Who Suffered Most?

Admit it — you love this game.

Comments: 163

  1. Just another form of what my daughter laughingly calls my three miles to school through the snow uphill both ways lecture series. Now with her own child, she admitted she did it herself just the other day. Every generation has their own mantra of "you don't know lucky you have it, back in the day..............................
    As to myself, on the other side of 60, it is all too common when meeting members of my age group that the first topic of conversation is the state of one's personal health.

  2. Unfortunately, yes, to the last point.

  3. That's nothing. I had to walk four miles in the snow, uphill both ways, AND cross the construction site for the Long Island Expressway. And let me tell you, in the 50s, living in the woods in Queens, we had to steal coal from the railway tracks to heat the classroom. We didn't even get cell phones until the 1990s.

    Midwesterners should count their blessings and be grateful they didn't grow up like we did.

  4. Hi, Tom, at first I thought we must be related. Then I realized that I was wrong; for my parents, it was five miles each way. So--no cousins after all.

    Sorry about that!

  5. What an entertaining article! Thanks for the laughs . . .

  6. So, your back is hurting. I had a motorcycle wreck at age 19 and broke my back. So now, I'm 52, I have a job that whispers,meh, and I still have a sore back. Whudderya wining about?

  7. Oh, this made my day! Thanks.

  8. You really hit the ball out of the park about human nature with this column, Joyce. I'd suggest you take the stairs to avoid being held hostage in your building's elevator but walking up and down twelve flights to avoid your neighbors' yammering, might blow out your knees. Of course, whenever anyone you know complains about their aching back, you could then one up them and kvetch about your back AND your knees.


  9. I do not understand how one could not at least expresses a brief few words of sympathy to a neighbor in this situation. The author seems it was appropriate to ignore the woman, because, she is a New Yorker! Hopefully she does not speak for all of the city.

  10. "The author seems it was appropriate to ignore the woman, because, she is a New Yorker!"

    You think New Yorkers are bad, you should see the people around here...

  11. at this moment (3 am edt) there are no comments here.

    one of the rare situations when there should NEVER by any comments.

    the story speaks for itself, no amplification like 'this is all nothing compared to my 2011 surgery' I tempted to put right here is needed.

  12. Then why did you comment?!

  13. good question

  14. It was great fun reading your column today :-D

  15. Absolutely great.
    There are so many who live as if there will be a prize given to the one who is acknowledged to have suffered the most.
    I can only speculate that this got it's start with busy parents who only gave their children full attention when something went really wrong.

  16. Well, with back pain you can use a soft cushion and get some relief. You should have MY problem! It is much worse as I have to drive a stick shift and my left knee was badly hurt when....

    Believe me, this game is played EVERYWHERE! :-)

  17. Joyce, you are on a roll. This is is hilarious.

  18. She IS on a roll. Each piece is funnier than the last. Honestly, I start to giggle whenever she refers to growing up in Fleischmanns since I've actually been there and think that surviving her childhood must have meant developing a great sense of humor. Ms. Wadler, despite your pain, you are managing to entertain a whole lot of people.

  19. I think my Grandmother would have been right at home in Fleischmanns. The concept of tact was unknown to her.

  20. If you think that's bad, let me tell you about my Uncle Herman who just last week was getting his prostate checked and was diagnosed with . . .

  21. You think this article was good? That's nothing. Let me tell you about a story I once wrote in a newspaper...

  22. you made my day. Thanks. But let me tell you. I blew out my shoulder playing hockey last year and I still have trouble lifting anything, even though my surgery was last summer. And speaking of surgery, I've had five of them, each worse than the last...... ;)

  23. It's really very liberating to one day refuse to join in the competition. Understand that if you do make that life-altering choice, however, a certain (large) percentage of other people will suddenly find you very boring and may even conclude that you don't play nice.

  24. You New York Times columnists think YOU'VE got problems...?

  25. You think it's bad that you had to stay up all night to meet your deadline in writing this article? I lost sleep for a whole week writing an essay on Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit!

  26. This was a good article until the line about A.L.S. Cruel, not funny.

  27. Typo in para beginning "These times...." second line should begin if not in....

  28. I actually kind of like it. Something worse happened to someone else and they survived. It's encouraging. In the moment you forget that these kinds of things also happen to other people.

