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Thursday, May 18, 2017 12:12 am

Tale of whoa

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
A dear friend who’s also a co-worker just went through a breakup with her girlfriend, and she’s devastated. I don’t know what to tell her. I’ve tried everything: You dodged a bullet; it’s a blessing in disguise; you’re better off without her; you should get back out there. Everything I say seems to be wrong, and she gets angry. She’s crying and isolating a lot, and I want to help but I don’t know how. – Clueless

Clearly, your heart’s in the right place. However, you might send your mouth on a several-week vacation to a no-talking retreat.

Consider that we don’t say to people who are grieving over someone who’s died, “C’mon, think positive! One less person you have to call! And didn’t he live kinda far out of town? Be glad you don’t have to make that schlep anymore!” It helps to bear in mind the theory that evolutionary psychologist and psychiatrist Randolph Nesse has about sadness (and its goth sister, depression): These emotions – like all emotions – have functions. For example, being sad (like about a breakup) leads us to reflect on where we may have gone wrong – and possibly gain insights that will keep us from making return visits to Boohooville.

Also, note that not all emotions advertise – that is, have visible outward signs announcing to those around us how we’re feeling. Take envy. When your boss gives your rival the promotion you wanted, there’s no specific facial expression that conveys your longing for a well-targeted meteorite to take her out Wizard of Oz-style. However, Nesse suggests that one of the possible evolutionary reasons for the very visible signs of sadness may be to signal to others that we need care – a message that gets sent loud and clear when one is sobbing into the shoulder of the bewildered Office Depot delivery guy.

Being mindful that sadness has a job to do should help you stop pressing your friend to see the “good” in “goodbye.” Probably the kindest thing you can do is to try to be comfortable with her discomfort and just be there for her. Hand her a Kleenex and listen instead of attempting to drag her kicking and screaming to closure: “It’s 10 a.m. Aren’t you overdue for a round of cartwheels?”

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