past experience with a specific misfortune will very likely cause you to underappreciate just how trying that exact challenge can be for someone else (or was, in fact, for you at the time). You overcame it, you think; so should he….

I recognize these conflicting feelings within myself.  Do you?


99 thoughts on “How adversity affects us

  1. This is the anniversary of Sandy. I have a very different attitude about storm prep and recovery since that experience. I know that I don’t think governors or other elected officials over react to predictive models even if the storm takes a turn in a different direction at a later time.

    I even have a different feeling about insurance companies and their staff because they really can be worth every penny in premiums when you need them.

    As for choices people make to live in certain places and risk natural disasters, I no longer judge. I now see extreme weather all over the globe, and I know natural disasters can strike many homes that used to be safe.

    I tend to be more sympathetic when I’ve been through adversity. I don’t expect others to have my experience, or my family’s experience. This group has also opened my eyes to how difficult it can be for some children in school for a wide variety of reasons. Even though I haven’t lived it, I am more aware of why certain kids behave in a particular way. I’m definitely more understanding than I would have been without learning about the challenges from other posts.

  2. I read that article when it was published and it completely conformed to my experience. In general, the adversity experienced in my life makes me compassionate. It doesn’t make me any sweeter around sadness, tragedy or disaster, but while other people are doing what they do best – bringing casseroles and hugging and speaking in hushed voices, I can give the afflicted permission to feel and express thoughts and emotions that others can’t deal with. It focusses my compassion and useful actions on the actual victims, not on the communal process involved with tragedy.

    However, the observation that people have little patience after the initial shock with others experiencing exactly the same adversity applies in spades to my reactions to same SES moms who find themselves on their own who can’t suck it up and deal, or same SES workers – mostly men – who get laid off and give up. (That does not apply to the way I react to bereaved parents. I judge none of them.)

  3. Timely post, CoC – Sandy anniversary (and on this day it snowed in 1993, and 2013), and around a certain special time of year for me which always has me pondering life.

    I think I fall in the middle. But I’m trying to be more compassionate. Just because I survived something doesn’t mean another person has the same demeanor or skill set required to survive. I try to be more compassionate to people, realizing that I’m just built different than a lot of people. My compassion flies out the window regularly in situations that I find basic or trite. The “suck it up, you’re whining like a little B*tch” situations (my comment about the friend on FB who complained about her raise comes to mind).

    In the last 2-3 years, my compassion has grown. I’m a helluva lot more patient now than before. Maybe it was all the struggles life threw my way in a short amount of time, punctuated by amazing highs. Maybe I’m growing up. Or maybe I just don’t care anymore. I hope that’s not the case, but sometimes I fear my compassion comes from disengagement. So it’s false compassion – it’s more like I don’t care really, so I seem compassionate with the “I’m so sorry” type of replies, rather than true compassion stemming from caring about the individual and circumstances. Not sure if that makes sense…

  4. ” I can give the afflicted permission to feel and express thoughts and emotions that others can’t deal with. It focusses my compassion and useful actions on the actual victims, not on the communal process involved with tragedy.”

    How do you do that, Meme? I can’t seem to get beyond a hug. How do I care more without internalizing the pain they are feeling?

    I’m too empathetic – after a while a person’s mood will affect my own. And it doesn’t take long – sometimes only 5 minutes. How do I maintain compassion and help without being swallowed by their anguish?

  5. My guess is that the lack of sympathy to the same adversity one faced is a form of defense mechanism. One diminishes the pain involved or the effort to get through the situation so that one doesn’t have to relive the pain. In that case, someone else in the same situation would appear to be overreacting to a lesser situation.

    If one hasn’t experienced the situation, it is easier, emotionally, to imagine the pain and grief and effort required to get through the situation, and hopefully, to provide comfort..

  6. I liked the article, but I think there are some other subtleties involved that aren’t yet captured — specifically, that we can be very empathetic to people who have gone through the same thing we have, UNLESS they are managing it significantly worse than we did or doing it “wrong.” Some examples that spring to mind:

    — Lauren’s example: when you’ve been through a major, surprise weather event, you become more attuned to exactly how it can wreak havoc with your life and so are more sympathetic when you hear it happen to others. OTOH, if you lived through Katrina, and that made you realize that NO is, on average, several feet below sea level, and so you decided to move to a “safer” area, then I could see that making you less sympathetic to people who stayed put and got inundated again.

    — Similarly, when I had my M/C, it made me realize how common they are and how much they can mess you up emotionally. This has made me much more empathetic to other women dealing with infertility and pregnancy losses. But I could also see that if you had a M/C and got over it easily and moved on, and you then ran into someone who was still completely broken up about one 3 years later, you could easily go to, “damn, woman, stop being a drama queen.”

