Hi, My Name Is Rachel, and I Laugh at Inappropriate Times

I’ve noticed something disconcerting about myself: I laugh at inappropriate times, and I can’t even help myself.

Last evening as we were preparing to enjoy a walk around the pond in our neighborhood, I asked my handy husband to take a look at our mailbox. It had become warped and nearly impossible to open due to a recent ice storm and subsequent death-blow dealt by our annoyed mail carrier who was clearly so over these frozen-shut mailboxes. (I don’t blame him.) Hubby wrestled with it for a bit, as I had done earlier in the day, only his scuffle ended in a cry of pain, a furious glare at the offending mailbox, and blood. He immediately took off walking at a brisk pace to release some angry energy. I caught up with him and took a look at his bleeding thumb…and then I laughed. Out loud. I became the next recipient of an enraged glare.

You don’t need me to spell out for you that laughing at your husband’s pain does not, in fact, foster marital bliss. You might, however, need me to assure you that I’m normally a sensitive, considerate, and empathetic person. Why, then, are situations like this just so darn funny sometimes?

I’m tempted to blame it on my mother. When I was a little kid, she would regularly make me eat prunes in order to—how do I say it?—make me regular. I hated those nasty things; they tasted bad, and their texture was even worse. So I’d inevitably start gagging, which Mom thought was hilarious. She’d start laughing, which prompted my six year-old self to get mad and run out of the room. This whole scene was not nearly as amusing to my dad, which ironically seemed to make the whole thing more amusing to my mom. We repeated this entire spectacle weekly for about ten years. (Don’t worry; my parents are loving and compassionate people, and we all have a great relationship now. I even eat in front of them...everything except prunes, that is.)

I don’t actually think that my tendency to laugh at inappropriate times is due to unresolved mommy issues. (You’re off the hook this time, Mom.) I do believe, however, that in tense situations the brain seeks relief, and for some of us oh-so-fortunate individuals, this frequently spills over into nervous laughter…in the face of our not-so-fortunate loved ones who aren’t sure how we can be so nice normally and yet so maniacally amused by their agony occasionally. Consider another similar instance that happened recently:

I was cleaning the bathroom while my husband was in the kitchen slicing sweet potatoes into fries. I heard an exclamation of pain, followed by yelling for me to bring a bandage. In my brief dash to him, I mentally prepared myself to secure a temporary dressing on his hand, load him into the car, and place the portion of the finger he’d cut off into a baggie and then put that into a cooler to take with us to the ER…because these situations are not unheard of, and I’m a farm wife, and this is what we do. When I saw that he was still in one piece, though with a deep gash in one finger, you guessed it…I laughed. Hubby once again didn’t see the humor.

Laughing at inappropriate times isn’t limited to tense situations caused by someone’s physical discomfort. Another trigger for me is being on stage. Go with me for a moment to my sophomore year of college. I was standing at the front of a crowded banquet hall with several other students. We were being inducted into an honor society, and we were holding lit candles while we listened to a professor talk about the rich tradition of academic excellence of the society, etc. etc. Maybe it was the crowd, or maybe it was the flashbacks I was having to burning my fingers on hot wax at Christmas Eve church services past. (Those cardboard drip-catchers are worthless.) In any case, I was feeling a bit anxious. I was handed a lapel pin, and the prof began to explain that at campuses across the country new inductees would wear their pins proudly for a full week to identify with other members of the hallowed society, crossing the normal social boundaries of campus culture. It was too much for me. I laughed—one of those laughs that sort of bursts out of your nose because you’re trying so hard not to make any noise. Everyone heard, and everyone looked at me, and I was horrified. But come on. This was the 21st Century, and I was not going to wear that lapel pin on my t-shirts for a week. This college girl had an image to maintain, for heaven’s sake.

There’s simply not enough time to elaborate on all the other occasions in which I’ve laughed at inappropriate times, like the time a gleeful tail-wagging dachshund raced past a solemn wedding ceremony, causing tears to run down this maid of honor’s face. Or the time I took the age-old advice to combat nervousness by imagining the audience in their underwear when I had to speak at a Sunday night prayer meeting—yeah, that didn’t go as planned… I wasn’t nervous anymore! I just couldn’t stop giggling long enough to offer a coherent thought at the microphone.

Whatever the situation, it’s simply a fact that something that’s funny under normal circumstances is ten times funnier when you should not laugh. If you suffer from the same particular ailment that I do, please know that you’re not alone. And if you suffer from being in close relationship with someone like me, please reassure yourself that they love you, they are not in fact making fun of you, and if you just give them a moment, they’ll get right back to being understanding and serious.

Have you ever laughed at an inappropriate time? Tell me about it in the comments!

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