The Daily News

LFCA Latest Issue: Friday, September 25, 2009.

Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

My Status: Fed Josh's almonds to the squirrels. They needed them very badly.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sensitivity Chips and Salsa

In the middle of Jennifer Aniston's divorce from Brad Pitt, he posed for a W Magazine spread with Angelina Jolie (which, according to the W Magazine website was his concept) where they appear like a typical 1960's family complete with backyard kiddie pool and teased hairdos (and somewhat inexplicably, a set of identical triplets). There are the "family" shots, but also several more suggestive ones including one where Angelina Jolie is in a pre-mount position and Brad Pitt has both hands sliding into his pants.

In a Vanity Fair interview after that W Magazine spread broke along with paparazzi photographs of Brad Pitt with Angelina and Maddox all playing happily, Aniston said her famous quote: "There's a sensitivity chip that is missing in Brad."

She pointed out the difference--his actions aren't hateful. He isn't trying to rub it in her face. It certainly isn't his fault that the paparazzi documents his every move therefore, unlike most women getting divorced who don't need to see their ex's daily life, making these images impossible to escape. It's just that sensitivity chip.

And I think the frustrating thing is when you see that a person can be sensitive. At least, to people and situations other than your own. Maybe they're like Brad Pitt, touring the world to help others in need and rebuilding homes after Katrina and being a great father, but they can't seem to be sensitive to the people close to them--the ones who are part of their daily life such as his wife at the time, Jennifer Aniston. Or they're a therapist by profession, helping AIDS patients, but they can't reach out and be thoughtful to their own family. Or they're raising thousands for cancer research, but completely ignore their friend with cancer who could use some company or a home-cooked meal. It's that sensitivity chip.
And when asked about the photos that appeared in Us Weekly of Pitt, Jolie and her son, Maddox, romping on an African beach, as well as the photo spread in W magazine where Pitt and Jolie played house, Aniston responded, "There's a sensitivity chip missing in Brad."

"It was a huge shock to Jennifer," Bennetts said. "It's not like she didn't know a relationship was developing, but seeing the instant family Brad created with someone else was excruciatingly painful for her."

And it's hard to be upset because we can't be sensitive to everyone and everything at all points. It's impossible to go through life without hurting another person. And there is a huge difference between doing something maliciously and doing something thoughtlessly. But why do we overlook the people closest to us when reaching out to others beyond our circle? How can we emotionally hurt someone like a soon-to-be-ex-wife and not think through those actions, but have the forethought to be able to consider how best to send help in a crisis situation in another part of the world?

I was having dinner a few nights ago with three other friends. Girl A is not pregnant. Girl B is about six months along and showing a lot. Girl C had been pregnant, but immediately told us when we sat down at the restaurant that she had miscarried at 8 weeks. After we had spoken about her loss, Girl A turned to Girl B and said, "but how is your pregnancy going, pregnant lady?" And it felt like someone had thrown all the sensitivity chips into the salsa (or, in this case, the sushi). How could Girl A, a thoughtful woman who raises money for many causes and reaches out to so many people through her charity work, not think through how those words might cause Girl C to feel? It's not that we had to ignore Girl B's pregnancy--at six months, it's hard to ignore--but to not follow the first news with an update about the baby kicking might have been nice. Or to not call Girl B "pregnant lady" when asking for the update would have been thoughtful. Or to allow the person who just had to convey bad news the opportunity to move the conversation forward onto the next topic--whether she chooses to ask about Girl B's pregnancy or to turn the conversation to workplace woes for a moment in order to create the breather between the two conversations.

I had been reluctant to go out to this dinner in the first place. Something had been bothering me before I went to the restaurant. Getting in the car afterwards, I was immediately reminded of this quote by Jennifer Aniston. And the lack of chips. Which may have been obvious since we were out for Japanese and not Tex-Mex. But those internal chips--the ones that allow us sometimes to only see the greater world and not the lens to carefully observe those close to us.

47 comments:

mandolyn said...

This is good stuff, Mel. I think that may be an issue with several people that I know. They don't mean to be rude or hurtful, they just lack a sensitivity chip. It really does make sense.

And since you mentioned chips and salsa, can I go ahead and make an advance request for some at the next bar session here?

DD said...

That certainly would have made me squirm in my seat a bit since even though I'm rather oblivious to many things, I do have a sixth sense for people who are uncomfortable (my ovaries tingle - like a Spidey Sense - or something).

I suppose you couldn't have thrown some sushi at Girl A w/o being too obvious?

Southern Comfortable said...

