Robots in disguise.
Last night, at the end of a very difficult day, I inadvertently hit upon the root cause of some of my persistent upsets. I had spent the entire day behaving like a robot in an attempt to put the kibosh on those negative feelings that control me. It was an extreme version of the mantra to “act the way you want to feel”. I’d been reading about Gretchen Rubin’s attempts to do just this, and for her, happiness ensued. I wanted to feel thick-skinned, unshakeable, buoyed from within. I wanted to rise above the contingent circumstances of the everyday that constantly threaten to capsize me. I wanted to act in a generous way to my partner – apologising when I misunderstood or made a mistake rather than flying off the handle defensively as is my wont. I decided to stay quiet on the whole, waiting for my turn to speak not butting in or veering off-topic.
Unfortunately my efforts to be calm, considerate, polite and detached backfired hugely. J chided me for behaving like a robot and begged me to stop it. I could see it on his face, he grimaced with displeasure as I apologised for upsetting him and berated myself for the hundredth time that day. So that approach clearly didn’t work as no-one wants to be around a person who’s putting on a childish act. He would like me to be happy and light not to oscillate between one drama and another. And when I think about it that’s absolutely right; one of the traits I most admire in him is his steadfastness.
At the end of Robot Day I became very tired and realised (too late of course) that I was frustrated. I had almost managed to keep up the act for an entire day but at the very last moment, when I was halfway up the marble hill to Bedfordshire, J called me back saying it was rude just to disappear without so much as a by your leave. I had already squeezed every last drop into the day’s exertions so of course I lost it. I snapped. I can’t remember what was said but vitriol poured out. I stewed for a couple of minutes then headed upstairs in a stink.
I came down a few minutes later and apologised and this time I was me, not a robot. All I could say was that I was frustrated and didn’t know how to express myself. This was the root cause that I had been trying to arrive at for quite some time.
My communication is a problem. My verbal communication is slow, unintelligent and inarticulate. I write very well but I do not speak with authority and I’m unable to command the attention of my listener(s) in a conversation. As a result, I stomp my feet and shout “Hey! Listen to me! I’m talking!” which has the exact opposite effect of capturing the attention of my audience (my audience consisting of my boyfriend, J, nine times out of ten). As a result of that, I am thwarted and frustrated because I wasn’t able to get my point across effectively and the reaction of my audience was unsatisfactory. Often I just give up expressing anything. My communication needs are not being met. J has a habit of expressing one of these sentiments as a response to my best attempts at verbal communication.
“I’m sorry, what was that, I was thinking about something else”
“Do you think you could actually get to the point?”
“Anyway, back to what I’m talking about…”
“Do you mind rephrasing that more clearly?”
“I got lost halfway through”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah I know all of that!”
And worse are the physical gestures that accompany his responses, such as turning away, looking out of the window, looking at his phone, sighing, avoiding eye contact, making a gesture which says “And…? Hurry up!” These gestures scream impatience and lack of interest loudest of all.
Most – and I really do mean a majority – of things that I say are interrupted and talked over. That is very hard for me to admit even as a very submissive sort of person by nature. I must do something to redress this balance and my suggestion was that when our communication needs are not being met, we have to say so by stating that that is the case. It’s very simple. Just say the words, “I feel frustrated by this communication”.
I am a person accustomed to silence and lack of talking for the most part. That is how I grew up and fashioned myself especially whilst single. I like art, reading, running, sewing, writing, listening to music, watching films and other solitary pursuits. I find myself in a full-time relationship with someone that crowds my head with constant speaking. Most of it is lovely talk such as exciting ideas, plans, stories, anecdotes, facts, friendly advice and hard-won experience being imparted. He is so gifted at painting a picture with words and he’s a great role model as a communicator for me as my verbal communication level is very low.
But this constant talking from him requires a reaction and complete attention from me which saps my energy. The fast pace of his thoughts (while not manic or anything like that) is very difficult for me to keep up with as I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. I lack the mental headspace to contribute something original or interesting to the conversation as I need much more time to formulate a thought and turn that into a cogent sentence.
I spend way too much of my time in tears and it must stop. Redefining the type and quality of communication that we each need in the relationship might help to stem the feelings of helplessness and frustration that lead to dark nights of the soul.