when are we sympathetic to complaining

Disclaimer:  This post is NOT talking about complaining about tragedies or things like chronic illness, death, etc.  If you are in pain, or you’ve lost a loved one, or have experienced trauma or been harassed, etc. we will always be sympathetic.  This is more about trivial complaints or complaints that are less trivial but are still more in the annoyance spectrum– things you could probably change but have chosen not to for whatever reason.  You know, like me complaining that democrats don’t even show up on the ballot and we have to drive a couple hours to get to Whole Foods when we could, in theory, quit our jobs and move across country to Paradise.

We are sympathetic to (or at least not irritated by) complaining

1. that isn’t chronic (because chronic complaining gets boring) and

2. that doesn’t seem entitled (I guess because entitled complaining makes me feel like I deserve more too but I’m not going to get it so that makes me irritated and I’d rather feel like I have agency)

3.  that is entertaining or funny (but not repetitive I hate Mondays that is trying to be funny but isn’t)

4.  that is about the weather (because we’re from the midwest and find it soothing)

What kind of (non-tragic) complaining are you sympathetic to?  What kind irritates you?

15 Responses to “when are we sympathetic to complaining”

  1. CG Says:

    I guess I don’t mind most complaining, even if it’s chronic, and especially if it’s a good friend, because the act of complaining is often therapeutic. But two types do bug me: first, when someone fails to even consider their own role in creating whatever the situation is, and second, when someone complains about something at length that clearly bothers them and then insists that they “don’t care.” Well, yes you do. You’re not being honest with yourself or with me, and I have just sat here and listened to you care a whole lot! After writing this I realize that both of these are me being irritated with people who are not being self-aware. I, of course, am always self-aware. :)

    • The frugal ecologist Says:

      Totally agree with these two caveats. I don’t really mind complaining. If it shades into general negativity then I usually limit my interactions with that person. But general complaining about your job/spouse/mother in law? Happy to listen!

      I had to laugh the other day when I asked the students in my office hour how they were & they launched into complaining about how their lives were so hard & stressful and they were looking forward to graduating so things would be easier. HA HA HA!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Of course! Members of the Grumpy Nation are naturally self-aware.

  2. becca Says:

    I once met a guy from Grand Rapids who refused to complain about the weather. Said his Dad made him play sports (especially football) out in all manner of weather and he just built up a tolerance.
    Meanwhile, I was driving 50 miles each way in a record-setting snow year for Michigan.

    He was a wonderful person, and superb at listening to griping without letting you get caught up in an unproductive spiral in other contexts. But I found it offputting to have to avoid the weather as a topic of collective complaining.

    I am, in a patient mood, sympathetic to most complaining. In a non-patient mood, I am sympathetic to essentially nothing. It has little to do with content or manner of complaint, though it does relate partially to how collective it is. I don’t like being the only one complaining or the only one trying to be optimistic.

  3. jjiraffe Says:

    I like that you specified non-tragic complaining. Because, totally different situation.

    Bitter experience has taught me to be wary of chronic complainers. Because no matter how much you listen and try to help, eventually they might complain about you too. And my skin is too thin to endure that…my own issue.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hahaha, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s true that people who are always complaining about other people will complain about you too. It actually doesn’t bother me that much when it’s a chronic complainer because I’ve generally already written them off and expect it (as opposed to non-chronic complainers whose complaints about me can be pretty devastating). I tend to think of them as characters in a novel more than actual people (my husband’s grandma is one of these people– I find her infinitely amusing).

  4. chacha1 Says:

    hmmm. I guess I am sympathetic to (transient, trivial) complaining when it can be characterized as venting: a short-lived emission of frustration with a situation that any reasonable person would find annoying. Representative topics include: that person who insists on making a left turn at rush hour across seven lanes of traffic, without a traffic signal; that attorney who blames you for “letting something sit” when *he* has work on his desk that you gave him ten weeks ago; how $&*#^!! hot it is; the $&#^!! construction that has closed two lanes of the streets around your office building; etc.

    I am not sympathetic to repetitive whining about life situations that are within someone’s circle of control and yet they refuse to acknowledge/accept/act on the possibility of changing the situation. Nor to lengthy rehashing of that annoying thing that happened five weeks/months/years ago that they just can’t get over. [Cher slap: Get Over It!!]

    I am also pretty unsympathetic about workplace complaints in general. Anyone in my field has a greater degree of job mobility than 90% of Americans. If a job sucks that much, LEAVE. Chronic complaining in an office makes everyone feel worse about the workplace and is invariably destructive to the cohesion, morale, and productivity of the entire workgroup.

  5. Linda Says:

    What is “entitled complaining?” Is that complaining about something while seemingly unaware of privilege?

    Most people need to vent about stuff, so I’m pretty lenient about listening to complaints. If I hear the same topic coming up over and over again, I may start to get annoyed if there hasn’t seemed to be some change over that time in how a particular situation is approached. Sometimes it takes people a while to work through a situation or their reactions or thoughts, so tackling the same issue by trying different approaches is progress, even if they keep complaining about it. [And since I’m this way, and therefore not always self-aware, perhaps I can’t consider myself part of the Grumpy Nation. Darn!] BUT it has been going on a long time and person is clearly STUCK and not seeming to want to get UNSTUCK, then, yeah, I’m gonna start avoiding that person.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      but you’re aware of that, which makes you meta self-aware, so that counts!

      example of entitled complaining… Canonical example is complaining that you can’t make ends meet on 250K/year in paradise.

    • crazy grad mama Says:

      This is basically my attitude as well. I need to vent, other people need to vent, venting is healthy, I’m fine listening to it in moderation. But the same thing over and over and over again with no change is exasperating.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    Oh, I do like the funny complaining. But maybe that’s not complaining but story telling. Mmm, stories.

    I’m pretty stereotypically male in the sense that I want to try to help. So if you’re complaining to me about something I can’t help you with–or if you insist there is no possible solution–it’s not my favorite.

    Normal venting is fine, though. Except about how your computer has problems. Or other topics that are supremely boring to me like, perhaps, what sports teams are doing or what dumb things some dumb celebrities are doing.

    I also like to hear about what’s going on with my old work place, even though that usually ends up being complaining rather than exclaiming. :-(

    My boyfriend really hates when people complain about their health problems, but I still find those fascinating. As I get older, I’m sure that listening to other people’s health problems will get much more common and I’ll get sick of it, but for now, I still have curiosity.

    With constant complainers that I am stuck with because they are co-workers or significant others of good friends, I try to refrain from bringing up topics they can complain about. Challenging and kind of fun, especially when it works. (And to this day I don’t know how that one gal broke her arm.)

  7. Donna Freedman Says:

    I don’t mind the venting, either. But I’m with chacha1 with regard to those who complain about things they might be able to change but don’t want/are afraid to work on.

    From personal experience I know it can be very scary to think about change. Heck, it took me 23 years to exit an abusive marriage. But to expect people to listen to you complain/kvetch/whine ad nauseam, without ever considering the possibility of living a different way, is asking too much.


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