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What you need to know about clueyness, a weird kind of sad.

It's like conjunctional empathy, and it happens to all of us.

What you need to know about clueyness, a weird kind of sad.

This post was originally published on Wait But Why.

I have a new word for you: cluey. Let me explain.


My father once told me a mundane little anecdote from his youth. It involved his father — my late grandfather — and one of the happiest and most loving people I’ve ever known.

One weekend day, my grandfather went to the store and brought a new board game home for the family: Clue.

He excitedly asked my father and his sister (who were 7 and 9 at the time) if they wanted to play. They did. They joined him at the kitchen table as he opened up the game, read the instructions, explained to them how to play, divided up the cards, and put all the pieces where they go.

Just as they were about to start, the doorbell rang. It was the neighbor kids, who said they were on their way outside to play some outdoor game they all used to play. Without a second thought, my dad and aunt jumped up from their seats and left with their friends.

A few hours later, they came back to the house. The game had been put back in the closet.

At the time, my dad didn’t think much of it — pretty normal day in their lives. But later on, he found himself remembering that day, and he always felt bad about it. He pictured his father sitting there at the table, now alone, with all the cards and pieces laid out. He pictured him waiting for a little while before accepting that it wasn’t gonna happen, then collecting all the pieces and cards he had laid out, putting them back in the box, and putting the box back in the closet.

Pretty random story for my dad to tell me, right? The reason he did was because it was part of a conversation where I was trying to articulate a certain thing I suffer from.

I feel incredibly bad for certain people in certain situations — situations in which the person I feel bad for was probably barely affected by what happened.

It’s an odd feeling of intense heartbreaking compassion for people who didn’t actually go through anything especially bad.

When I explained this, my dad said, “I know what you’re talking about,” and offered up the Clue story. Devastating. My grandfather had been excited about playing, and he was being such a good, loving dad, and he ended up let down and disappointed. He sat there all by himself with the game board, and finally, he put all the cards and pieces back in the box because no, the game wasn’t happening anymore because his kids would rather play with their friends than him.

My grandfather fought in World War II. He probably lost friends. He probably shot people. He might have been shot himself, who knows. But the image of him quietly putting all the Clue pieces back in the box? That’s not fucking OK. And now, thanks to my dad sharing this memory, I live every day haunted by this image:

All images here used with permission from Wait But Why.

It’s not just my dad doing this to me.

Tell me how I’m supposed to handle this fucking story, where the grandfather made 12 burgers for six grandkids and only one showed up.

Full Clue situation. And the story includes the clueyest picture I’ve ever seen:

As I read the story, I started picturing this nice fucking man buying all the ingredients in the grocery store, in a good mood with anticipation for the night, then coming home and making each of the 12 patties by hand — maybe even adding carefully-thought-out spices into them — toasting the buns and timing everything to be done at just the right time. He even made homemade ice cream. Clue up the dick. It continues, if you imagine what happened at the end of the night. Either he wrapped up eight uneaten burgers, one by one, and put them in the fridge, ensuring that he’s later reminded of the rejection each time he heats one up to eat it, or even worse, he just threw them in the trash.

And then there’s this story of an 89-year-old grandmother, who got dressed nicely and put her paintings up for display at an art showing, and guess what? No one fucking came. Then, according to one of her grandchildren, she packed up her paintings and drove home, feeling “foolish.” You know what that is? It’s cluey as hell. Especially the word foolish, in particular. I really don’t need this in my life.

Movies know all about clueyness and use it to their advantage.

Remember that super cluey old man neighbor in "Home Alone"? Who was so nice and lonely and misunderstood? The writers literally invented him to inflict clueyness on the audience so they could then release the burden of that clueyness at the end by showing him in happy reunion with his family. Cheapest trick in the book.

Clueyness doesn’t only apply to old people. One time, about five years ago, I was in a bad mood and in a rush when I hastily walked out of my apartment building. A FedEx man was standing outside the building with his cart of packages, and he wanted to get in so he could leave the packages on top of the communal mailbox (I assume the package recipient wasn’t home, so he had had no luck being buzzed in). As I walked out, he reached for the door as it closed behind me, but it shut before he could grab it. After the door relocked, he let out a frustrated exhale, and then he turned to me and asked, “Can you please open the door so I can drop these off?” I was already 10 steps away though and late, so I said, “Sorry I can’t right now” and turned back toward where I was going. Before I did, I briefly saw his reaction to my refusal to help. He had the face on of a nice person who the world had been mean to all day. The snapshot of that dejected face he made bothered me more and more throughout the day, and now it’s five years later, and I still think about it.

If someone asks me what my biggest regret is, I have to lie because how weird would it be if I answered, “The FedEx man incident. I’m a monster.”

Clueyness is a strange phenomenon.

My grandfather probably forgot about the Clue incident an hour after it happened. The FedEx man probably forgot about what I did to him five minutes later. I got cluey about a dog the other day, when he was super excited to play and I was busy and nudged him away with my foot, and he looked at me confused and taken aback and then went to the side of the room and laid down. The weight of my heartache in these cases outweighs the actual tragedy like 10,000:1.

But knowing that it’s totally irrational doesn’t make clueyness any less excruciating —something I’m reminded of every time my night is ruined by post-Uber-ride-when-the-friendly-driver-tried-to-start-a-conversation-and-I-wasn’t-in-the-mood-so-I-gave-curt-answers-until-he-finally-got-the-hint-and-then-felt-embarrassed-and-stopped guilt.

I’m just destined for a life of feeling cluey about things. But at least I can take solace in a little headline I came across:

Sad Papaw No Longer Sad: Thousands Wait in Line for Burgers at His Cookout

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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