    It’s sort of like anyone who drives more slowly than you is an idiot and anyone who drives faster is an asshole.

  7. Rhode, look at many of Meme’s comments over the years. A large portion, perhaps the majority, are comforting comments that is is ok to feel whatever one feels.

  8. I read the article when it came out and liked it. I’m still figuring out who I am with regards to adversity. Unavoidable or unpredictable types of adversity make me very sympathetic. When the grieving person requests it or seems open, it also causes me to act in practical way specific to me. For example, I wrote and sent an e-mail to a woman (now a widow) at church whose husband was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and who has three sons a bit younger than Mr WCE and his two brothers when their Dad was diagnosed. I hope it was helpful- my MIL was visiting and I summarized her similar experience and how she dealt with logistics.

    I am less sympathetic to predictable adversity. If layoffs are ongoing and you are laid off, in my opinion you should not be shocked and you should have some sort of plan.

    My mom wasn’t comfortable learning about the medical decisions necessary after her cancer diagnosis. I read in a book that some personality types find information helpful for decision making and some personality types find it overwhelming and just withdraw. I worked hard to be the person my mom needed me to be and not the person I naturally am. My Dad and I are more alike and in practice, he made all her medical decisions.

  9. “I worked hard to be the person my mom needed me to be and not the person I naturally am.”

    This is another key thing I struggle with. I know I have a strong personality. We talked about how men always try to fix things – that’s me. You vent and I try to fix. WCE – how did you do this? Did you ask your mom what she needed or figure that out via trial/error?

  10. Maybe the additional overlay is that we’re empathetic to big bad things beyond our control, once they come within our frame of reference. But we’re not so empathetic when we think people are making bad choices (defined as “worse choices than we did”) that are contributing to the bad situation?

    E.g., poverty: I’m pretty damn liberal about government poverty programs, as a former beneficiary; I can see and testify how short-term support can make long-term differences in the trajectory of someone’s life. OTOH, I can get impatient when people who don’t have much money spend it on material things. Because my mom escaped by getting her degree and saving every penny and doing without, so ergo I Know Best. So don’t complain to me how money is tight when you’ve got [insert material item here] that I never had — because that changes the issue from “I’m poor” to “I make bad money decisions.” Sort of going back to the whole “worthy poor” concept.

    I also submit that this isn’t true empathy. Empathizing with only those people who do things you approve of is more like stroking your own ego. Real empathy is wanting to understand what drives those choices — even the ones you disagree with — and caring about the person who is stuck in that hard situation, even when their reaction to it is ineffective or self-defeating. Love the sinner and all that.

  11. Ok. Rhode, your 10:50 post is exactly how I feel! I too am working on being more compassionate! But I am more of a “Geez, suck it up” kind of person. I am also the one who will understand, but roll my eyes a little bit over that mom who is mourning her miscarriage three years later. I have suffered through several and still remember from time to time how old my oldest kid would have been, but I don’t mourn it like some others seem to do. I feel bad about my lack of compassion and am really trying to read more inspirational/religious stuff to kindle it in me.
    Having said that, I think it has more to do with the reaction the “woe is me” attitude triggers in me rather than lack of compassion. I am naturally an optimistic person and don’t really understand people who choose to focus on the negatives.

  12. By any measure, I have had an easy life. In the past few years I have been forced to recognize how little I did to earn that and how little I control whether it continues, which has made me (I hope) a more compassionate person and parent.

    I still get really annoyed at people who make what I consider to be bad choices, but I am trying to use “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?” as my new mantra before I speak. Still working on it, though.

  13. I can think of how I reacted to my male acquaintance who was shocked to discover that after almost 30 years at the same company, he was laid off in his mid 50s when a new CFO came on board. He had not made sufficient financial provision for something like that because he really expected to work there for another 15 years until his elem school youngest finished college. I was a lone voice that said, that person is not telling you the truth. This is what it will take. He is now fine with the transitional job I suggested he pursue, but I wasn’t sympathetic at all. He still checks in with me. I helped him, but in an unconventional and not particularly compassionate way.

    I can also think of how I react to premenopausal educated divorced moms, often with one child only, who groan and moan about their difficult financial situation and having to cope solo, all because they are unwilling by temperament or other reasons to figure out how to work in the regular economy.

  14. With my mom, I followed her lead. I tried to talk to her once or twice about her choices (this chemo is making you really sick and it doesn’t seem to be helping. Are you sure this is what you want?) and her response was “This is my only shot [at living a long time].”