That's a great question. Much of the time, we take for granted those closest to us, and we expect that they will forgive us for or even overlook our insensitivities. I'm sure there are many times when I'm in a bad mood but try to be cordial to my co-workers, but then come home and act frazzled and frustrated around Hub.

On a grander scale of the Pitt-Aniston sort, though, I have no idea.

Jackie said...

Mel-I love this post. It resonates so much with me--in the distant past, I occasionally pulled a friend A. Of course in the present, I have had the friend C experience more times than I would like to remember, but enough to nearly stamp out all of the A that was inside me. When I observe others acting like A, I generally see it as a lack of insight or empathy-they aren't in this situation and therefore just don't get it. And that seems to be the only way I can explain the A behavior I once exhibited (along with binge drinking and the verbal editor being out to lunch, a liquid lunch).
Behavior like this is certainly insensitive and I have to agree with SoCo that we take for granted those closest to us: I remember my mom saying to me when I was a kid: "Do you treat your friends as badly as you treat your brothers?" I guess I didn't because I knew my family wasn't going anywhere, but friends could dump you. In my youth, friend dumping happened all the time, cliques formed and disintegrated and reformed in the matter of 2 recess periods. Post-college, it seems that relationships are a tad more durable, perhaps that is why we test them so rigorously.
Whenever I've exhibited A behavior (distant past) and I have suspected the friendship is subsequently in jeopardy, it has been a great disciplinary tool to correct the malfunctioning sensitivity chip!

andrea_jennine said...

I think we can all lack the sensitivity chip in certain times and places; we're just probably not always aware of it. I try to extend grace to those who probably mean well, and if it is appropriate I would want to gently correct the insensitive person.

serenity said...

I am trying not to be judgemental here, but I just don't see how someone can segue from something as heartbreaking as a miscarriage into "but how are YOU doing, pregnant lady?" without realizing JUST how hurtful that is to the woman who just.lost.her.baby.

I know that my view is colored with our infertility. Of which, of course, it has given me a more acute sense of empathy for people who I know are suffering.

But come ON here. I do agree that there are 'sensitivity chips...' but then there's just plain, straight up, hurtful IGNORANCE.

Still, I get what you're saying.

It doesn't make me any less sad for Girl C and angry at Girl A though.

Karaoke Diva said...

I had MANY people do this when I miscarried and my boss was 7 months pregnant. I knew they weren't being cruel on purpose, but it hurt so much all the same. I think part of the problem is that these people have never gone through anything like a miscarriage or even IF so they have no idea what the ramifications are.

In the same vein, why do I feel like I have to pussy foot around talking about my miscarriage or saying "Hey, can we not talk about pregnancy right now?" I feel like by saying something I'll drag the party down. Like that previous post of yours said, everyone wants to celebrate the good and ignore the bad.

Sunny said...

UGH UGH UGH that is just awful. I feel so bad for your friend. I am sure she was dying to leave.

Great post!

Patience said...

All profound thoughts have fled from my head right now, so will be a gonk again - what a great post. I'm feeling the need to explore this chip thing further...

Michell said...

Great post and such a good point. I'm sure I have been guilty of being friend A before but hope that it was infrequent and that I'm learning. You have such a good point though about the whole topic. There are some people who really just don't get it.

Jess said...

That makes me want to hit girl A.

I mean, really.

Sort of like the time we had a bbq at my pg friend's house, at which it was pg friend and hubby, me and hubby, and another pg friend and hubby. I was stimming for a cycle and they all knew it...I had to excuse myself and shoot up in the kitchen.

However, pg friend and her pg friend yammered about the babies saying things like how awful pg was and how "I'd see." Icing on the cake is that pg friend's friend brought her u/s video and made us watch it. And that was the first time I'd met her.

People are just stupid. Really. I mean neither of your friends or the two girls I'm talking about were MEAN, they were just being stupid.

But come on.

Changing Expectations said...

Hi Mel,

I have been reading your blog for some time now and it has helped to me to stop lurking and start posting comments. Thanks for the encouragement. It is helping me to get some of the emotion out in writing!

Re: your current post, Ugh, very uncomfortable. I think some people just don't think before they speak. I totally agree, some people are missing the sensitivity chip - quite often it seems like the people that we are closest to. But on the whole, I think that people are not purposely insensitive....they are just not sure what to say or do when confronted with bad news. Maybe I am just naive....

callea said...

This has happened to me on more than one occasion. Sometimes I just wonder what the hell are people thinking?

Suzy said...

People's responses to fertility issues are very interesting. There are definitely those who are clueless when it comes to sensitivity in this area. I struggle with trying to give them the benefit of the doubt ("they don't know better") and getting so angry ("how could they be so stupid?") I'm glad I'm not the only one...

