But this wasn’t a sound for classrooms or workplaces. It belonged behind the closed door of a bathroom, where it wouldn’t bother anyone.
My reaction was instant and instinctive; without thought I spun in my chair to stare, or maybe glare, at my cubemate. He grinned, enjoying my obvious discomfort, then continued clipping.
I shuddered again as he cut the last offending overhang from the ends of his fingers, then swiped the debris from his public grooming into our shared garbage can.
As my family can attest, certain sounds send me over the edge. They spark a revulsion so deep it must be genetic. At least two of my children share my aversion, though in varying degrees.
I’ve heard there’s a word to describe the visceral disgust I feel at certain sounds: misophonia. By some reports, people who share this aversion to certain human-created sounds may even become enraged when their auditory senses are assaulted.
My reaction is usually closer to expressed irritation, but it’s true that tapping, clipping, clicking and smacking can all make my skin crawl. Still, the worst sound of all is open-mouthed chewing.
I suspect this is because it offends two senses at once. The sight of teeth mashing food into a digestible pulp exacerbates the obnoxious swish of spittle and gnash of molars.
Thankfully, most of these annoying auditory events are off-hours, in-the-home occurrences and are infrequently found at work.
That is, except for a former colleague who sat directly in my line of sight for a couple of unlucky months. The first day she ate lunch at her desk I jumped at the crunch. Some foods can’t be consumed quietly, and I knew the problem was probably more mine than hers.
I winced and said nothing through the onslaught of chewing, lip smacking and finger licking. She was a sitting advertisement for the bag of crispy chips she was consuming, but instead of enticing my appetite, it made me want to run from the room.
After several different days of this lunchtime audio and visual show, I couldn’t endure my aggravation alone. But rather than risk being rude by overreacting to my otherwise stellar co-worker, I texted a friend who would commiserate.
“She’s eating potato chips. Just shoot me,” I complained.
“LOL. Can you smell them too?” she texted back.
That’s when I realized I might be a hypocrite. I also ate at my desk and regularly packed a baggie of baby carrots and an apple to complement my customary sandwich. Those are crunchy consumables. Even when you take care to close your lips it doesn’t muffle the mastication enough to mute the sound effects.
Later, after chewing over the situation during drinks with my friend, I decided as long as I had an understanding ear I could endure any workday crunchy snack chomping, including my own.
And if the sounds became unbearable or couldn’t be avoided with a short break, I discovered an indispensable invention that has helped my misophonia, if that’s even a real thing.
Noise canceling headphones. Even if you don’t turn on music they can mask a multitude of mouth noises as well as fingernail clipping.
Not that I’ll need them for that. My current cubemate is observant and considerate.
“Does this bother you?” he asked when I swiveled at the sound of clipping.
“Ugh.” I replied, and described my abhorrence to certain sounds, noting I thought some were better emitted in the privacy of his home.
“My fingernails were too long to type,” he explained, holding them out as if to examine. “But I won’t do that again while you’re here.”
Before I could thank him, he continued.
“I’ll wait until you’re in a meeting and just clip them at your desk.”
It’s so nice he understands. Out of earshot, out of mind. Besides, he shares my cube. Chances are excellent I’ll annoy him if I haven’t already. That’s life.
Jill Barville writes twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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