  29. Each person's pain is what we should care about; to ignore or dismiss their situation by interjecting our own or another's experience can be hurtful, as though there is no room in our own heart to make an effort to LISTEN. Having someone respond by talking about herself can be like having a door being
    shut in your face.

  30. Another winner from you, Joyce! As I drink my morning coffee, there you are with a reason to prolong that special moment. Kudos! I cannot top you today.

    As I love to answer when people ask how I am, "I could complain, but who would listen?" No, really, I'm fine.

  31. Coffee? Mine was orange juice. I laughed so hard I snorted some out of my nose. Do you know how much orange juice stings when you get some in your nose? Well, let me tell you...


  32. Try the carrot peeler, PacNWMom.

  33. I will not engage in this type of exchange. I find it extremely distasteful and boring..

    On my mother's death, many years ago, we sat shiva for the traditional period of time. Throughout this mourning period, relatives and friends came to our house and, to my disbelief, held long conversations about their health issues.

    I've never recovered from the absurdity of sitting shiva while kvetching about being alive.

  34. You just did.

  35. Rose, I know you didn't intend it, but your story is also a form of one-upsmanship: :That's nothing. My relatives & friends are more ill-behaved than yours..."

  36. Alex,

    You may interpret my relating my reasons for abstaining from this type of conversation however you wish. But my tale is intended as an explanation for why I find this type of conversation particularly distasteful.

    I simply wished to share my experience, it was not in any way meant to suggest that my experience is anything "more" than your experience or any other person's experience in any way, shape, or form.


  37. That was great. Thanks.

  38. Actually if someone is really sad or in dire straits, you should simply shut up and let them get it out. (I know 'shut up' is a concept alien to New Yorkers, but you could look it up in the dictionary.) Any other response, and especially playing what Scott Adams' Dilbert calls 'Topper', is effectively trivializing and minimizing the other person's very real suffering. Ask them if they want help or advice, and if they say yes, offer real advice, not snide quips designed to make you look faux-clever.

    Understand: I'm *not* taking off on Ms Wadler. I recognize her column as well-written humour. But when disaster overtakes someone other than the one in the mirror, that you can play 'mine is bigger than yours' with plasma TVs but not with grief, and that there is a special place in hell reserved for Job's comforters. (And doubly hot for the ones who say 'oh, it's only a dog (cat, other species)'.)

  39. I was recently pointed to "How Not to Say the Wrong Thing" in the LA Times - in serious situations, the concept of Comfort In - Dump Out is applied in a ring configuration. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-the...

    This also reminds me of a great exchange in the movie Zombieland: Are you one of those guys who has to constantly 'one-up' everyone else? I knew a guy once who was a lot worse at that than me!

  40. That ring is absolutely brilliant. Thanks for the posting and link.

  41. I agree. I am going to keep that article close as a reminder - I am sure I have committed faux pas, but nevr intentionally. It seems like common sense, but we all get caught up in our own dramas and forget we are not the center of the universe. Perhaps a touch of forgiveness is needed for all of us.

  42. This is why the rest of the country thinks New Yorkers are a bit too full of themselves. THEY ARE. A whole island of people who don't understand the concept of silent empathy. This column is sort of a joke, except that the author isn't kidding and it's not funny.

  43. Just NYorkers do this??? I'm originally from GA and you ain't heard nothing until you hear 3 aunts get together and describe their pregnancies.

  44. My sister-in-law in suburban Chicago is the best topper I know.

  45. This is Mrs. Castro, and you may quote me:

    "Aww. I'm sorry. How can I help you?"

  46. Picked up a rug in the street and got back pain? That's nothing. This morning I picked up my electric toothbrush and in the space under the charger were ANTS! Thousands of tiny ants in a huge orgy pile! It too k me at least ten minutes to eradicate them all and I had to keep groaning in horror and loathing the whole time.

  47. My husband had that once in his electric toothbrush! What do the ants find to attract them in there?
    Anyway, that's nothing. I had ants farming aphids all over my blackeyed pea plants; had to go out there and scrape them off every day.

  48. My favourite duo vis-a-vis this article were the 2 sadomasochistic guys on Saturday Night Live.

    One would say something like: "Did you ever try placing your tongue in a vice (vice) and tightening it till you bled?"

    And the other would one-up him by saying something even more ludicrous like "I remember the time I placed my head under a NYC Bus....."

    Next to Gilda Radner's Rosanna Rosanadana skit, that those 2 "dynamic dodos" were my favourite!

