I complain a lot. I complain about everyday annoyances (money issues, my faulty car, my exhausting schedule), big-picture fears (struggles with my fledgling writing career, concern that I don’t have a 401K) and irrational thoughts (terrorism—can it get me? Cancer. Eternity).
Complaining is my temporary Band-Aid to patch up bigger worries and anxieties and I use it all the time, often resulting in existential crises that end with me complaining about my complaining.
I think the root of my issue is, well, me. I have an overly sensitive personality. Couple that with an insanely vivid and macabre imagination and I’m just a few steps away from completely freaking out. My husband, Mark, calls my complaints my “life tantrums,” which is a frighteningly accurate term. I’ve always been drawn to tragic heroes like Satan from Paradise Lost, Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.
Their futile fights with fate resonate with me. When life deals me any type of difficulty, I verbally wrestle and rail against it, following the doomed footsteps of Milton’s Satan when he resolves to never “submit or yield.” While this may sound cool, it isn’t at all. In fact, it’s rather pathetic, especially when it’s me pitted against a made-up disease or banal practicality like our Internet bill.
Plus, people don’t like people who always complain. I have a great circle of understanding friends but, as I searched “Complaining” on Pinterest, I was digitally chastised. I mean, look at these!
So I decided to secretly give up complaining—all complaining—for a day. A day might not seem long to you but for me, an inveterate whiner who wakes up cursing the sun, it sounded like a mini eternity.
I carefully selected the day for its complaint-inducing qualities. Since I was off, Mark wanted me to carpool from Orange County to Malibu, where he had a work meeting. Let me tell you—traffic from the OC through the ’Bu is a beast, a gridlocked, car-choked beast. I firmly believe it is strategically designed to turn loved ones against each other. If there ever was a complaining test, this was it.
The night before I complained nonstop, the way a kid gorges on Gummi bears and licorice before getting braces.
It won’t be too bad, I told myself. In fact, it will probably be easy. It isn’t a big deal.
I was so very wrong.
Since his meeting was at an insanely early hour, Mark woke me up well before normal people time. And it began. The day of silent, tongue-biting torture. I immediately, as per my usual, wanted to complain about how tired I was. Instead, I swallowed my emotional agony and got up. Unknown to me, that was the easiest part of the day. Oh, unaware morning Autumn! If only you had treasured that moment! Little did you know how everything would conspire against you!
I don’t know if you are familiar with Malibu, but that place is basically Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s exceptionally beautiful which lulls you into a false sense of security. Craggy hills dotted with browning grass and palm trees give way to the Pacific coastline. The narrow road running through Malibu is lined with charming little restaurants, beach bungalows, and open-air shops, all just yards from the ocean.
But while it is beautiful to see, it is tremendously difficult to navigate, with the cars bottling up time and time again. Once we fought our way through the Malibu traffic, we searched for parking, which was nonexistent. When we did find a spot, it was at the bottom of a twisting knoll.
I was not expecting an uphill trek.
So, of course, I was wearing boots with five inch heels. This particular footwear made the climb both precarious and painful. Each unstable step ground new blisters into my feet. However, I was silent even though I wanted to beg Mark to either carry me or leave me to die by the side of the road so my body could remain as cautionary tale to all other heel lovers.
I’m not sure why, but the rest of the day continued with similar hiccups and inconveniences, like an additional two-hour delay on the drive home and a fast-food restaurant parking lot so packed with cars that we were boxed in and unable to leave.
Nothing truly horrific happened (and thank God for that) but it was annoyance after annoyance, each one building onto the next in an unrelenting, unstoppable sequence. I’m now convinced that once you attempt to do something good, providence goes, “Oh, she’s trying to change for the better—this will be fun!” and then is like, WHEN YOU GO TO THE STORE TONIGHT, YOUR FAVORITE WINE WILL BE DISCONTINUED (which actually did happen that day).
I wish I could say that staying calm and peaceful helped but it actually made things more stressful. I couldn’t vocalize my stress and even commiserate with Mark. Keeping things in felt awful.
Additionally, my friend Heidi texted me this gem:
Typically, I would reply, “Omg, that’s terrible! I hate it when that happens to me!” accompanied by an assortment of angry emojis. But I couldn’t. At the same time, I wasn’t about to just tell her to “be positive.” So I tried to find some middle ground by agreeing that it was unpleasant and adding a question mark to “maybe you’ll have a good time.” After all, complaining is a vital part of social bonding. It’s a comforting exchange of frustrating experiences.
However, I did manage to stay complaint free—except for when I was texting my friend Michelle. Caught up in the moment, I slipped up and accidentally sent a bitmoji that was definitely very whiny (I’m proud to state that I didn’t actually text any complaining words. I just stated I accidentally double-booked my weekend, which was a fact, not a complaint). See below:
In my plan for the day, I hadn’t considered modern communication and the ways I complain via text without saying a word. Funnily enough, she responded in the best way possible and made me feel better immediately. But in order to atone for my bitmoji complaining, I was ridiculously enthusiastic with all my other texting for that day, adding smileys and exclamation points to everything. By bedtime, I was exhausted.
So, how do I feel about my experiment? Well, I assumed life sans complaining would be radically different—more peaceful, happier. To be honest, it kind of sucked.
I didn’t emerge reborn or renewed, as I thought I might. Instead, it made me face myself and realize how much I do complain and how easily I get overwhelmed. I was left with the hard truth that I should complain less. Not necessarily because it makes me feel better, but because it makes me a better person.
Once I wasn’t obsessed with how I felt about everything, I concentrated on others and how life was impacting them (though I still vouch for sympathy complaining. If a friend is venting about something, I think it’s just fine to join them).
Will I go back to the way I was before? Hopefully not entirely. I want to complain less and focus on others more. Besides that, I want to concentrate on what I do have. Gratefulness is the best antidote for dissatisfaction.
When I was simply not complaining, it was hard because I was only focusing on what not to say. But when I think about what I am thankful for, it doesn’t just leave me depleted and bottled up (like the way I felt after holding in all my unhappiness). Instead, it fills me up in the best way possible. So, to end this, I would like to list the things I am thankful for.