Thursday, June 12, 2008


When I lived in Washington DC, I worked with a bosomy, matronly woman who feed off of other people’s grief. If someone in the office had some difficulty in life, major or minor, she would be there to nod and lend a sympathetic ear, prodding them for more details, keeping the hurt going as long as the person was willing to talk. Then she would make her way around the office, trying to draw anyone who would listen into a conversation about said misfortune, shaking her head and choking back emotion about how bad it made her feel.

A yenta will tell you “there’s someone for everyone,” and this woman’s foil was another woman who worked in the office whose life was a slow motion train wreck. I suspect the train wreck woman was also a pathological liar and invented tragedies to cover her increasingly erratic behavior. They completed each other: the train wreck found an attentive and sympathetic audience for her tales of woe and the bosomy busybody found a steady supply of misfortune she could vicariously feel bad about.

When someone I care about has suffered a great loss, I’m always self-conscious about appearing like An Emotional Vampire feeding off their sorrow, regardless of how I feel. I still have mixed feelings about this post, despite the genuine eerie sadness I was experiencing.

Yesterday I learned that Nikola, a friend of my friends Bob and Michele, had died. I had met him three years ago when I was in Paris; hung out with him one night at a French rock club (written about here). His death makes me sad beyond my concern over my friends’ heartbreak. He was so gregarious I just assumed we would hang out again someday.

Two of Nikola’s comments from the previous posting stand out:

They end their set by throwing their instruments on the floor and knocking over some of the drum kit, leaving the audience to stare at the inert instruments while listening to the feedback created. Nicola is disgusted.

"Come on. I someone has to clean that up."

He also mentions a more disconcerting fact: No-one in [the band onstage] is much beyond 16. "Oh wait, the drummer just turned 17." I mention (actually, I yell above the sound of the band) that that makes me feel old.

"No, no, it should make you feel young!"



erin said...

A part of being a good friend is sharing in both the good and the bad. Posting about Nicola (or Kate's friend) does not make you an Emotional Vampire. It makes you someone who felt genuine sadness and you wanted to express those feelings. Your empathy makes you a good friend.

erin said...

I'm sorry, Nikola--not Nicola.

the hanged man said...

Don't worry. I completely misspelled his name in the first post.

I always thought my willingness to pick up the check is what made me a good friend. I'll have to look up this "empathy" of which you speak.

Julie said...

Trust me, John, there's a big difference between paying tribute to someone you admire and being an emotional vampire.

erin said...

em·pa·thy /ˈɛmpəθi/ [em-puh-thee]
–noun 1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
See: JohnHanlon

PS. In my poor person's view, picking up the check is a bonus.
PSS. When you talked about Emotional Vampires, I thought about Mrs. DePolo--that's an Emotional Vampire.

Iva said...

You have always been a good friend, picking up the check or not. I can't possibly begin to think of you as an emotional-type ghoul. You are there for your friends and family, in good times as well as bad.
I love you,

Bob Fingerman said...

John, believe us, we were glad for your company. It helped. A lot.

I'd forgotten you'd written about him previously. I'm not going to eulogize here. But you know how special he was to Michele and I.

Thank you for this post.