  49. I used to bend over laughing at this skit. Being reminded of it now, makes me chuckle to myself.

  50. My husband and I know loads of people over 55 who got new jobs.

  51. Hell, you think those guys had problems? I had all of the problems they had, but, on top of that, I was from over in Dewsbury and I didn't own a single bow tie.

    P.S. That reminds me of that wonderful old bit, "The first liar doesn't stand a chance."

  52. BRIILIANT!! Many thanks, many thanks.

  53. this is great, though I'm ashamed to admit that I've relished my moments where I could win the Who Suffered Most game. Recently I had hearing problems, and it seemed I might have an acoustic neuroma, a benign mass that nevertheless can cause complete deafness and facial paralysis. Thank God, this proved untrue. But for a few days there I lay in wait for someone to lay on me one of their White People Problems -- "My son didn't get into his first choice of middle school" so I could be all, "Really? Wow, that's too bad. Did I tell you I have a brain tumor?"

  54. Ms. Wadler, did we grow up in the same family?

  55. Love this article! This was so common in my family that I didn't realize it was inappropriate until I was an adult and someone had to inform me that I shouldn't try to out-tragedy someone in the middle of devastation. Holding back is actually difficult. It's such a natural response for me that NOT doing feels abnormal. I'd like to say, however, that the urge to share comes from commiseration, from wanting the sufferer to feel that things really could be worse, and have been worse for the person standing right next to you. Those of us who do this are tactless, but we mean well. Seriously.

  56. How about a moratorium on "my horrible experience birthing my son/daughter," which is always told to first-time pregnant women?

  57. Yes. For the love of God, PLEASE.

  58. A childhood friend of mine refers to comparative health statistics among old friends as "The Organ Recital."

  59. Funny to hear good old Fleischmanns NY mentioned. That explains a lot. People walk from Todd's Ford dealership to the village end, then return. Back and forth on a Saturday night. And they would all certainly play the game of who has it worse. You would not dare ask anyone how they were, even if simply to be polite. You would be told of every ache and pain imaginable, or the untimely death of a pet, or a complaint that they had to travel to Margretaville to get groceries.

    Joyce, you were well trained in Fleischmanns.

  60. 15 minutes is not long enough for death of a pet. 20 minutes at least. Has your pet ever died? Well, let me tell you, when my pet died....

  61. Whose tsouris now?

  62. This reminds me of the scene in In Search of Lost Time when the Duchess of Guermantes is too busy getting ready to go out to listen to Swan, who is telling her that he is dying. As usual, Proust had us all at "hello."

  63. Yeah....I have back pain. And I don't even own "a tiny sports car with a balky stick shift." And, even if I did, I can't work a stick!

  64. I appreciate your pain, but, years ago, while canoeing on the Xingu River with my trusty guide, Sanchez, the temperature rose to 50 C. The muddy water was so thick it was almost like glue, and we came to a standstill in mid-river.

    So we were stuck there in the middle of the Xingu, easy prey for the wildlife of the region. Sanchez fell victim to the heat and was incapable of helping me free our loaded canoe from the mud.

    I took matters into my own hands and Sanchez and I walked to shore (it was quite a religious experience) and trekked 6 miles to the nearest village.

    There, surprisingly enough, the natives had ample supplies of both duct tape and WD 40. They apparently used duct tape as building material (don’t we all), but their supply of WD 40 had something to do with a shortage of K-Y Jelly in the region. Neither Sanchez nor I spoke the language and I had difficulty communicating with the natives using sign language, so I never did discover what that was all about

    We traded our supply of the red, white, and blue sashes we carried with us and the Swiss Army knives I purchased on e-Bay for a goodly amount of duct tape and WD 40. We hiked back to our dugout, used the tape to repair the damage, sprayed the WD 40 over the outside surface of our craft, and cut our way through the muddy water. Five days later we came to a village where we pulled our canoe, rented a Hum-V, and returned to civilization.

    So you see, the combination of duct tape and WD-40 actually saved my life.

  65. All you and Sanchez had to do was wait for the M5

  66. You've topped the Joseph Conrad! Oy vey!

  67. Frizbane,
    You for sure Suffered Most. I never had a bad experience on the Xingu River. Although there was this one time, when I was 22, almost drowned in Lake George because this idiot boyfriend insisted on crossing the lake though there were white-caps.
    Oh, hell, I know when I am beat: You suffered most.
    - Joyce

  68. "...like Fluffy's my morning had no plus side." As a good New Yorker with little empathy for others and expecting even less for yourself from them, what would be the plus side for you of any New York day? As a good New Yorker, you, too, like Fluffy and so many others, can walk through your day feeling sick and ready for anihillation by the vet, with tears shed for you not making any difference to you or anyone else.