Max's said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrienne said...

I read this post and I can't help but feel two things: (1) pretty sure that Girl A has never experienced a miscarriage or fertility problem; and (2) positive that she was very uncomfortable with the feelings brought up by Girl C's miscarriage and reached for the first topic to make her feel better about that discomfort - Girl B's pregnancy. Neither puts her in a good light.

Lacking a sensitivity chip is right - it's obvious that one wasn't installed at the factory.

Adrienne said...

I'm realizing that what I just said sounds unnecessarily harsh. It's not the fact that she hasn't experienced a fertility problem that bothers me, it's that she wasn't able to put herself in the shoes of someone who had and think for a moment before asking Girl B about her pregnancy.

Aurelia said...

Feeling a bit more cynical here, I can't stand Brad and Angelina anyway, so I've always been convinced they did that spread on purpose, like a PR move.

Most people IRL are uncomfortable and desperate to say something and fumble, but some are just unkind and thoughtless, even dare I say it, mean.

I try to give the benefit of the doubt, but ehhh, not sure how to tell who is who.

Mary said...

Oooohhh this one hit home with me. During my last m/c a co-worker came into my classroom (knowing I had just found out I was having a m/c) and decided it was the perfect time to tell the other teacher (who was pg) a joke about a pregnant lady. She started to tell it and I said "You know, I don't think I need to hear this right now) and walked out of the room. Later the co-worker complained to other co-workers that I was "mad" at her. It took one of the guys I work with to say "Do you think maybe that wasn't an appropriate joke to tell with her there?" Why is it chip-deficient people can have their say, but we are thoguth less of for standing up for ourselves? Where is the compassion?

thirdtimelucky said...

I have to admit I was guilty of a lack of chip once when I was much younger and I still wonder what the hell I was thinking. I did it over email though, commenting to friend A that I thought they would be the first to have kids when I heard about the pregnancy of friend B. Of course I found out later that they'd been trying for years (doh!).

In this case I think it is just ignorance, people just don't know what to say to someone who has just had a miscarriage. I lost count of the people who told me about someone they knew who miscarried and then had a healthy baby, something I just wasn't interested in hearing when I was grieving.

Venusuvian Debs said...

Thanks for that post Mel, it really helped put the way I have been feeling into words in a sensitive way. Well said!

Mands said...

There are people that may do this on the odd occasion, and then there are those who seriously lack sensitivity chips. Like my sister, who launched into great detail about how she accidentally fell PG, and how EVERYONE seems to be PG lately, must be in the air or something. And she ended off, "Are you okay though?"

Kath said...

What a great post, Mel. And I feel so sorry for your friend. What an awful segue, and what awful phrasing.

Maybe someday we can all have sensitivity chips implanted. There doesn't seem to be an alternative...

aah0424 said...

I've always been very mindful of the things that come out of my mouth and it amazes me that so many people don't have that ability. I mean to me it just seems like common sense to extend care when someone is talking about a tragic event, but I guess to some they are so wrapped up in their own lives that they sort of walk around with blinders on.

Rush said...

This was such a great way of putting into context the situation that so many of us encounter in the infertility struggle, and everyone encounters when going through a difficult time. I find myself sending e-mails out, saying, "here's the deal, but please don't bring it up unless I do, because even those with the best intentions can unintentionally wound." But that doesn't cover Friend A's issues.

The one bright side of this struggle has been the clarity and sensitivity it has brought me, the empathy for pain. I tried very hard before, but I'm sure I have said the wrong thing many times. This experience has made me a better person and a better friend-- upgrading my sensitivity chip. Thank you for the post.

Stacie said...

As usual, a thoughtful and interesting post.

Christina said...

oh that's AWFUL. although no different than a dinner k and i went to last weekend where, after we annonced that we were infertile, the other two couples starting rambling on about their pregnancys and even asked me "would i have a medicated birth?!?!?"

what is WRONG with people. seriously.

Dianne/Flutter said...

I like this post. I think that chip is connected to the filter between brain and mouth. Some people just don't have it.

Tina said...

A similar thing happened at my cousin's baby shower a few weeks ago - three of us have children, my cousin is expecting and the only other lady there was someone who had miscarried around 8 weeks. I know how she feels loosing a baby - yet, she had to endure story after story of pregnancy, babies, etc. the entire time. I did try to steer the conversation a bit, but it is hard to do at a baby shower.

I hope that someone at least pointed out to Girl A what her comment sounded like after Girl C shared her news... I would have had to say something later. ;)

katd said...

