With the holidays over and some Amazon gift cards in my account, I decided to treat myself the other day and ordered a copy of the movie “The Queen”. As you might guess by my screen name, I’m a wee bit fascinated with the British monarchy. It’s entirely the legacy of my paternal grandmother, who was a huge Anglophile and handed me my first historical novel on the Tudors that launched a lifetime interest. While I’m more into the historical monarchy, particularly the Cousins’ War and the Tudor dynasty, I’ll cop to having watched the royal wedding and having at least some idea of what the current crop of royals is up to these days.
“The Queen” deals with a recent crisis that occurred for the monarchy, in particular Queen Elizabeth II, during the response to Princess Diana’s death. It’s an interesting conjecture as to the inner monologue and emotions the Queen dealt with at the time, masterfully expressed by actress Helen Mirren. What caught my attention throughout the film, though, was the exploration of the tension between how someone reacts to a tragedy or crisis and how others expect them to react – especially when the two things aren’t the same.
In the film, the Queen’s reaction to Diana’s death reflects a mixture of concerns, both emotional and practical. She’s an embodiment of the “stiff upper lip” and simply can’t comprehend the hysterical emotional outpouring of sorrow that she encounters. The people feel she’s out of touch and cold, that the Queen is the one reacting inappropriately. The Queen sees the national demand that she make a public show of her emotions, weeping and wailing, as unreasonable and almost a violation. The movie does a great job of asking what human beings are entitled in times of difficulty to demand from each other. Is it fair to either side to demand that the other process the pain in a certain way? Make certain statements? Cry or refuse to cry in public?
It’s a question near and dear to my heart these days. When I chose to go fairly public with my issues with infertility, I received an enormous outpouring of support and love. It was pretty inspiring and wonderful. People I never would have guessed have made the effort to connect with me about this. But…there was this one individual I was sure would step forward with a comforting word when I opened up. I waited. No comment. No acknowledgement on the original facebook post.
Maybe, I thought, she was waiting to see me in person. It’s a sensitive subject. So when I saw her, I waited for a word. A sign. Something. Instead, she determinedly talked about every subject except my post. We talked extensively about work. Life. I wondered if she’d missed the post, but I knew she hadn’t. She knew. And categorically refused to acknowledge it.
“The Queen” made me think about that delicate balance of reactions and expectations. There’s a part of me that is baffled and hurt by her refusal to even acknowledge my struggle, my pain in the smallest way. Then there’s the counterpart: what right do I have to demand a reaction? I don’t know what her inner monologue looks like. I don’t know if there’s some reason that acknowledging my struggle would bring some sort of unbearable dissonance or difficulty.
There’s a sense in which I can view this pretty academically because I do have the benefit of a lot of other great people surrounding me. In some ways, I’m more curious than hurt because the reaction (or lack thereof) was so unexpected based on prior experiences with this individual. Maybe at some point I missed something I should have acknowledged. Or maybe it’s just such an uncomfortable situation that it seems too awkward. At this point, I’m sort of shrugging and letting it go.
But it’s a question: how do you navigate those “unexpected” responses? Is there any recovery when people’s emotional expectations/reactions are so divergent? Is there a way to breach the divide? What kind of support is it appropriate to ask for?