  69. The Oppression Olympics!

    The best (worst) is when it happens for broader social issues. You're complaining about women in the workforce? My ancestors were slaves!

  70. My ancestors were women AND slaves!

  71. I've often wondered how the competitors themselves found any solace.

    Every once in a while I make the mistake of sharing a concern with my mother, who is 90 and lives in Brooklyn. It is rare for her to respond with any words to acknowledge having heard what I said or that show any kind of commiseration. Rather -- this is how I've been describing her response -- she free associates and "shares" something with me. I caller her on this, once, and she had no idea what I was talking about.

    It's gotten worse with age -- both her and mine. She shows less concern and I become more sensitive. I try to find the humor in this.

    Speaking of humor -- I have a friend who is the exact opposite! I was telling her not that long ago about some minor inconveniences. Each detail was met with a gasp or a sigh or a tsk. There she was audibly acknowledging what I was saying and I criticized her for overreacting.

    Go on -- top that.

  72. This article made me laugh out loud. Thanks! And, yes, the Monty Python bit linked twice is equally hilarious.

  73. I was displaced by Sandy (and actually still displaced). I don't have it half as bad as some others. However, there's this friend who lost electricity for a week from Sandy (still had hot water and a working stove, but no lights or heat). It was the end of the world, a trial worse than death, etc etc etc. She's still traumatized by the horrible experience, which is fine, but when she starts in about it with me I want to give her a steaming-hot cup of shut the hell up.

  74. I heard a Sandy story about upper-east siders complaining about downtowners eating at their local restaurants: the locals couldn't even get reservations! Life is so hard....

  75. This is an example of bad listening. When you hear a tale of woe and misery, comparing their experience to your own is not helpful. In fact, it takes away the focus on the narrator and puts it on the "listener". The person who needed the empathy and sympathy ends up instead being the provider.

    Good listening is leaving yourself out of their story and allowing them to tell pretty much the way they want to.

  76. Never ever ever respond to someone else's pain or suffering with a story about your own. Never try to minimize their hurt. Listen, acknowledge, say you are sorry, and shut up--even if you have indeed been through something worse. This piece, by the way, is hilarious!

  77. My heart goes out to that woman.
    And "Fluffy" is a derogatory term for that living being who brought joy into someone's life.

  78. My first and most beloved cat's name was Fluffy (ok, so I was 8 when I named her...)

  79. Naw. Fluffy is a term of endearment. My wife calls me Fluffy every day, and I call her that back. Sometimes Fluffy Toes, from the hilarious MAD TV sketch. We regularly called our cat Fluffy, even though she was a short-haired brown tabby and her name was Kyla. She took it in stride.

  80. You think YOUR son wastes time? MY son sent me this article!

  81. That's nothing. My son called me long distance and read the whole article to me over the phone.

  82. I never win at the game even when I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I thought...and yes, it was incredibly stupid and shallow of me, but that's me....finally I can win...I HAVE CANCER...but nope. When I was telling a friend about my diagnosis, she shared with me that a neighbor had a recurrence of her cancer and it was terminal. I am happy to say, that cured me of the competition once and for all. But I still laugh every time I think about it.

  83. This made my morning -- thank you!

  84. Oh Please! In the midst of breast cancer, I whined to a friend about the latest indignity the medical establishment had thrown at me. She countered that she had been grocery shopping and had to carry all those heavy bags from the car to her kitchen. OY! The pain!

  85. Good article! I can always use a refresher on the difference between sympathy and empathy.

  86. Here's one. My 90 year old father-in-law, through a light fog of dementia just a week ago, told a story parallel to that of the woman visiting the hospital. Many years ago at a friend's funeral he was asked by another friend of the deceased (the deceased's paramour, it turned out) to take her arm and escort her to the casket to view the remains. He did so. Upon seeing the corpse close up, she collapsed with a heart attack and died on the spot, held up at least briefly by wife's dad. In context of this article, who suffered most? The widow who witnessed this, or the lady on the floor?

