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To Complain Is to Truly Be Alive


OCTOBER 20, 2017

There are so many things in daily life that cause me never-ending unease:
waiting in the kind of loosely dened wraparound line at the D.M.V. that
makes losing your place inevitable; self-service situations whose unmarked
rules the savage among us approach Lord of the Flies-style, leaving, say,
the Starbucks condiment bar in complete disarray in their wake; holding my
breath while hoping for the woman two stalls down to hurry up and leave as
she hopes for me to hurry up and do the exact same thing.

Then there are the minor tragedies that cause me deep, unrelenting angst
every moment Im awake. I hate trying to sign a credit card slip that is so
slippery the pen just leaves weird scratch marks as I melt into a molten
puddle of anxiety because Im holding up the line at the store. I hate when
someone comes to my house unannounced and I have to sit real still in the
corner of the room you cant see from the window because I dont want
anyone to know what the cats and I wear when we watch TV. I hate when
Im trying to walk into a building at the same time as another person and we
both go through the wait, Im polite, too motions that result in an awkward
reach-in-and-retract dance that can come to an end only when one of us
drops dead on the sidewalk. The potential for me to be utterly humiliated
lies in wait around every corner of my life.

Which is why I love to complain. Why are people so terrible at merging on

the highway? When is my neighbor going to cut down that rotting tree limb
or does it have to shatter my windshield before he notices how bad its
getting? How is my phone bill this expensive every month? Where has
Barack Obama been? Who turned the thermostat down to 68 degrees? Why
does everyone pretend to be cool with splitting a huge check when I just had
club soda and you had four overpriced top-shelf cocktails, Kelly?

Being a person is terrible. And complaining about it is the purest, most

soothing form of protest there is. Complaining feels so good. Its like casting
off the oppressive wool coat youve been buried under since October on that
rst truly beautiful warm April day. Pointlessly yelling into the void about
some minor injustice youve suffered is the perfect relief for the giant wave
of anxiety crashing against your insides, a balm for the wounds that riding
public transportation with people who dont use headphones while they
listen to music can inict upon your weary soul.

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It doesnt even have to be verbal. The shared grimace and eye roll between
me and the other woman who was inconvenienced by the oversize suitcase
the man in Seat 3B tried to sneak past the ight attendant can feel better
than a long hug. Complaining is a hot bath for your feelings.
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I spent 17 soul-crushing I mean, backbone-strengthening? years in

customer service. Or, as I often lovingly refer to it, being held hostage as the
helpless sounding board for peoples misdirected rage. And then
complaining about peoples complaints to my friends over drinks at happy
hour, where a tab full of half-priced margaritas bought me at least an hour
of incredulous And then can you believe that she had the nerve to say that?
Fourteen of those years were spent manning the front desk of a suburban
animal hospital, a place where puppies and kittens get their shots and also
where a high school gym teacher once spent 15 minutes telling me how his
taxes are too high. I sat 10 feet from the door, the rst human most people
encountered on a day theyd chosen to wrestle a cat into a homemade knit
cardigan to get its teeth cleaned in December.

I wasnt really a person to them, I was a talking garbage can into which they
could deposit their complaints problems that had little to do either with
me or with the overpriced foods no one was making them purchase for their
$2,500 purebred dogs. I was a blank slate at which someones sweet, cookie-
baking grandmother could toss casual insults phrased as pleasant inquiries
about the quality of my day. Working hard? she would ask, barely
concealing her disdain at my half-empty coffee cup.

I understood what was up, though. Sometimes you just want to tell another
person that your head hurts, and your lunch was cold, and the minivan
broke down. Its another way to connect.

I have spent too long listening to other peoples problems, though, to casually
drop my own on the innocent bystander who just happens to be waiting for
the same bus. Who is more deserving of the accumulated disappointments of
my day, the 20-year-old UPS guy juggling my fragile packages and his hand-
held computer on my porch in the rain or my friends racist uncle prattling
nonsensically on Facebook about the boys kneeling on the eld?

This is the beauty of the time in which we live: Everything is terrible, no one
is happy, and now we have more outlets than ever into which we can spew
the litany of meaningless trespasses against us.

Complaining is like spreading lotion on dry skin, and 2017 has been the
ashiest year in recent memory. There is more than ever to complain about
and also more reason than ever to believe your complaints might actually do

Resist the urge to unload your economic anxieties on the dry cleaner and
instead make a video about it or write one of those long statuses everyone is
just going to scroll past anyway. Then, when youre all wrung out, when you
feel that you dont have a single complaint left, dredge up a few more and
call your member of Congress. That way you can at least try to turn your
seething rage into affordable health care.

Samantha Irby is the author, most recently, of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.
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