He rolls his eyes. Here we go again. The feeling creeps over him. Like bugs. Worms. Fever. That god awful flu everyone keeps hyping on about. They can’t just chill. NO. They can’t just do something as simple as going on a freaking vacation. Okay I know he wouldn’t say freaking. He would full f bomb. So I am going to say it okay? For authenticity. They can’t just go on something a simple as a fucking vacation. Vacations are supposed to be fun. Right? Aren’t they? Did he miss the goddamned bulletin where vacation was assigned to be a bloody GRIND? An intervention? A sit-in where everyone sings kumbaya my lord and talks about their feelings? Because he is thinking a little more beers on a patio. A little more extreme sports. A little more ANYTHING BUT ANOTHER GOD FORSAKEN PROBLEM THAT INEVITABLY REQUIRES HIM TO SELF EXAMINE. To have what she is calling ‘insight’. To be, for the love of god, compassionate, validating, understanding. He wants to make it go away, like a mosquito whining in his ear on the brink of a dead sleep. He teeters back and forth on the totter of blanket apology “I am so sorry baby for being a dick, AGAIN” and “What’s wrong with you, let it go already”. He reaches into his wallet for his ready list of transgressions. Typically when he gets to four or five items he exits.
He works up the story. How was he supposed to be happy with that behaviour? She was critical. Controlling. She dissed his house keeping habits. She talked about his ex. There were flags, friends. And they were RED. She made him feel, at times, UNCOMFORTABLE. Nothing was good enough. Nothing was EVER. GOING. TO. BE. GOOD. ENOUGH. Which could only mean one thing. That sooner than later he was going to be exposed as not good enough, and well the ending is always the same. She winds up with the younger hotter guy and he is left. Alone and afraid. Weak and foolish and somehow mortified for giving the kind of fucks that only sorry bastards give.
That is definitely what she was trying to get across when she mentioned that thing about feeling, what was it? Left out? Sad. Excluded from the conversation. Excluded from his big life decisions. When she felt, heard, saw a drift from his WE, their talk of their future, to talk about HIS plan, a drift from his push for her free time, for her commitment, a segue from the urgency that she meet his family to a something between casual indifference to jumpy avoidance. I mean chances are she was screwed by then. By the time she had carefully weighed the behavioural shift, the subtle freeze, by the time she had considered and reflected and cultivated an non-offensive broach to the topic, he had already sold himself on the terrifying narrative, a real Hollywood blockbuster, in order to justify his Escape from Alcatraz.
And then it just doesn’t matter if she wraps it up in soft kitten fur, or in a banner of his greatest accomplishments so as not to trigger him. It doesn’t matter how much jelly in the P and J sandwich she sneaks it into. She can tell him that NO OFFENCE, she just happened to notice that he has disappeared to Narnia and would he mind sending her a quick text during his next break from the intense mission of saving the world from THEIR RELATIONSHIP, so that she isn’t making dinner for the dog, again, and he’s going to say “You’ve crossed the line, Karen”.
Sometimes, communication is NOT the issue. Sometimes it’s just fear, or worthiness, trauma borne of abandonment, and when your beloved gets close to that it’s like an extreme attack of claustrophobia and all they can hear is the sound of walls closing in and they will chew off their own arm to get out of the trap.
But (and I am so sorry to you and for you if you are that lover, if you are a runner—call me), someone needing something from you at some point is actually a GOOD thing. It’s inevitable, unless you want a shell of a relationship that offers empty misery or blows up the first time someone thinks about lighting a cigarette on a warm day.
There are all kinds of communication best practices that I can communicate to you. But I would like to give you something even BIGGER and BETTER than “How Not to Call Your Lover an Asshole 101”.