  87. Tim,

    This is one for the Suffered Most Scholars. Luckily for you, I consider myself to be one. So -- though I am missing a piece of key information -- whether or not the widow was aware her husband had a girlfriend -- I would say that the widow suffered more for a number of reasons:

    1) The widow was alive and was thus in a state to continue to suffer and the suffering of the lady on the floor was over.

    2) If the widow was unaware that her husband had a girlfriend, she never had the chance to scream at either him or the girlfriend because they were both dead, which would certainly have increased her aggravation.

    3) If the widow did know that her husband had a girlfriend but was outraged by the girlfriend showing up at the funeral, she still suffered more because, again, her husband was dead so she could not have the satisfaction of screaming at him. True, she could complain to her friends, but I don't think it would have been as fulfilling.

    In short, Tim, the finding of the court: The Widow Suffered Most. Now could somebody please get her a chair and a glass of water?

    -- Joyce

  88. this article brightened my day. But I won't tell you about it.

  89. Six words (or six and a half): "I'm sorry that happened to you." It usually shuts them up long enough to change the subject.

    If you are feeling especially peevish, look deep into the kvetcher's eyes and say, slowly and in a deep voice, "Life is suffering."

    I live in a world of one-upsmanship. Don't get me started.

  90. Perfection!!!

  91. Dead Pet > Romantic Disappointment

    Pets would never disappoint you.

    - Not even a crazy cat lady

  92. Oy Veh, I was outsmarted by a Republican and a smart phone in the same day. If any body has any issues with Obama we would all be suffering with Bishop Romney.

  93. I have a friend who has a hard life compared to mine. Not cancer or anything, but a struggle with finances, etc., which I hear about often.

    So on my really bad day, when I finally get all ready for my daily unwind and then find my hot tub is on the blink, I am careful not to breathe a word of it.

  94. Empathy is power. Empathy is kind. One-upmanship is crass.

  95. Several years ago, my partner had knee surgery that left him in a cast and using crutches for a while. One day, after exiting the elevator and while hobbling down the corridor towards the front lobby, we espy Mrs S. from 2-B (she's approx. 85,) shuffling along. As she passes us and without breaking stride (?) she says, "I don't know what's wrong with you, but mine was worse." We still laugh about it.

  96. I think we all know people who must one-up us about their problems. This column, though sure to offend a few readers, was hilarious. A similar type, frequently encountered, is the "I know just how you feel because" rejoinder, usually said to people who have suffered personal losses. Those of us who have been widowed know exactly what I'm talking about so I won't go into detail.

  97. Boy, am I the only one that finds this behavior unsettling? Why not just sit quietly and LISTEN rather than wrack your brain for a story to top theirs?

    It's not always about you.

  98. I used to say that to my wife. Ex-wife.

  99. hehe - no kidding - also includes comparing how bad our childhood's sucked - mine wasn't a bed of roses, however my only goal is to ensure my kid's don't suffer the bad things

  100. Hilarious!

  101. Hilarious and TOTALLY accurate! The only valid excuse for playing Competitive Trauma is when there's real potential that your trauma may help. (And then it's not a game.) For example, Riley's friend put Riley's cancer into perspective quickly and actually reframed "I have cancer" to, "Hey! I'm not dead yet!"

  102. This is not just in New York - city or state. This is everywhere two people collide.

  103. First world problems, people. First world problems.

  104. Oh Patty, everything in the NYTimes is a first world problem. No need to be snarky about it.

  105. Actually 3rd world people tend to be much more compassionate & community focused

  106. OMG! This is so awesome! You made my day!

  107. Then there's the Margaret Thatcher approach, She wouldn't have given 2 seconds.

  108. There's actually a subcategory of this: the organ recital. "Oh, my gall bladder," and the subsequent paints, followed by, "No, you don't have my kidneys," and the horror show that follows, then the attempted trump by "But my liver - have you been cursed by my liver? God forbid..."

    This scene unfolds every morning on the promenades in Florida (and elsewhere, to be fair) with the wizened wheelchair set tuning up early in the morning and pitching all day. They detail illnesses, dilemmas, close shaves, complicated surgeries, ungodly relations tending to them and suddenly walking out in disgust - all because those darn organs won't play in tune any more.

    I laughed like crazy reading this!

