So I was talking with a friend of mine who has some opinions, as it turns out, on men and women and women and men, and how they think. One of these opinions is that men think that women make things more complicated than they need to be. Well, because I like to complicate things, or simplify things, you decide, I am going to unpack this gem for us all today, for posterity’s sake, bless that good old posterity.
His reference point was two supervisors in a professional setting barking super nasty rebukes back and forth at each other, it all getting super heated and aggressive, and then half hour later reentering the scene in full bro-down mode. And his female co worker chiming in about how women would not end up in the same dynamic, they would keep this going on and on and on.
So what does that say? Not him, he is lovely and doesn’t mean any harm. But what is the shit message in this message? Women are toxic and can’t resolve conflict? Women LIKE to perpetuate conflict? Women are petty, superficial and obviously STUPID because who other than a STUPID person would want to perpetuate conflict? Who other than a fucked up person or gender would be so unwilling to bounce back or let go of a grievance? As opposed to those emotionally wise men with their mad skills at conflict resolution calling each other Fuckers threatening to beat the shit out of one another, insulting each other’s mothers with all kinds of thoughts that should never be associated with the gentle concept of motherhood, then switching it off in time for back slapping and happy hour?
Now let’s turn down the dark corridor of relationship conflict for a wee moment. Come on, don’t be scared. There are folks out there whose idea of a healthy relationship is one in which there is never any emotional discomfort because, specifically, they are wildly uncomfortable with emotion. Or better put, uncomfortable with uncomfortable emotion. Gulp. Sweat rolling down in a single glistening bead. Yes, I see it more often with men, but not exclusively so, so I won’t generalize. When you are really uncomfortable with discomfort, conflict, dissonance, differences, and the like what often happens is that you find yourself in one of two circumstances relationship wise; A. You hitch up with partners who are super extra bendy and accommodating and not always in a super healthy way. Partners who are so starving for love and affection they will go to extreme lengths to win yours. So if you pull back, they will wait, call four hundred friends for support, reason it all out, plan, re plan and plan again, assess, psychoanalyze and change— their clothing, hair, habits and personality just to get you back over the bridge from Narnia. You can hide, in the cave, tunnel, resort, island, or at the bottom of the deep blue sea, and they will crank up the hope and the patience. You can take up residence as the local basketball on Tom Hank’s castaway island and they will set up vigil, grow their hair in solidarity, pray and invoke the gods in honour of your love.
Or, you get someone with a few tricks and tools in their emotional basket, and they are going to want to have a mature, non judgy cards on the table heart to heart when they feel, observe, or inuit a disconnect; when you get squirmy, or go silent, or erect an invisible but OH SO FEELABLE wall around certain topics of conversation, or people, or situations and circumstances, you know what we call in the emotional support world, TRIGGERS. They are going to have a radar and that radar is gonna emit a high pitched red flashing frequency that is going to call bats from Wuhan when you AVOID. Which is good! Because you know what happens when you don’t ever talk about or stare in the face of uncomfortable issues? Well, friends, they become relationship issues. And they GROW! Yes, they feed on the crumbs and mites that hunker beneath the rug you sweep them under. Yummy.
Issues, or conflicts in the beginning are just TINY BABIES. They are innocent and don’t mean any harm. They are often simple differences, in perspective or history or needs. And there are bridges we can cross with WORDS and kindness and expression and non judgment that bridge those tiny baby issues. But you put them in the dark with moisture and like mushrooms they expand and grow. When we can’t have conversations and ask and understand those “disconnects” what happens is that we become passive aggressive. It’s almost impossible to avoid, because the disconnects are not understood or resolved. The discomfort is squeezed into the closet and the door is slammed, and then next time we need a pair of slippers well BAM, heavy things come crashing down on our wee heads. We hear ourselves saying things like “You always” or “You never”. Ugh. We try to let it go, the way they keep opening the car window when we are the one driving, hello, but then there we are in the car together again, and they just fail to know that we don’t want the goddamned window open because it makes that sound and it’s cold out and it’s bloody well our driving domain.