And that is…wait for it…drum roll and TA DA…a BRIDGE to communication. The recognition that DOING IT is not an easy thing, because communicating is typically an expression of NEEDING something, or FEELING something that has a bearing on the relationship. Which, to some is easy to confuse with criticism or a judgment, or an attack. We don’t usually call daily chit chat or lovey doveiness ‘communication’. For some it is going to feel like unnecessary problem making. It can be hard and that is because of this SHOCKING and NEWSWORTHY REVELATION:
People need things from one another. That is why, friends, we enter into relationship. To RELATE. We do not enter into relationship with the goal of overcoming our need for it, being entirely self sufficient, or mastering solitariness. We enter into it so we have someone to love, to talk to, to share with, to support and be supported by, to laugh with. Have sex with, eat hashbrowns with, or whatever else floats our boat. Chances are (one hundred percent) that what we need will not always line up with what our beloved thinks to give, naturally. And that is okay. I could write you a manual on the different kinds of needs, and how to differentiate from something that is a need within ourselves versus a relationship need, versus a non relationship need that we need help resolving, but today I am stepping back from all of that to talk about the infrastructure that makes it COMFORTABLE to talk about that thing you need in the first place, and that thing you will need a year from now, and that thing that your partner will need five years from now and ten years after that.
Accepting the premise that we need shit, and that we don’t come with a manual delineating all the shit we need for easy reference, what we really need help with and what so very painfully often goes so very painfully wrong, is the whole business of broaching the need.
I am suggesting a CRAZY AMAZING REVOLUTIONARY THING. Which is that you as a couple agree somewhere around date number TWO (JK, but early on) to BUILD A BRIDGE over the communication gap, moat, pit of stinking rotten roiling despair, in order to put less pressure on all y’all selves both to figure it out and deliver it on the wings of angels.
By a bridge I mean a sacred space. A UN delegation with a healthy dose of diplomatic immunity. A regular weekly session or bi-weekly where you check in on one another’s needs, relationship needs, feelings and so on, and/or a White Flag that either one can wave in order to solicit support, discussion, sharing, asking, expressing without Karen or Bob locking themselves in the wine cellar or the panic room. Okay we all know that the wine cellar IS in fact the panic room #covid.
We need to do this, and find a way to do it that we normalize and make feel comfortable, safe, humorous and affectionate in order to break the toxic social conditioning and shaming around feeling FEELZ and needing THINGS and otherwise removing the armour that is there to help us survive, but not to thrive.
Find a way, a place, a tone, a bridge, an acceptance, a friendly code, a safe word that means “Help. We should probably talk about something without blame or judgment.” We want to create EMOTIONAL SAFE SPACE in relationship, to be ourselves and to share ourselves even when and especially when it involves our beloved. Shocking. But true. In the voice of Leonard Nimoy “Believe it, or not”.
If we can make this a foundational process, the whole business of how to say it, when to say it, how not to say it, how not to avoid saying it, how not to piss off our reluctant or sensitive partner, the how not to judge or attack becomes one thousand times easier. If we can AGREE that actually resolving differences and working together to answer need or help our partner feel secure or understood is actually A GOOD THING, and won’t actually threaten our lives or expose us as a loser then we can get to making it easier on one another. We can work with each other’s foibles and sensitivities. We can get good at this and feel good about this, rather than hiding behind our big pile of rocks the second someone wants to talk or emits a vibe of concern. We can have a sense of humour with each other. Hahahahaha. You want to talk about feelings again! How fun, Karen! Okay I jest. I am talking about everyone but ‘Karen’, here.
The point is, instead of hoping and praying that your honey moon phase will stay so giddy and wonder filled that nary a practical concern or moment of hurt will befall your magical moon kingdom and white knuckling through close calls with discomfort by avoiding; instead of shoving your concern about her sudden vacay to Siberia or his mysterious club membership to Men Going Their Own Way down so deep that it is safely weighted by a year of donuts and pumpkin lattes, you might consider giving your Love Fest the advantage of an intentional approach.
It’s not going to save you from The Runaway Bride, or Groom. You aren’t going to unpack someone’s trauma response if it results in relentless insatiable need, or a preference for taking one of those spy pills that kill you before the enemy can make you talk –if they are trauma brain avoidant— but for the rest of us, the in-betweeners it will knock down the programming that confuses differences and needs with grievances and tells us we should be waking up on emotional rose petals with pina coladas for breakfast until death do we part.
Now I am going to get really real with all ya’ll. I think I am going to work it into my vows this go around. Rum and rose petals. It has a certain poetry.
Do I promise to talk about feelings with you, in sickness and in health, as long as the rum is free and the water is warm and you promise to make me laugh?
I DO, friends, I DO. A thousand I DO’S.
— Love Erin
P.S. You’ve been asking me how to get your friends and loved ones the help I’ve been able to give you. We can do that. Contact me and we’ll talk details.
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.