    Gretchen Weerheim

  109. Just like the "that's nothing - I billed 23 hours yesterday" from lawyer colleagues. Gotta love it!

  110. What's worse is that when some of us truly do experience a tragedy, no matter how grave, and could use a little sympathy - it has become accepted by many thesedays to automatically respond 'Move on'.

  111. Taking a moment to step away from the lighthearted posts: you should know that many people have absolutely no idea how to respond when someone really needs sympathy. You can view that as a character flaw, or a new social norm, or a kind of shyness or social awkwardness -- it could be any of these. I have been put in the position more than once, by confrontaional people, where anything I said and anything I did would be pointed out as wrong or inadequate. In those cases I have learned to stay quiet.

  112. I HATE it when people say "move on" or "move forward." When I'm hurting, I don't want an emotional cop pointing me past the orange traffic cones. How about YOU move on if you are incapable of a kind word.

  113. A simple acknowledgement of someone's pain & responding that you're there if the person needs anything goes a Long way!

  114. I'm emailing this article far and wide!!! I'm very sensitive to this. Not to sound like the article but... years ago my fairly young father pass one Christmas Eve. Our family spent that day making arrangements and Christmas day alone at the funeral home. A friend that same week told me her sister was so annoying at Christmas dinner, it was the worst Christmas ever! To this day, whenever people pull out their worst Christmas ever stories, (this is very common) I walk away, its an unfair win.

  115. Competitive whingeing, my next sport. This is like the old joke about country music, done backwards. The guy gets back his truck, his dog, his mom, job, his wife and his girlfriend (who is NOT his wife).

  116. This is going to the sons!

  117. Ah, yes .... the Equally Astounding Counter-Example!

  118. I have never played, or known anyone who plays, "Who Suffered Most". Guess I'm just a lucky so-and-so (at age 73).

  119. The logical conclusion to this competition is that only the most miserable person on the planet has a right to complain. Who really wants to win that one?

  120. Wow, this made my day! Hysterical! (clever comments too)

    The serious message in this is quite true - often best to shut one's yap and let people tell their tale of woe.

    I'll confess I've been guilty myself tho. My favorite one-up is when people talk about the worst gifts they've ever received. I always wait till they've finished then tell them that my mother-in-law gave me a book about the Joys of Menopause . . . while I was trying to get pregnant with my third kid. I always win that one.


  121. You make a great point here, in the game of kvetching it is important to know when to play your hand, and just how to phrase it in order to win the game!

  122. Such self absorption must be a cultural / regional thing....most of the people/ community I know are stoic to a fault...I had never seen such one-up-manship, "top this" self indulgence until I moved to the East Coast. I was mortified and entertained...so conflicted, I wanted to join the "game" but let the kevetching to others, they were so good at it !

  123. I didn't want to say so, but I have also noticed this is much more common among people from the East Coast, where one-upmanship seems to be second nature, almost automatic. I have rarely seen it among people in other parts of the country. Go figure

  124. North East not as common South East...people here actually pause to listen whenever they ask how you're doing

  125. Personal favorite. I told my brother I didn't think I was too competitive. His response, " I'm way less competitive than you." Delivered with a totally straight face.

  126. Hmmmm. . .try this line on him sometime, "I used to be conceited. But now I'm perfect."

  127. reminiscent of an otherwise charming friend who used to say that her only fault was that she was a workaholic.

  128. As my father used to say 'Once I thought I was wrong but I was mistaken.'

  129. Loved the comments as much as the article...without humor, we are all miserable. In my family we called it "whining and dining"!

  130. If I have a bad time and a story to tell, I actually do feel better if the other person is offering their own story. If they make "only soft, soothing, oooh, oooh, sounds" now that's a way to certainly make me feel worse, plus awkward.

  131. I'd like to speak up for the ALS stricken wife of the future widower with the cruise tickets. ALS doesn't progress slowly enough for her.

  132. Loved this article. . . it can be a true problem. Often people aren't looking for advice or solutions when they tell their awful story . . just acknowledgement. "I'm sorry for your pain" or "Let me know if I can do anything for you" are two good endings to the end of the appropriate listening period . . . then if you must tell your own awful story, move over to someone else and begin.

  133. Actually, ALS is a very fast moving disease, usually two years or less and done. So she is in luck.

  134. I wasn't aware of that -- I thought, in addition to being a brutal disease, it was a slow moving horror.

  135. Hasn't Stephen Hawking has ALS forever? Great piece of writing, Joyce, both sobering and hilarious at the same time. I am reminded of a friend who told her grandma had died, and I immediately moved on to talking about my dead grandmother. Sorry, won't do it again.