    I went to a presentation by an oncologist whose fellowship was in pancreatic cancer and I learned that many of the treatments currently offered are so ineffective that the standard of care is in the process of changing. I let my Dad know that, with specific information about which drugs were likely to have major side effects, etc. but I didn’t tell my mom. I tried to respect her choice to not know details. We were also fortunate in that my parents only had to interact with one oncologist most of the time and my parents are among the easier patients he had in rural Iowa. For example, the oncologist’s son was the high school valedictorian this past spring and didn’t get into MIT and the oncologist heard from other physicians that my mom was the mom of the last person to get in to MIT (me!), so the oncologist was able to relate personally to her/talk about grandchildren and not focus too much on specific drugs. The oncologist understood that my mom’s response is very normal.

  15. @Anon — Yes. My mom agreed to what she thought was exactly 50% of the costs of raising a child in 1970: $150/month. There were no formulas and such like there are today.

  16. I have had an easy life but I think I have more sympathy for others than DH and his family who are more of the “why don’t they work hard/harder – it wasn’t easy for us, no one helped us”. I think the reason for my attitude is that I had a few lucky breaks at critical junctures or I made certain choices that worked out. I do not take my good fortune for granted though and keep plugging away on various fronts.

  17. And on the positive side, I don’t have to kill another lawyer today (well, at least not one of ours). Turns out the 50% overage on the fixed fee was due to a third lawyer accidentally billing to the wrong #. Whew.

  18. I’ve gotten exceedingly more sympathetic as I’ve gotten older. I’ve learned that not everyone grew up like I did. That having an intact, loving and totally boring family isn’t just nice, it is an amazing leg up. I’ve learned that I make good choices primarily because I’ve had people in my life teaching me how to make good choices. I feel like I know what I don’t know and I’m less likely to judge because man I’m not sure I would be a better person given some of the circumstances I hear about.

    Rhode – it is so hard to learn how not to carry other’s grief but it is essential or you will be consumed. I’ve been through a lot of this these past 3 years and I learned that carrying grief for someone does nothing to lighten their load and makes your load heavier. There is no positive outcome from it at all. In fact it can make you burn out and not helpful later. When I am with them I feel for them, I think of them and try to do things that will make things easier or more pleasant for them when I can and then I accept that there is simply no fixing this and there are some portions of these journeys that people must walk alone. It is sad but it is also necessary. Then I let it go. On a day like today I revel in the beauty of the day and enjoy the hell out of it because I’m not getting any extra days feeling badly for someone. Enjoying yourself when someone else is sad is not wrong or disloyal – you are taking the lesson. Life is short, life it sweet. Grab it while you can.

  19. I think a lot about this on a professional level. I try to be helpful and share my own experiences, but I find that is usually not welcome. And by sharing, I mean things along the lines of “wow! ear pain is the worst – we forget that as adults, but I had a pretty terrible ear infection a few years ago and I still remember how painful it was” or “there are no easy eldercare solutions, I am so sorry this has been so frustrating. My parents had to place 3 of my grandparents into some kind of care facility, and each time it was a terrible process for them”.

    What I have found: People really, really, really don’t want to think that I have ever had the same pain or experience that they are having. I think it comes across as minimizing. They really shut down. (And I never try to share something deeply personal or terrible, really, I keep in the realm of ankle sprains and ear pain).

    Most parents like to hear how I treat my kids when they are sick, and respond to empathy about lost sleep, breastfeeding issues, etc. I love seeing the mastitis patients – usually 1-2 weeks post partum and an emotional and physical mess. Without sharing my own experiences, I can validate in a believable way that breast feeding is hard, newborns are hard, you are a good parent, things will get better, this is normal. I have something I can prescribe that makes them better and lots and lots of reassurance.

  20. Ada – I remember a doctor’s apt post partum where I burst into tears upon seeing one of the doctors who was in the delivery room with me. (I had very rough delivery.) I was so grateful to her for helping me that I started crying. She was so understanding and kind. Must happen to OBs all the time.

  21. Rhode – I can give a live example of the sort of thing I say. The excerpt below is from an email I sent this morning (prior to this post going up) to an acquaintance whose husband dropped dead suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of a bridge game at 75 around Labor Day (he was fit and alert, but did have a heart episode years earlier.) We had shared in the past about our elderly moms and their institutional needs, and after DH was diagnosed with his heart trouble last summer I confided to her how hard it was to adjust to a smaller life in which there is no guarantee he will wake up from his nap any given day. When I went to visiting hours – she has a strong family locally – we had a legitimate hug but my main input was let’s play bridge sometime soon. I followed up recently and she replied, after Txgiving would be good.

    “I’ll give you a call after Thanksgiving to see what you would like to do. I am glad to see that you are keeping busy for now.

    From my own experience I know that holiday gatherings can release a lot of emotions, or can lead you to shut down a bit in self defense. It is usually exhausting just to deal with other people at this point, especially when you find that you are expected to console them when you just want to weep or scream yourself.”

