Once Less Talk, More Therapy had been up for a day, I posted on Facebook that “the most amazing thing is that my piece is the number one Most Emailed Article on the New York Times right now.” I went on to say that the second most amazing thing was that it did not land on the list of 10 Most Recommended for Me articles. I said that to be clever, but it was a lie. The second most amazing thing was how I reacted to the readers’ comments.
I am a person who can easily get sucked into online conversations, either as a participant or a voyeur. I don’t even want to count how many hours of my life I’ve spent reading other people’s opinions about things. I buy shoes and books based on online reviews and many of my political views are shaped by gorging on thread wars.
When that essay went live, I vowed I’d not read the comments – a promise I did not entirely keep. Early on the allure was too great and I just wanted to sneak a little peek. Within hours, a commenter chalked the entire essay up to my being psychologically vulnerable, the therapy Ann E. practices being nonsense, and the article being “witless.” And then 189 people give that comment a Thumbs Up.
Oddly, miraculously and inexplicably – I didn’t care.
This reaction shocked me. Friends texted and emailed their support, reassuring me that in spite of some naysayers, most of the feedback was very positive. At another moment in my life I’d have hung onto those emails like a life raft. But on this day, I didn’t need the buoying. Uncharacteristically, I read that comment and felt it had nothing whatsoever to do with me, a reaction I’ve never had toward any personal feedback about anything, ever.
For me, this was a gift that felt even bigger than the long-sought after, much coveted gold ring of Times publication. To hear criticism and not become attached. To know someone thinks I’m witless and not take it personally. I’m still stunned that’s even possible.
I did end up skimming some of the comments (there are over 400!) and there were many others that were negative. My favorite was from a woman in Oklahoma who said what I really needed was to get some friends, exercise three times a week and talk more often to my mother, which, except for the mother part, is not really bad advice at all.
Reading the negative comments was actually good for me. It makes me want to try and be less judge-y in the world. It reminds me that I don’t have the slightest idea what someone in pain actually needs. It shows me how much of what comes out of our mouths is almost entirely about us and very little about the other person – and how hard it is to move beyond the lens we view the world through. In reading comments, I expected to feel attacked or misunderstood, two places I go without much provocation at all. And instead, I ended up feeling somehow better.