That stood out to me so much when it happened. I know we don't know what was between Brad and Jen, but I loved the way she put it. Sensitivity chips seem to be missing in many when it comes to infertility. My husband calls it foot-in-mouth disease, and sadly, many of our family members have contracted it.
Great post!

LIW (Lady In Waiting) said...

I agree with bloggers like Serenity. Even before TTC and having a premature miscarriage, I still would have not said something like that. But I have been accused of being hyper-sensitive, a crime for which I am 100% guilty.
I will admit that I was not as supportive of my best friend's retelling of her 7 years of infertility (which resulted in a divorce and childlessness) as I should have been because I just didn't "get" it at the time. She insists that I was great but I know now that I could have handled it better, especially now that I have a taste of her pain. I guess for some people, if they do not have firsthand experience, just don't know how to be supportive at all...

Artblog said...

Oh dear, some people huh! Give up trying to work them out.

I do think its fear, fear of such a thing happening to them makes them incapable of hearing details about it. I give them the benefit of the doubt because, well, I'm nice, nicer then them anyway :)

Starfish said...

Oh yeah, I've been victim of the chipless many a time.

Maybe some high tech company will invent these chips and sell them on the black market so we can buy them up and implant them in people who need them. All I ask for is a very large and painful implantation device that must be inserted into the persons genitalia. What? Me, bitter?

Jason and Samantha said...

Very well stated. Some people just don't think before they speak.. Hope C wasn't too offended.

Jen said...

Well put! So often we overlook those closest and most important to us and instead worry about ourselves - be it what the bigger world might think or say of us, or how to avoid an uncomfortable situation, like dealing with the news of a friend's miscarriage by rudely changing the subject.
Here's to never losing the sensitivity chip and finding a way to share it (with salsa) with others...

GZ said...

Sometimes the line between insensitive and downright rude is pretty thin...

Chris said...

I think I might be friends with Girl A. Not only is she incredibly fertile (pregnant with #1 the first time they tried, pregnant with #2 after 6 weeks) but she has no filter for what comes out of her mouth. Everytime I see her she asks if I'm pregnant yet (like I'm not going to buy a billboard when I finally do get pregnant). She constantly says things like "Going out to eat is so hard when you have a baby" and "Traveling is so hard when you have a baby", etc.

It's a shame they don't hand out those chips along with brains! Please give Girl C a squeeze from me.

TeamWinks said...

That was my very own husband last night. I swear he does have the sensitivity chip. I guess it just got knocked loose temporarily.

Oh, I am all for the chips at the next open bar too!

Chelsi said...

The post really resonated strongly with me and wow, these comments are right on the money!!

megan said...

argh. it does sound awful. perhaps it was just a nervous reaction for Girl A? i know it is thoughless regardless, but i know first hand that our anxieties can make us say crazy stuff. that said, among friends one should definitely be more sensitive. period.

LJ said...

I think we are all different girls at different times in our life, depending on the issue. But with each one, we have the chance to learn to not be lady A.

Pamela Jeanne said...

Thank you for sharing this story. In addition to showcasing how easily people marginalize conception and pregnancy difficulties, it also provided inspiration for another post...

Bumble said...

Ouch, that comment had razor blades... I really feel for Girl C, she must have felt so empty inside when that was said. Good Post Mel. Thanks.

Carlynn said...

I love that statement of Jennifer Aniston's about him lacking the sensitivity chip, it's perfect. Apparently, if the rumours are true, she has struggled with a miscarriage and I always think of that when I hear of their divorce, how unbearably painful it must be to see your recent ex effortlessly slipping into a family.

I think people don't know what to say about miscarriages. I think most people don't want to think about them and so moving on from "I just had a miscarriage," to "And how are you doing, pregnant lady?" is a way of thinking Happy Thoughts, Happy Thoughts, La La La La La. I also think that often we don't realise how hurtful our comments are. Until I go through something, I am often embarrassingly and painfully tactless.

The Road Less Travelled said...

Well said! That lack of a sensitivity chip sure explains a lot of the stupid things people say to you when you're TTC or having some difficulty TTC.

Anna said...

Not sure if this is related or not, but I think that some pregnant women (emphasis on "some"), really groove on the sense of belonging to a special club. To be honest, I felt it with my first pregnancy. Really proud of my body and proud to be part of the pregnancy sisterhood. I frankly didn't want to think about painful things like miscarriage and infertility.

Hah.

Two miscarriages later, I read your story and wonder if Friend A was circling the wagons in a way. Not to be cruel, but to affirm her shared status with Friend B.

BJ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.