Bottom line is that the relationship in which no one ever needs anything or has a difference of perspective or need, is pretty much a lie. Yep. A lie that they tell themselves or one they tell you, or one you tell yourself as you check out of Hotel California, AGAIN. You don’t really want the unicorn who needs nothing because you are actually not a unicorn and you need things. You need to be seen heard and supported. You need kindness and compassion. You need someone to look at you with respect and reverence and enthusiasm and a sense of mystery. You need someone to actually show up and choose you. You may even need a sprinkle of passion, chemistry, and attraction.
If something fell on your carpet, like let’s say a nacho, one with extra cheese sauce and maybe even a dollop of sour cream and a jalapeno, and you just left it there, not for the dog, or the housekeeper, but instead you just walked around it, what would happen? Then what if you did it again? What if you dropped some nachos and they dropped some nachos, and NO ONE EVER PICKED UP THE NACHOS? What if everyone just walked in more complex and circuitous paths AROUND the nachos? Well. Rot. Stains. BUGS!!!! Bugs would happen. And movement would be restricted. No one wants to feel that kind of squish under the feet. Walking around the gross spots, and then walking around the bugs feeding from the gross spots, and then walking around the squirrels eating the bugs eating the nachos, until you’re only safe space is hanging upside down from the ceiling like a Wuhan bat. That’s what would happen.
Remember in Silver Linings Playbook? When Jennifer requires Bradley to dance with her in exchange for her helping him get a letter to his ex who has a restraining order against him (don’t try this at home)? And he agrees and all of that dancing and discipline and showing up is actually super healing for him and he gets less crazy? Well emotional reciprocation is like that. I say “I feel this” and you say something validating like “I understand” or “Let me try to understand” and then you say “I feel this”. And the music begins. I let you put your hands on my waist and you take my hand in yours. I ask you for something I am needing rather than blaming you for not psychically knowing what I need and you say “I’d love to help. Maybe you could help me with something”. And we score a big 5 at the competition and win crazy betting dad’s house back! Plus also without even trying too hard, we have a two way street, we have an actual healthy relationship.
So if your ‘special friend’ wants to have the same conversation all of the time, it might not be that they are complicating things, but rather that you aren’t really having a conversation, you’re listening to their monologue while you and Chris Cross sail away. Or at least it is worth asking yourself whether that is the problem. Sure, sometimes another person’s need is unanswerable by us. Toxic jealousy, compulsively seeking reassurance is a different animal than “Hey I felt excluded when you groped that stranger at the Christmas Party” or “I felt you clam up when Karen introduced you as my future spouse”. There are folks who have a compulsive need to stir up a problem. But on the flip side, I want to share how many dynamics I have witnessed where one person is on the way to hometowns while the other is still handing out roses because no one wants to rock the boat. Not asking or expressing or keeping a careful watchful eye doesn’t always keep things easy or fluid or simple, it just saves it all up for a big explosion later.
Let’s take it to the bedroom for a moment to exemplify, because dancing can lead to that. What if no one ever spoke up to let us know that what our ex used to like is not in fact what they like, and we spent years of vulnerability and effort that was never in fact hitting the spot,so to speak? Wouldn’t that be a shame? If we ordered the nachos without extra cheese, or ate the jalapenos and then suffered all night wouldn’t that be a shame? Because even if the relationship is uncomplicated by awkwardness or discomfort of one kind, isn’t there an equal or greater discomfort in enduring what isn’t really working for us? And couldn’t we have something better, or even amazing by just establishing a non judgy line of communication for what we happen to need?
As long as we don’t stir judgment into the mix; as long as we don’t attach negative meaning to the need we are not having met, we aren’t (I argue) complicating things at all. BUT when we say “Hey, you didn’t guess what I need and that means you don’t care, are a jerk, are a shit person”, and so on, well then we are making it complicated, regardless of gender.
So, my friends, dancing and nachos. That is my recipe for ever lasting love. Pretty simple if you ask me.
— Love Erin
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