    Hope this helps.

    I am not harsh with sufferers from grief or victims of actual tragedy, just a bit matter of fact for some tastes. But “sh-t happens” stuff, and divorce and layoffs fall into that category, even if non routine or unexpected, grants one some healing time, but not a license to live out the rest of one’s life in a fashion limited by blaming the event rather than trying to move on successfully.

  22. I am hugely empathetic to those who have difficult pregnancies without great (but not terrible) outcomes. It is a weird thing to have a baby born (yay! new baby!) but have it be very sick. No one knows whether to congratulate you or send you a sympathy card. I know what it is like to get those terrifying 3 am calls from the hospital to come back in because things aren’t going well. And I know what it is like, despite those terrifying calls, to bring home a teeny infant who seems so fragile but grows in to a typical child. I am a member of a preemie group that provides support to new families going through the process and I think it has been helpful for many of the families to talk with those who have been through it.

    With respect to other bad things, I do my best to be empathetic but have a much easier time doing something tangible rather than providing emotional support. I will make a meal or walk your dog or babysit your kids. Having never been through many of the experiences, I worry about saying the wrong thing, so I often just say that I am very sorry for what has happened and I would like to do x or y or z to make things a little easier.

  23. Meme – do you sense a reluctance to offer and take practical advice that will allow people to take concrete steps to move on ?

  24. I agree I am more empathetic/sympathetic as I get older. However, what drives me nuts is people who are in a situation, but never get out of the pity party stage nor do they take any action to get out of the situation while they complain the whole time.

    I know we all need that time to grieve about the adversity and/or its affects. I also realize there is not a “common” measure of time that fits everyone. But at a certain point, I don’t want to be around people who are constantly negative. My example is a single mom of one of my child’s friends. The pay for her job/career choice keeps her hovering just above/below the poverty line for a family of their size. She got additional education, which boosts her up a bit, but not significantly and not compared to the debt she incurred to pay for the education. The breakeven point is after she dies. She is not willing to change jobs, but most of her conversation is around her struggle (including paying the debt for education) and what she will do when she can no longer work at this job, but has no retirement. It is hard because there are only two ways to fix this….cut expenses or raise income. As she already taps into every free or reduced option in the community, raising income is what is left. She is unwilling to do anything to affect income, including taking on a second job.

    This is in contrast to something you cannot do anything about such as the sadness of losing a parent or spouse. I don’t know that you ever get over that and I remain empathetic/sympathetic to those folks indefinitely. Y

  25. I am very much in line with the article, and very much like Meme; seeing others go through things that I have gone through, makes me less sympathetic if they whine and complain and DO NOTHING to change things for the better; if the effort/motivation is there then I have nothing but support to give. If I have to listen to another woman crying about her divorce from her cheating husband 5 years ago and still wallowing and talking about what may have gone wrong….I just can’t ! I may even have thrown a couple of one-upper’s in there too (“when my husband was cheating and left me, he drained our bank account, took our car, and left me with 2 kids, while I was still in school, working part time job, living in an apartment and so forth). Not my proudest moments, however at the time, it felt right

  26. AustinMom – why do you think she refuses to get a different or extra job? It seems like such an easy solution. From your response, I am assuming there are other or additional jobs out there. I would find it highly frustrating to listen to her complain a lot.

  27. Cat sometimes someone to do those practical things are EXACTLY what people need. What are they gonna do with flowers and cards? Making their day easier makes things easier for them. It matters.

  28. Austinmom (and Cat) – I have a friend who’s in a similar place. Her career choices led her to this life – working way too hard for too little money (think adjunct professor style life). I talked with a mutual friend who’s in the field, and my friend is really screwed. But taking a financial hit now to get into an internship or some other entry level position which could turn into a better position is out of the question. Maybe it’s fear? Not everyone can get over the fear of change aspect of life.

  29. AustinMom and Cat – maybe there is no where to leave her kids. But then again, I think Meme did it so….it can be done.

  30. I’ve always thought that being pregnant made me both much more and much less sympathetic to pregnant patients. Yeah, it’s really hard to wake up exhausted and nauseous for weeks or months on end. At the end of each of my pregnancies, I felt that all day I was just trying to put 1 foot in front of the other. On the other hand, I kept going to work, I kept taking care of my children, and I mostly kept the house running to some very low standard.

  31. Is anyone else watching:

    It’s so good!

    One of the things the show touched on was the concept of the brain’s internal model. For example, if you clap your hands you experience the sight, sound and touch as if they occurred at the same time. But, in actuality, your brain process the sight, sound and touch at different rates. Your brain takes the data feed for your eyes, ears, nerves and compiles an internal model that simulates external reality in your head. However, it’s more than just sensory inputs it’s how those inputs are processed, taking into account all your past experiences.

