Moments of silence

Have you ever experienced a “moment of silence”? You know, that awkward moment right after you say something without thinking and completely shock your conservative friend or relative? Let me offer some examples.

Some time back I was out shopping with my mom.

Me: “This looks like the kind of material my friend Anna is looking at for her bridesmaids’ dresses. She’s in full wedding planning at the moment, it’s all she talks about.”

Mom: “Oh, that’s sweet. When is her wedding?”

Me: “In a year and a half.”

Mom: “Oh. That must be really hard to wait that long.”

Me: “Well it’s not like they aren’t already living together.”

Mom: …silence…

Here’s another one, from a time my husband and I hung out with one of my brothers last year:

Me: (To my husband) You’re going to love the Christmas present I’m getting you!

Husband: Oh really? How are you so sure?

Me: Oh, I’m sure. I told my friend Jared what I’m getting for you, and Jared said I’m the best wife ever.

Brother: (To my husband) It sounds like you better watch out!

Husband: No worries, he’s gay.

Brother: …silence…

At first I highly regretted each of these instances – wishing that I hadn’t mentioned that my friend was living with her fiance, and that my husband hadn’t said that our friend Jared was gay – but then I kind of wondered if perhaps little offhand comments like these help to normalize these sorts of things - cohabitating or having gay friends – or at least make them less foreign.

And now it’s you’re turn. Have you experienced “moments of silence” like these?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • from two to one

    Yes. When my husband and I told his parents that we were changing our name to a completely new name. To resist patriarchy. To challenge the status quo. They first laughed because they thought we were joking. Then came the begging and pleading. Then the threats. Then the tacit acceptance and silence. Now the tense acknowledgement.

  • Neal Edwards

    At this point, my awkward silences actually go in the opposite direction. A conservative or irrational relative will make a comment that *I* find so baffling, inane, or offensive that my response is nothing but silence…

    Relative: “I use herbs and not medicine, because God made herbs and man made medicine.”
    Me: …silence…

    Mother: “Soon we may all have to live together in a bunker to hide from the government.”
    Me: …silence…

    • machintelligence

      If you have not encountered the “Storm” poem by Tim Minchin, I heartily recommend it. This version: has the words, in case you have a bit of difficulty with his accent. You will especially like the part on “natural ” remedies.
      You might try reminding your mother that we live in a democratic republic, so the government is us.

    • Tracey

      I have a lot of those moments as a non-Christian homeschooler. The Tinfoil Hat Brigade is certainly alive and well and they’re constantly filling up my in-box and monopolizing any social events with stuff that was debunked a gazillion times in every single urban legend website and Mythbuster-type show out there. A lot of my interaction is stunned silence that ANYBODY would be stupid enough to fall for the obviously made-up stuff they believe.

    • Elise

      Me too!

  • ArachneS

    I’m sorry Libby, both of your above examples made me laugh. I remember being in the bubble and being the one shocked that things so demonized look so normal.

    The instance that stands out in my memory was when I was 15 and had my first job at McDonalds. One of the girls working with me was very friendly and I appreciated it because I was very socially awkward, and it was hard for me to reach out and make friends myself. At one point she asked what I had been up to lately and I mentioned I went to DC to walk in the prolife March for Life. I asked if she ever went and she replied “I’m Prochoice”. I was shocked and felt really awkward. You know all those stereotypes that conservatives trot out when they mention Planned Parenthood? That’s what I had in mind when I heard the word pro-choice. Except whatever it is I thought “feminazi, prochoice babykillers” were supposed to look like, she didn’t look like it, and I didn’t know how to react.

  • jwall915

    I’ve actually found this is a great way to defer arguments and criticism from people in your life who are still conservatives/fundies, etc. A casual comment in an offhand manner can defuse a lot. When you are nonchalant about someone being gay or whatnot, you communicate without specifically saying so that you are okay with it. The person is less likely to challenge you because you are not being confrontational, and if they argue, they are the ones getting confrontational and they look like the bad guy. You also look like the good guy because you’re not trying to convert anyone or judge their beliefs, you’re just making casual conversation. End result? Usually a little bit of silence is all you get. I’ve certainly found this to be the case with my family. There is a lot that we just don’t discuss because they know we’ll disagree, and they know that I don’t care one way or another that we’ll disagree. It makes so many things so much easier. And I found that they were more prepared for some major bombs I had to drop on them, and those conversations went a lot smoother as a result.

    • kisekileia

      Agreed, although whether this works depends on whether the family members are polite enough to just stay silent instead of giving you grief.

  • Elizabeth

    I think both of your comments were completely appropriate given the context…your relatives were assuming certain things (heterosexuality and a couple not living together), and you just matter of factly conveyed the truth of both situations.

    Can’t remember any good ones from my own life at the moment, but I’ve certainly been there…

  • smrnda

    This is kind of another “opposite direction” tactic, but when I run across people with outrageously conservative viewpoints I pretend to be curious and inquisitive, and I wait for them to say something so ridiculous that I can’t help but appear honestly confused (not in a hostile way) as if I just don’t understand but would like to and just thing their arguments fall a little short. It’s kind of fun at times….

    On the other hand, after people get *SHOCKED* by ordinary things enough times, I quit talking to them about anything personal.

  • kisekileia

    Reminds me of the time several years ago when I excitedly told my parents about some friends’ cute baby, and my parents asked “How long have they been married?” Of course, the friends weren’t married, just in a long-term stable relationship.

    I think that offhand comments like that can help normalize things, though. When I told my dad I was planning on going to the local Pride Parade last year, he seemed kind of weirded out by it, but he also seemed to feel that he couldn’t really tell me NOT go to given that I’m in my late 20s. So he kind of went along with my treating it as something normal, although he didn’t really seem comfortable with it.

  • Eamon Knight

    Libby Anne: It seems to me that you and your husband were just being yourselves, living your life, and declining to hide the fact that, not only do you dissent from your family-of-origin’s way of thinking, you are connected to a larger world that, as far as possible, simply ignores it as irrelevant and silly. That’s just healthy honesty.

    The fact that it helps normalize those other things is a bonus.

  • Cranapple

    My wife’s 3 youngest brothers (of 10 siblings) enjoy coming to have weekend sleepovers at our house periodically. Their family is probably best described as Quiverfull/CP, but are not quite as much into Vision Forum as Libby Anne’s family seemed to be. (Although my wife did receive a copy of “Created to be His Helpmeet” as a wedding gift from her mother, which I insisted that she let me keep for the pure humor factor.)
    We discovered that they really enjoy the show “Modern Family” so we let them watch it for a while. After a couple of episodes one of her brothers, (whom I’ve always suspected might be gay, although he’s just hitting puberty now so it remains to be seen) asked “Are they gay?” while watching Mitchell and Cameron interact. I was happy to be able to respond with a matter-of-fact, but not curt, “Yes.” I hoped that it was able to provide the impression that I was not surprised/offended/scared/judgmental of the gay characters, without being preachy. They stopped laughing at the show for a few minutes and seemed a little tense, but eventually relaxed and went right back to enjoying themselves.