Ask Athena: Don’t Speak

Silence is a virtue, and also a coping skill. 

Pizza Grief

Dear Athena,

My wife – who is already a neatnik –is now in sanitation overdrive in our apartment. There’s a whole rigmarole I have to do before stepping over the threshold from outside, and all food/supplies must wait to be disinfected according to her three-step process, no exceptions. This means we can’t get takeout, which means NO PIZZA!!!! Can’t order it or she’ll freak out that she’s been exposed to the coronavirus and literally not shut up about it for two full weeks (until she’s passed the incubation period). I can’t sneak it, we’re quarantined together! Is there an angle here I’m missing? What’s a guy gotta do to get some pizza during this pandemic?! PS Please don’t say DiGiorno’s.   —  Donatello

Dear Donatello,

Between you and me, your wife’s actions are excessive.  Anthony Fauci, our nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, says that wiping down groceries is unnecessary. He did not say to avoid take out, but of all menu items, I think pizza would be extremely hard to contaminate (if you had doubts, you could pop it into a hot oven for a few minutes to kill any possible live virus).

That information, however, does not address your spouse’s true anxiety. These are days of unprecedented scariness. In all truth, Fauci is talking about odds. It very unlikely that groceries or takeout could convey the virus. But science can’t discount the possibility altogether. This is a new pathogen, experts are still figuring out how it infects and affects us. I’m all for giving extra respect to emotional concerns in these trying days.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but pizza is not an essential for survival. The love of your life is. Keep her close. Do your best to make her feel safe. Don’t make her feel bad about denying you pizza. This lockdown is a phase of our lives, it’ll pass. And when it does, that first slice will be heaven! Meanwhile, instead of focusing on missing out, try leaning into the stay-at-home experience…

You want pizza? Get some yeast and flour, some canned tomatoes, cheese, whatever toppings you like (that come in sealed containers, of course). Light some candles, hit the music. Before you know it, you two could be kneading dough like the pottery wheel scene in Ghost!  Who knows? You may start a new date night tradition.

Voices Carry

I was in a ZOOM call with some friends – well, I thought they were friends. But at the end of the call when we were all disconnecting, they thought I’d dropped off but I hadn’t yet. I was still on the line to hear them refer to me as a “downer,” and laugh about how I “once again” made the whole conversation about me. I listened in for a few more minutes of disparaging talk until the call ended. I’m devastated. I want to confront them but also I want to pretend like nothing happened and just seethe inside like I usually do. What should I do? Avoiding them is not an option, we are firmly in each other’s social circles.  — Persona Non Grata

Dear Persona,

Chin up, you’ve been given a gift!  It may be hard to see because you are angry and hurt, but you have been handed a golden opportunity to become a better friend and, dare I suggest, a more interesting person in the long run. Hear me out.

There’s a reason your friends are talking behind your back. You might write them off as catty bitches, and you may be right. But it’s also possible you could have personality quirks you’re not aware of. Maybe they’ve tried to address them and you’ve missed the hints? Put off your seething for now, and instead do a little detective work.

Your friends feel you monopolize the conversation – do you? Next time you ZOOM together, make a conscious effort to listen. Take an interest in how they’re doing. Ask follow-up questions. Do your best to just receive and process information that has nothing to do with you. Marinate in who your friends are as individuals, try to see them from new angles if you can.

Whenever you’re tempted to editorialize, every time you think of something personal to share – don’t. Jot it down on a note pad instead. At the end of the call, take a hard look at everything you would’ve said. How much is negative or self-serving or stuck in the past?

Continue this strategy over your next three ZOOM calls. Yes it will feel artificial but over time you will see patterns emerge. If you really are a Debbie Downer, here’s your chance to own it and learn more effective communication skills.

Speaking of communication, here’s another tack you might try: open your mouth. Ask your besties if you’ve been a bummer lately. If they deny it, tell them you may have overheard something on a previous call, see what they say. Ideally, you’ll be able to talk it out, maybe have a laugh. If you’re sincere about personal growth and being a good friend, this ZOOM snafu could be a real turning point for your relationship.

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