    Having suffered from depression, it’s almost like there’s a disruption to that internal model. The data is going in but the model being created inside your head is wrong as your internal model is far more negative than the data is indicating.

    That being the case, I have a lot more sympathy for people who make poor choices because I can imagine what it must be like for them. In many cases they are making poor choices because their internal model differs from what objective reality would indicate.

    To use Meme’s friend as an example. He worked for the same company for 30 years and as a result has his own unique experiences. When a million small decisions needed to be made, rumors began to swirl around the office, etc. all that data was processed by a brain that had functioned in the same reliable environment for decades. The model it generated wasn’t the same as ours because the new data wasn’t being compared to the the same old data in his head as in ours. His internal model of who he is, where he is, what his goals are, who and what the current threats are, is very different that ours would be in the same scenario.

  32. Louise – Most people do not want advice from acquaintances, friends or family, even if they appear to have asked for it. Face to face I always try to deflect the question once, and I am talking about everything – retirement, tax, parenting, cat care, crisis management, how to bid a bridge hand, you name it. So I never IRL (“what never, well hardly ever”) offer unsolicited advice, and then it is mostly to my unfortunate children. Even if they press and ask a narrow tax question for which I know the answer, half the time they will counter with, my brother in law says…

    When Cat asked us the other day about annuities, after a couple of exchanges it was clear that the question in need of answer is not what is the best way to structure her parents’ investments, but how can she be of help to so that the financial people don’t sell them the wrong sort of product AND her parents don’t do nothing and end up saving teabags on the side of the sink for multiple use (pick your own example – that is one of the things my mom with her “mattress” full of cash did to her dying day).

  33. I find that I have very little patience for some things – people who complain for years but never do anything about it, and then people who bring bad situations on themselves. We have a friend who is getting a divorce – the first of our closer friends to get divorced – and so far all the person who wants the divorce is doing is complaining about the spouse and also thinking that the kids (in middle school) will be totally fine, la la la, no one will be sad or mad at all and everything is great. I have very little patience for this – I don’t WANT to hear bad things about your spouse, because I like the spouse too! and the financial magical thinking won’t work! – and DH hates to hear the stuff about how the kids were fine because his parents went through the divorce when he was that age. Rrgh.

    I do try to be empathetic when a person suffers a loss. My #1 thing is to send a gift and then I try to talk to the person and let them steer the conversation how they want – so if they want to be sad I will make commiserating noises and if they want to talk about shoes instead, I am THERE.

  34. Cat and Rhode – There are definitely many second jobs out there for her. She should be able to fairly easilty pick up another 4-16 hours a week, if she is willing to work that many hours on top of the regular 40. She feels that her current job/career is a good fit, which it appears to be, though very low paying. I don’t know why she doesn’t consider related areas, though they require a certificate here. However, that certificate would have been way less costly than the online program she chose. Some of the skills she learned in her online program could also result in part-time work that would be more lucrative that just a second job doing what she does, but she has no interest. So, bottomline, yes, it’s hard to listen to the same complaints.

  35. As for my situation, I went back to school because I saw that my husband’s deteriorating mental state was likely to lead to a hiatus in his earnings, got a practical degree and went to full time+ work when my children ranged from 9 to 17. The divorce was two years later. I did have to leave my children on their own a lot, and while I was in grad school they were on the young side as I left for night school and their dad was unreliable about getting home from work (the eldest was not a caregiver), but it was within community standards of that era.

    My experience based advice to women on their own is always discounted. It is not relevant because I was too smart, or too willing to leave my kids to fend for themselves, or too quick to pursue work that is not of social value.

  36. My experience based advice to women on their own is always discounted. It is not relevant because I was too smart, or too willing to leave my kids to fend for themselves, or too quick to pursue work that is not of social value.

    Those women piss me off on your behalf. If blow jobs paid more than $20, I would have been out selling ’em when I was younger if I’d had kids to support and no other current marketable skills.

  37. Rhett –

    That is very interesting. Brandon Marshall was talking on Inside the NFL about how he had to go to McLean Hospital for three months to learn how he was processing stuff incorrectly and to adjust his perceptions to stop seeing normal stuff as attacks worthy of a full on anger/fight response. He is still a bit of a head case – beautiful/talented but unpredictable – but he seems to have stopped getting into violent situations. It is a bit like what my son had to do on his own at a much less spectacular level.

  38. “and end up saving teabags on the side of the sink for multiple use”

    Hey, I do that! That’s actually what you do if you’re a tea ponce. (Of course, I’m sure my tea is more expensive, too).

    “It is not relevant because I was too smart, or too willing to leave my kids to fend for themselves, or too quick to pursue work that is not of social value.”

