Social Psychology: Lend An Ear

"The first time the car broke down we were somewhere in North Carolina, "my mother-in-law told me over the phone. "We had it fixed, and then it stalled again in Delaware. But the worst was on the Verrazano Bridge duringrush hour. It seemed as if we'd never get home."
"That sound terrible," I said, ready to launch into my own horror story - a car that conked out at 9:30 p.m. in a desserted mall parking lot.
But someone knocked at her door, so she had to say good-bye.
"Thank you for listening," she added, "but most of all for not telling me your worst car story."

My cheeks burning, I hung up. In the days ahead I found myself thinking about the wisdom of her parting words. I can't count the number of times I've begun to complain - about a fight, a professional disappointment, or even car problems - only to have my friend cut me off with "The same thing just happened to me." Suddenly we're talking about her ungrateful kid, her leaky fuel line. And I'm left nodding my head in all the right places, wondering if we haven't all come down with a bad case of emotional attention deficit disorder.

What we all hope for when we're feeling low or agitated or wildly happy is to find a friend who sounds as if he or she has all the time in the world to listen. We don't always want answers or advice. Sometimes we just want company.