“Can we go, or are you going to pout all night?” His tone was sharp, and I cringed away from him.
“Am I not allowed to feel bad?” I replied, feeling something shrivel up inside of me.
“If you’re going to pout, you’ll have to stay home,” he restated.
I wasn’t aware that I was pouting. Maybe we have a different idea of what constitutes “pouting,” I thought to myself. I thought about sharing the idea with him but felt like the mood was charged enough already.
“Am I pouting?” I said instead.
“You keep sighing and looking at me. And the look on your face…”
Right, I thought. This again. Skyspook’s ex-girlfriends had played the mind-reading game extensively. The passive-aggressive posturing and the emotional minefield of “if you loved me, you’d know me well enough to know what I want.” Raised by an emotionally manipulative mother, I was all too familiar with those kinds of games and had long ago made a vow to do everything I could not to buy into that kind of behavior. It’d been a long difficult road of practice and failure, especially since it’s been modeled constantly around me, even by people I otherwise respect. Finally, though, a few years back, I felt like I’d finally gained mastery of owning my own feelings and intentions and not trying to communicate desires indirectly and especially not setting up “tests” or “traps” for my partner.
Over the 2 years and change Skyspook and I’ve been together, it’s come up time and time again. At first, traumatized by past relationships, he’d read passive-aggression or bitchiness into neutral or positive interactions, hearing bitterness where there was absolutely none. Through the process of a lot of emotional conversations with me, he’s had a lot of progress of his own and typically gives me the benefit of the doubt. However, things are still difficult when I get upset.
The trouble, I think, lies in a hair fine distinction. The distinction in question is the difference between upset and upset with a desired aim. To unpack that statement: I can be perfectly upset and feel it as emotional pain but have ZERO expectations of Skyspook regarding that upset. In these cases, I expect him to do nothing and have no blame for him. This is how I typically feel upset towards Skyspook. Any perceived “pouting” is personal venting and bearing of emotional pain until it dissipates. I’m a bit odd in that I realize that any sort of intellectual connections to the gut feelings I’m suffering with in the moment are going to be terribly biased and unproductive — i.e., ideas like “you jerk, make me feel better, this is all your fault,” etc. I usually interpret pain as “this sucks” or “I’m hurt so badly.” It’s only after I stabilize that I can sort through what has happened inside me and why.
After a tense car ride, we reached the Home Depot parking lot, and I was able to articulate some of the internal difficulties that had led up to our spat.
Skyspook questioned the accuracy of my reporting, saying that I was coming up with a cognitively biased post hoc version of events rather than my true experience (he’s learned a lot from my training to be a social psychologists and uses concepts now when we talk together).
I told him that I remembered clearly how I felt. I insisted with an intensity that is atypical of me.
Skyspook was still dubious. He asked me why I hadn’t said so in the first place.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I wasn’t sure that was why, and I thought it was silly in the moment.”
Skyspook frowned. “If you can’t tell me what’s wrong, then maybe you shouldn’t sign the contract,” he said.
Another jab of pain in my chest. “What do you mean by that?” I asked him, trying (but mostly likely failing) to stay calm. He’d presented me a slave contract in electronic form about a week earlier that I’d been tasked to consider and make changes before signing.
“It’s part of the transparency portion. You’re contracted to answer my questions and tell me how you feel when I ask.”
I burst into tears. I needed to explain, but every word weighed a thousand pounds coming out of my mouth. I realized that maybe he was right and that the problem was me – not a matter of willful disobedience but a matter of who I am.
I don’t like to report on my feelings until I have a grasp of what they are beyond the gut iceberg tip. Not because I’m intentionally dishonest or manipulative or overly concerned with my image, but because I’ve learned that words can’t be taken back.
We talked some more. The emotional heat dissipated a bit. “You have a completely different way of communicating than other people,” Skyspook observed. “It’s hard to get used to.”
The blood drained from my face.
“What?” Skyspook said, reading my facial micro-expressions.
“My ex-husband used to say that, too, about me. I wonder what the fuck’s wrong with me,” I said.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” he replied.
“Well, clearly there is,” I said. “If I’m relating to other people in this really weird way.”
“It’s because you’ve been abused, that’s all,” Skyspook said, as though it was perfectly obvious to him.
I realized at once he was right. “You know,” I said. “Maybe I shouldn’t sign that contract.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” he said, now giving me a hug.
“There’s no sense signing a contract that I’ll breach immediately.”
“You can revise it. Besides, you already signed a slave diet contract, so in a sense you’ve already been contracted to me,” he pointed out.
“Not the same thing,” I said.
“Ssssshhh,” he said. “Let’s go inside.”
“Do I look okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, just a little redness.”
“Later that evening we were lying in bed. “It seems like an awful lot of work for something that’s my fantasy,” I said.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t want to,” he said.
“I don’t think I should be your slave,” I said.
“You don’t get it, do you? I like protecting you. I love taking care of you. I get a lot out of it,” Skyspook said.
“Oh.” As I fell asleep, a host of potential reasons why I was unfit to serve him circled my head in a cloud.
I still haven’t signed his contract.