    Yeah, I’m with Rocky. This is where Dr. Phil was so helpful in making me realize that I wasn’t “stuck” with no alternatives — it was just that sometimes the alternatives available to me came with tradeoffs that I wasn’t willing to make. Helped with turning whining into problem-solving.

  39. lfb – what is a “tea ponce” is the second word autocorrected from something else. I did ask the google and came up blank.

  40. On topic, perhaps the real question is how long do you give someone sympathy before snapping over (at least internally) to get-over-it-already mode. The difference between sympathy over the loss of a pet yesterday, and sympathy over the loss of a pet ten years ago, is our perception of what period of time is appropriate to have that loss be so prominent in your thoughts.

    I think it can arise with one’s own children, too — the child who never asks to stay home sick is going to get offers of honey tea and sympathy the one time s/he wakes up complaining of achiness and fatigue, while the child who routinely begs to stay home based on “my head hurts” or “my stomach hurts” and then has all kinds of energy that evening is going to get nothing but skepticism and a reminder that few people truly relish getting up early and heading off to work or school. And you can be sympathetic with a kid who has all the homework and extracurricular obligations hitting at once, but at some point you’ll need to tell the kid to cancel the pity party and resign himself/herself to not having the usual leisure time until all the obligations are taken care of.

  41. Hah — it’s British slang; the current meaning that I inferred from DH and Top Gear is someone who is far too precious about arcana that no one else cares about. The usage I have most frequently heard is “wine ponce” (you know the guy).

  42. oh, ponce – old British non pc derogatory epithet. Never heard it used in that fashion – I guess I am not au courant. I use loose tea, in a strainer cup if I don’t make a pot. The tea bags my mom saved were Swee touch nee – not exactly high end.

  43. Today’s discussion illustrates how lazy and unwilling to work I am compared to Mémé and RMS. It also made me realize that some of my political conservatism is that I assume my natural laziness applies to other people as well. If I wound up with young children to support solo, I would immediately consult the ACA subsidy tables, utility subsidy tables, tax tables and any other appropriate information to determine the optimal amount to earn in order to get by without having to work (which includes travel and inflexible work schedules of the type Mémé endured) too hard.

    I know many women, including college age women, who have no realistic plans to support themselves long-term. Somehow, I want my children to think about their future selves, including spouse and career choices, with the assumption that they (and their spouses, if any) are responsible for their future financial stability.

  44. which includes travel and inflexible work schedules of the type Mémé endure

    I got the impression she rather enjoyed it.

  45. And really, since the post is about tea-and-sympathy the tea discussion (ok, monologue) is practically on topic!

  46. WCE, I know a lot of women in that category too.

    My non-sympathetic thought process runs: “so let me get this straight – you quit college a semester short of graduating with a degree that no longer interests you, worked some temp jobs, married, had three or four kids, stayed home for 10 years, and just took out $20k in debt to train as a massage therapist/yoga teacher/start your MLM business, and then you cheated on your husband? Did you have any plan to provide half the support for several children when he left?”

    But I’m not saying it out loud, so that counts for something, right?

  47. Sky,

    I know one who got a house that was months from being paid for in the divorce settlement, sold it and has been living off the proceeds while going from one harebrained scheme to the next.

  48. @HM: the trick I learned in Germany is you use more tea but brew for a shorter time — so the first steep is more like 45 seconds, but then you can use it multiple times, with a longer steep for the later pots. I tend to brew mine at least 3-4 times. Also, the first steep takes the caffeine out of it, so this works if you like a pot of leaded in the morning and a pot or two of unleaded in the afternoon.

    I think there is a very formal Chinese tea tasting ceremony that involves brewing the same tea something like 30 times, with increasing steeping times and water temperatures, and paying attention to the different flavors that come out. I would love to do that. OTOH, I am not a fan of the Pu-erh teas that I think they tend to do that with.

  49. They are kind of earthy. I used not to care for them because of that but I like them just fine now.

  50. Sky – is she on the hook for child support ? She only recently started a low income generating activity.

  51. Like Sky’s friend, I did finish several degrees with no economic value, had the five kids, stayed home for 15 years, but boring old me decided to borrow 10K to become a CPA since I was being prudent in case I had to shoulder the financial burden. To paraphrase Rhett, the measure of a woman is how well she provides for her family. That might be dollars and cents as well as meals and laundry. I know WCE was being tongue in cheek, but I needed a job that included health insurance (pre ACA, of course) and covered my rent and utilities with something left over, since there was a five year waiting list for 3 bedroom apartments in the projects.

