If You Want to Get Closer to People, Stop Giving Extra Credit Criticism

a dreamy rough artistic rendering of a circus scene
Image by cea + / CC BY

I’ve always been a person who dreams. And most of the time I remember them.

Supposedly, science says this means I’m a restless sleeper, that I wake up easily. You’re more likely to remember your dreams if you sleep lightly or wake up frequently.

This also scans, since I have a tiny bladder and a tendency to become absolutely parched right before bed. This means that whenever I go on trips one of the first things I do is note the quickest route to the bathroom for when I wake up in the middle of the night desperately having to pee. Whether that route is across a hotel suite or across terrain to the nearest porta potty depends on the trip.

But I always check. And plan beforehand.

I don’t normally tell other people about my dreams. Most of my dreams I keep to myself. Sometimes I’ll report on them to my partner, especially when he asks how I slept. But I try to keep it brief. Just the highlights. The weird details. Fifty words or less — like one of those testimonial contests for household products they were always running in women’s magazines when I was a kid.

This is because I’m used to other people going on at great length about their dreams. An ex-girlfriend whose house I frequently slept at in high school would start recounting her dreams as soon as she woke up, continue throughout our getting dressed and ready, still tell the tale on our walk to school, and finish right before the bell tolled.

Our Own Dreams Are Rarely as Fascinating to Other People As They Are to Us

I remember this habit of hers very well even now because it happened all the time and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Her dreams were absolutely fascinating to her but not compelling (or even very interesting) to a third party. Usually scattered with infinite random details that she was gripped by and so absolutely had to share… but meant very little or nothing to me.

I was bored during these retellings, but because I loved her, I indulged her. Tried to be the best audience I could be. That’s always been part of my picture of love, you see. Tolerating what you can tolerate and addressing what you can’t. Picking my battles rather than demanding perfection out of the person I’m with. Or criticizing them to a point where they can no longer love or accept themselves.

No, I didn’t tell her to stop. Because even though she was boring me to tears, I did appreciate seeing inside her mind. I wanted to know as much as I could about her, even if sometimes it was delivered in a suboptimal way.

So instead I just listened to her boring dream retellings. And while I did, I made a mental note not to do similar to anyone else in the future. To keep my dream retellings short and sweet.

She taught me a valuable lesson. That our own dreams are rarely as fascinating to other people as they are to us. Well, at least not in raw form.

Because while her verbal play-by-plays were tedious and felt neverending, sometimes she would later paint her dreams. And those — well, they were breathtaking. For her paintings, she edited them down to the most vibrant details, the most intense contours. And when she did, the results were incredible.

I felt like I was looking deep into her soul.

Extra Credit Criticism of Another Person Is the Surest Way to Get Them to Shut You Out

That was one of my first relationships. And it was an important, formative one.

In some ways, that early bond set me up for heartache and disappointment. While our relationship had its problems (to begin with, we were both closet cases contending with not being straight in a small town and all the baggage that entails), it also set me up for high expectations of intimacy, of tolerance, of patience.

Ones that I wouldn’t realize until much later weren’t standard issue.

I’d go on later to date a string of others who seemed to not even understand that other people had rich inner lives, ones that might very well look very different than their own. Lovers who had no problem criticizing a partner into a shadow of what they had been. Lovers who had no sense of perspective, no framework of mature tradeoffs or personal sacrifice.

Who never would have sat through an admittedly boring dream retelling (or hundred) in order to get a glimpse into someone else’s soul.

I realized during these disappointing years that what I’d experienced right out of the gate in my romantic relationships with other women wasn’t “normal.” Instead, people seemed rather keen to engage in extra credit criticism, even with a person they claimed to want to be close to. To find a partner and try to “shape them” into what their idea of perfection was rather than embracing the person in front of them and figuring out if they’d work as they were. Not as they could feasibly be in an ideal world.

I ended up in long-term relationships like this where I found myself shutting down. Boarding up the best parts of me because I’d been picked to ribbons at the start, before someone had really gotten a chance to know me.

This is because extra credit criticism of another person is the surest way to get them to shut you out.

A Terrible Irony: The Worst Critics Are Often Unaware That They’re Critical

Of course there’s a terrible irony here: I’ve found that the worst critics are often unaware that they’re critical. And if they do know, they frame it as a virtue. They think that savagery and nitpicking are the norm, not the exception. Pride themselves on their honesty, their tendency to be “straight shooters,” congratulating themselves on their aim without questioning why they’re pointing that weapon at others in the first place.

And they’re the ones who never stop to consider that they could be tactless, cruel, or hypocritical.

I’m Finally Able to Tell Other People About My Dreams

Anyway, it wasn’t pretty getting there, but I eventually found my way back to healthy relationships. To actual intimacy. To being able to actually trust another person.

And when I did, that’s how I knew for sure that I was in a healthy relationship: I wasn’t afraid to tell them about my dreams.

Now some things never change. I still try to stay under the 50-word limit out of courtesy. But I feel safe when I do. And that’s a big improvement.

*

Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

;

Liked it? Take a second to support Poly.Land on Patreon!

1 Comment

  1. Your posts are written so clearly and thoughtfully. They feel educational, relatable and are enjoyable to read. Especially at the start of this post I was like YES, no one realises that hearing about other people’s dreams in full detail is boring, so I tend to keep my dream summaries short too

Leave a Reply

You may also like