I recently caught an episode of the now syndicated Gilmore Girls and found myself thinking- what was it about this show that made it so popular?

Beyond the story of Lorilei and Rory and the Stars Hollow gang, is something else that draws us in. The more I watched, the more I saw the attraction; unlike me, Lorilei and even teenage Rory seen to always have a cogent, non-aggressive, incredibly succinct comeback for everything. They don’t stutter, or doubt or ramble endlessly. They always seem to get their point across! Indeed, all the Stars Hollow residents seem to have this gift. It must be something in the water of the fictitious Connecticut town that isn’t added to the water in my real Connecticut town.

How many times have you said, “I was stunned by my husband’s (or mother’s father’s, sister’s, boss’s, friend’s) remark. But I don’t think fast. I get tongue tied and flustered. Then later, I think of a million good comebacks. I wish I could think of my feet, but in times of pressure, I am often unable to even respond.”

Thinking on our feet with such accuracy and frequency is impossible for most of us, especially in moments of confrontation or when the stakes feel incredibly high. As adrenalin courses through our body, intellectual functioning breaks down. We finding ourselves saying “Yes” when we really mean “No”. Or if we say anything at all, we stammer or scream or break down in tears. Or go silent. This reaction is part of the fight or flight response our body experiences when we feel threatened. Furthermore, the more conflictual the history with this person is, the harder it is to maintain your cool and find your voice. The stakes feel high and mistakes feel like they would be disastrous. Silly as it feels, in times like this, we experience a child-like dread that we will “get in trouble” for standing up for ourselves. Combine that with caring about you are perceived or not wanting to “hurt their feelings” and any attempt at the cool, clear comeback simply fades away …

Of course, we know it is the writer’s skill that gives the show the quick rhythm and pace and enviable dialogue. Amy Sherman-Pallidino may have created interesting characters but what really compels us to tune in over and over is not our investment in the relationship between Luke and Lorelei or this burning need to find out if Rory will go to Yale, but rather our admiration for their incredible command of language when under pressure. We may like the Gilmores, but we love that gift of gab. In reality, we must remember, those quick comebacks aren’t spontaneous, it takes hours of writing to perfect that sassy, classy style. If we had brilliant writers feeding us lines into a tiny earpiece, then we too, could converse with the ease of the Stars Hollow gang.

But we don’t.

Sherman-Palladino’s stories would not be as compelling with this dialogue. Adam Sorkin’s characters in the wildly popular West Wing and now in the fascinating Newroom are other examples of how, when given time to write the perfect answer, writers create characters that we LOVE.

But, for us, hiring our own writers is not an option-after all we don’t leave in a TV show, but in real life where things are messy and people say the wrong thing and stumble all the time. The best we can do is try to hold true to what we believe and embrace the adage to, ”Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t say it mean.”


Some Strategies to deal with situations when you are tongue tied….

  • If possible, practice what YOU want to say before the conversation. Stay focused on your message rather than trying to figure out their response or agenda.
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “Interesting. I need to think about that” You can end the conversation and buy yourself time to consider what you want to say.
  • Use e-mail, but not impulsively. E-mails written in the middle of the night because you “have to get it off your chest” are fine. But don’t send them until you have reread it in the morning, preferably after a cup of coffee.
  • Don’t be afraid of “looking stupid”- “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer and will buy you time to think about your retort.
  • Say nothing. Simply nod to indicate you are listening. The speaker will eventually stop and may even try to provoke you…” Cat got your tongue?”. “Nope, just taking in what you are saying”. That often stops the dialogue right there!
  • Stay on topic. Don’t let the speaker throw in the complete history of your relationship. Keep it simple and focused on one issue.
  • Listen for “always” and “never”. Use of these words indicates a distortion of the facts. Know that is not an argument you can win. Don’t even try.



© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

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