  52. In my family this story is told over and over to make the point about being self-sufficient.

    My grandfather fought in WW1. Many of his peers in his hometown were married with young children. Unfortunately, many of them did not return home alive. My grandfather saw many of these widow’s left in poverty with minimal skills trying to raise the children and/or marrying the first man who asked regardless of his character to get/stay out of poverty. He married my grandmother, who had to leave school at the 8th grade to work so her brother could go to high school. Money was tight because my grandmother was a mail-order bride for a man unknown to the family. When he began to beat her just after the second child was born, she left him, took the children and did whatever work it took to support them. These grandparents made sure thier children (3 girls and 1 boy) went to college and studied something that would allow them to support themselves. Neither of them wanted their children to be in those positions that they saw or experienced.

    These grandparent’s legacy was not to their children, but to their grandchildren by funding college or technical school, with the same stipulation that it be something one could support themselves with.

  53. Meme, if these two friends had borrowed to become CPAs as their marriages went south, I would have cheered :). That is rational.

    What I didn’t understand was having no plan beyond teaching yoga, which is not going to pay much, and then purposefully destroying your marriage.

  54. Our state does 50/50 custody unless there is a compelling reason not to, so you need to be able to provide a home with at least one bedroom for each gender of child (you could have a 2 br with 3 boys, but if you have a boy and girl it must be a 3 br).

  55. My current favorite tea is Tazo Wild Orange. LfB, your tea brewing designed experiment proposal sounds like a fun date night activity with your DH.

    Duration = f (age of recipient, y, z)

  56. I brew loose tea in tea balls, only ever using the leaves once. For decaf tea I use Typhoo in bags. ;) I only drink black tea at home; will occasionally get green tea when getting sushi.

  57. You all are killing me with the bj comments. Pure comedy gold.

    Puerh tea (or dirty sock water as DH used to call it before he saw the light) is perfect for dim sum. The astringent earthiness is a great palate cleanser. Ask for it as bolay or ponay. It’s way better than the bland jasmine tea the servers normally give you.

  58. And since it’s now tangent time, I wanted to respond to whoever posted The Onion article about Hillary Clinton being fun with the Watson/Bob Dylan commercial the article reminded me of. (Yes, these are the commercials I get on my Facebook feed)

  59. “We talked about how men always try to fix things – that’s me. You vent and I try to fix. ”

    Do you also never ask your DH if something makes you look fat?

  60. She even got her own stamp.

    But honestly, if you get a stamp can’t they use an image from when you were in your prime?

  61. There’s a very interesting podcast on Stuff You Missed in History Class about Virginia Apgar. She was amazing on many fronts!

  62. Hour,

    In 1949, Apgar became the first woman to become a full professor at CUCPS

    Exactly how incandescently brillant did you need to be to pull that off as a women in 1949? The mind boggles.

  63. “I agree I am more empathetic/sympathetic as I get older.”

    Me also. I’m a bit of the reverse of the old saw about being a Dem when young and a Republican when old; I have more/sympathy for people who are poor, especially for reasons beyond their control. And like Louise, I’m also much more aware of how luck has been a large factor in me being in my current circumstances.

  64. “And like Louise, I’m also much more aware of how luck has been a large factor in me being in my current circumstances.”


  65. All this talk about luck reminds me of a song I really like, though the lyrics have not always made perfect sense to me.

  66. If I wound up with young children to support solo, I would immediately consult the ACA subsidy tables, utility subsidy tables, tax tables and any other appropriate information to determine the optimal amount to earn in order to get by without having to work

    And this requires a lot of effort.

  67. My annoyance is when people complain about things that they insist they are stuck with and have no options. For example, things like having a long commute, winter weather, etc. There are always options, although as Laura said, they involve tradeoffs, but rather than admit they don’t want to make the tradeoffs, they just complain.

  68. Sky — Did your friends perhaps think that their exes would continue to pay all the child support, since the husbands were paying all of the child support during the marriage? Did they perhaps think that they would get alimony from their exes? Or were they just not thinking at all?

    I’m becoming sympathetic toward others to the point of being a huge softie in my advancing years. When I was young, I would look at people who had done foolish things, and I would smugly think to myself, “well, if I were you, *I* wouldn’t have done that.” Eventually it dawned on me, however, that it’s entirely different to contemplate what I — with my brain, genes, hormone levels, family background, and stable upbringing (none of which were any of my doing) — would do when faced with a particular situation, vs. what a different person — with her brain, genes, hormone levels, family background, and unstable upbringing (none of which were any of her doing) would do when faced with the same situation. If I were she (rather than me), would I really have acted any differently? I forgive people, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt, way more often than I used to.

