Like most failures to communicate, ours begins on a very small scale. On matters so tiny they’re forgotten almost as soon as the words are spoken. He’s so close when he hears me, but he always gets part of what I say wrong.
At first I notice that his replies don’t quite make sense when paired with what I’m saying. So I try to make it more explicit. I restate what I said in a different way. He smiles blankly at me. And continues to respond in a way that doesn’t sit quite right.
I let it go in the moment. I figure maybe I’m being too sensitive. But as the weeks wind on, it happens over and over again.
He keeps taking my words to places I never intended him to go. And while I can’t see into his head, it seems like he’s taking what he believes and what I believe, and instead of acknowledging that gap so we can address it, he’s building these bridges inside of his own head. Painting over the conflict. Changing my words so that they agree with his worldview. Instead of really listening.
The next time he does it, I do my best to dip in nonconfrontationally. “Well, yes, I see what you’re saying in one sense, but it’s also more like this…” Before explaining.
He nods. But reading his face, I’m not sure he’s really heard me.
Later he writes something that indicates that he hasn’t. He’s jumping off on that initial observation he made. The half-heard, half-understood impression he remembered. Attributing it to me.
“You know that’s not what I said, right?” I say. “Not what I meant?”
I tell him that no one gets everything right when they write (I sure don’t). Anyone who says they do is not to be trusted. That I believe that he believes that’s what I said. Or at least that he thinks that’s what I meant.
I tell him that I don’t think he’s a liar. But that the impression he’s gotten of my own feelings on the matter are wrong.
He says he understands what I’m saying. And he seems to mean it so I do my best to move on.
It’s Masochistic to Like Complexity
I tend to speak in shades of gray. To view things as nuanced and open-ended. Ambiguous. And he’s just not comfortable with that. He wants his closure. Wants things to make sense.
He wants to understand me in a way that’s easy for him. But I’m complicated.
Why not accept me for what I am, a mass of contradictions? Why want me to be simple?
I ask a friend about it, who tells me, “Complicated means tough. Hard, maybe impossible to understand. The unknown and unknowable is scary. People tend to want to be with folks who don’t scare them.”
“Maybe I’m weird then,” I reply. “Because I prefer complicated people. Or at least a mix of complicated and comfortable.”
“It’s a very masochistic thing to like complexity in my opinion,” my friend tells me. “Sets yourself up for fear. And that’s the root of masochism: Pain is primal fear, your body communicating fear that it’s breaking.”
Round and Round in the Rock Tumbler
But knowing this doesn’t help. There’s nothing for it, really. It keeps on happening.
What starts out as my nuance flattens the more he thinks about me. The edges grow rounder. Every cycle he spins me around, something is lost. But it’s what he has to do. And with the repetition, I start to make sense to him.
His mind is like the rock tumbler I longed for as a little girl. The one in the JC Penney catalog. He takes my jagged edges and rolls them into smooth planes.
My own redirects are futile. The rolling is inexorable. My essence is erased one cycle at a time.
When I eventually hurt him, he quickly casts me as villain. And not just one that has committed wrongdoing but one with hatred in her heart. As the machine tumbles, he rounds frustration to dislike and then rounds dislike to contempt. And insists that contempt obliterates love. He says you can’t love half a person. That if you find a fatal flaw in your relationship that it means you never loved someone.
But I don’t see people that way. Like smooth, uniform stones. Possessing a single characteristic or quality.
No, people have irregular planes. Variegation. They can be composites of different minerals. They can break. Transform.
But he’s entitled to his own story. He believes what he says.
None of what he’s saying rings true to me, exactly. But he’s come to the copy of a copy of me that makes his confusion go away. His confusion over how someone who loved him could go on to hurt him.
And I’m happy for him. Even if it all sounds wrong to me.
But, you know, no one gets everything right.