  136. There is a whole genre of "coulda been worse" jokes that are standard fare among New Englanders that are based on this game...

  137. Brilliant. Perhaps this is why a suicide hot-line (as described in an episode of The Moth last night on WNYC) features the following inspirational poster:

    Shut Up and Listen!

  138. that was an incredible story! i can't stop thinking about poor Amy... what a haunting experience.

  139. 25 minutes for a romantic disappointment is a VERY long time to have to listen. Mind I had a friend who spent over 2 hours telling me about problems she was having toilet training her son, nightmare !

  140. I used to have a 'friend' who did this and would talk incessantly. I got so tired of this so one time when she called and droned on, I put the handset on the table while I was working on the computer and timed it. She talked for 45 minutes straight before she realized I wasn't on the other end listening enrapt. When I was having problems she wasn't there for me so I moved on.

  141. This reminds me of a former friend.

    We were on our way to tai chi class and I said I really needed the relaxation because it had been a tough week.

    "How tough could your week have been? I got up late every day because I was on the Internet all night and then I had to work all day!" he replied.

    I reminded him my mother had been given 4 months to live 3 months earlier and I was in the middle of a divorce and still had to work all day.

    And pet deaths are worth way more than 15 minutes.

  142. Only for dogs. Cats get 30 seconds followed by " you know he was only using you for food and shelter, right?"

  143. I work as a director of client service for a large company. My gift is in listening to and resolving people's issues.

    But lately, I've noticed that even some friends that are not standard complainers are doing so -- to the point where they will interrupt me. One, in fact, did that while she was complaining that people don't talk to each other any more, they just text, etc. well yes; she got the irony as we passed the time to leave and i was gathering up my coat without having said a word.

    After 9/11, i considered this a particularly NY exchange. everyone still wants to share where they were, and how traumatic it was, no matter if even on tv. One joke I heard re: competition for 9/11 stress (we're talking third-hand or less) was: "I heard the airplane take off from Logan."

    As the old Borscht belt joke goes, "the food is so bad. and the portions are so small."

  144. I remember when I got divorced 30 years ago someone called to tell me that she felt sorry for me because divorce was worse than having a loved one die.
    That was supposed to make me feel good...

  145. I think so many people complain lately that I think even non-complainers do so as a defensive measure.

    BTW, I've read most of the comments by now and no mention of the Kristen Wiig character on SNL, who one-ups everyone on everything?

  146. I'm going to print this column out, laminate it and hand it to anybody who starts dreying on about how their pain is more painful than MY pain.

  147. Thank you. Delightful piece!

  148. "Then there was that time I read this article about suffering until I was actually suffering!"
    "That's nothing, I actually suffered through two articles on the debt crisis!"
    Is that what you mean? Trumping another's suffering is a standard in all cultures; less to do with empathy than one-upsmanship.

  149. Thanks for this article. So many people are such egotists that every thing revolves around them, even someone else's pain. I know multitudes of people including my EX husband who was always sicker, I more pain, more tired or had a much worse day at work than myself.

    Why can't we all just listen , nod, and say That really sucks!

  150. Oh dear. I try not to participate in in the Olympic sport of 'one-upmanship' (though I do sometimes for the sake of genuine bonding) but when the subject of Awful Mothers comes up, I simply cannot keep my mouth shut. HInt: it has to do with used, expensive designer panties with stretched out elastic, my birthday and the post office. (I win.)

  151. This so reminds me of the morning when my mother died after a long, tragic battle with breast cancer. It couldn't have been a minute after I'd told my co-workers when another co-worker came running into the room to inform us that a man we worked with had hung himself the night before. All day long people were like, "So sorry about your mom, but did you hear...?" I had been trumped by suicide.

  152. When friends talk about some tragic event way back in high school, I trot out my "the French teacher died at the prom" story, grinds the competition to a halt!

  153. As someone who has lived on the west coast and in Chicago and on the east coast I can assure you that what Ms. Wadler describes is a New York City/Miami syndrome.

  154. You are obviously too young to have seen "Queen for a Day".

  155. OMG!!!!! I remember that show! My grandmother was addicted! Everyone used to sit around and cry for the entire show. Each story was worse that the one before!

  156. Refer to: Monty Python's 'The Four Yorkshiremen"