  69. For much of my younger life I was empathetic to a fault. That allowed people to manipulate me. So I’ve acquired a little more detachment, as someone described above – trying to be empathetic but not internalizing other people’s emotions so much. I am much more sympathetic to people who are struggling financially than my husband is, but this article puts it in a different light. He made some good decisions, put in a lot of hard work, then had some good luck, and got to a position where he is comfortable. He has no patience with the filthy homes, squandering of the smallest windfall, and scams from the struggling branch of the family. He’s more than willing to help a hard worker, but has no patience with the excuses and avoidance of hard work from some of them.

  70. I feel much the way some of you do, sometimes feeling impatient with people who can’t deal with their adversity. I do try to overcome those feelings with the understanding that people have different reserves of strength to handle adversity. My own family should be a good teaching tool since we had a challenging upbringing, with varying degrees of success later in life. But I’m still sometimes too smug for my own good.

    “So I’ve acquired a little more detachment, as someone described above – trying to be empathetic but not internalizing other people’s emotions so much.”

    Compartmentalizing is a good skill to help get through many difficulties in life. But even at my age I still have to work on it, especially when dealing with the people closest to me.

    I had completely forgotten this was the anniversary of storm Sandy, probably because I was only minimally affected. Yesterday I watched part of a documentary on how the storm affected Rockaway Beach in NYC, and I saw that while many residents learned a lesson about the risks of living on a sandbar, some did not seem to internalize it. I have to say I feel minimal sympathy.

  71. On the advice piece – I was wondering how much advice (OK guidance, because it is a softer word) did Totebaggers receive from their parents ? How much do they impart to their kids ? In case of the kids is it all slowly seeping in over the years ?

  72. I try to point to the uncomfortable feeling that comes with adversity as a call to action and the growth produced after action is taken.

  73. I didn’t get much advice from my parents, but they set a very good example of modest spending + good education and career = financial security.

    I have always worked with my kids actively to impart financial, time management, people management advice. I hope that these lessons will sink in and give them a leg up in life.

  74. I didn’t have much to say on adversity because I have blessed or lucky enough not to have faced much in my life. I am quite impatient with people who don’t “get on with it” in whatever time frame my inexperienced mind thinks is correct. The same holds true for people with financial trouble that is of their own making.

    I have however been upset about something that was a big deal to me but minor in the big picture, and had family members dismiss it with a “you’re still upset about that” which drove me crazy. I am trying to get better about it myself!

    Louise, your comment made me think of a great topic to send in on parenting and children’s choices!

  75. What I’m observing right now is that our “moderation” approach to life worked pretty well in imparting similar values to our young adult kids. Or maybe they are just naturally compliant, but they are pretty sensible with money and saving. My friend who preached extreme frugality was horrified that the first thing her son did when he graduated from college and got a job was buy a giant truck with all the options, and took out a loan to do so.

    I’m struggling with trying NOT to give unsolicited advice to my 20 somethings. Another friend keeps talking about how her daughter resists her advice (the daughter is 25, married, and lives in another state), and I just shake my head. But she sees “wise advice giver” as her lifelong role as mother. I’m more of the “at this stage, unless they ask, I don’t get to tell them what to do”. But old habits die hard.

  76. Louise, I think the examples we have set for us- stable families in general, getting and keeping a job that you are capable of and caring for extended family when they need it- usually sink in. In other ways, some of us live different lives than what our parents envisioned for us. I heard about arguments between my Dad and Grandpa about taking over the family farm. My Grandpa thought my Dad should farm with him to avoid Vietnam (farmers were exempt or something) and my Dad didn’t want to be subject to his Dad’s decisions day-in-and-day-out. (My family is filled with stubborn German men.)

  77. He didn’t. A-M went to Vietnam from his Officer Candidate School class (and got paid for July because they left July 31) but N-Z went to Germany (and didn’t get paid for July because they left August 1) He was about the first class in years where virtually everyone didn’t get sent to Germany. When my Dad found out he wasn’t going to Vietnam, my parents quickly arranged to get married. My Dad did not want to risk leaving a child behind so they had waited and planned to marry if he came back from Vietnam. My grandmother’s fiancé had been killed during WW II in a similar situation.

    Louise’s comment also made me think about in-law relationships, because while my Dad’s brother (hereafter, Uncle) was in Vietnam, his wife (hereafter, Aunt) stayed with my grandparents. My aunt had a baby and her parents had a baby within a year of each other (much younger brother), and their different parenting/living styles were causing stress. My aunt and the baby moved in with my grandparents for the duration of uncle’s deployment, because it was easier for my grandparents to treat her as an adult and a mother, I think. (My grandparents and my aunt’s parents lived within a few minutes of each other and my Aunt and Uncle had ridden the same school bus.)

  78. “(My grandparents and my aunt’s parents lived within a few minutes of each other and my Aunt and Uncle had ridden the same school bus.)”

    Same here, for an uncle and aunt. They were in several elementary school classes together.

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