It’s happened so many times. I’ll be sitting in a room with someone else, and they’ll say, “What’s that sound?”
And even though I’ll drop everything I’m doing and strain to hear it, it’ll typically take me at least a few seconds to figure out what they’re talking about.
“I can’t believe you didn’t hear that,” they’ll say. “It’s been going on for a while.”
At that point, I’ll shrug and join the detective work in session, figuring out what the heck that noise is anyway. At my last house, it was typically the neighbor children playing in the street. Or a lawn mower. Or perhaps the people across the way playing strange music on their lawn.
I live in a quieter neighborhood these days, but it still occasionally happens. And every time it does, I’m literally the last person to notice it.
This is because I am incredibly unobservant.
When I’m feeling charitable about myself, I’ll say that I live in my head. This suggests I have an active fantasy life and perhaps even a vivid imagination. This suggestion is perhaps a little misleading as I have aphantasia, meaning I lack your standard visual imagination. I do have an emotional imagination, however, and an audial one. And I spend a lot of time in that imagination, acting out interpersonal conflicts I’m working through (either mine or someone I’m helping). Or mentally working on a piece of writing.
I can notice external stimuli when I want to. For example, I tend to listen rather well and can read facial expressions when someone’s talking with me. I typically have to concentrate to notice things though. I don’t do it automatically.
When You’re Trying Your Hardest But It Still Isn’t Good Enough
For the most part, friends don’t mind that I’m unobservant. Really, it’s only caused problems in my domestic relationships, when I’m living with people. Because it applies to noticing messes of course. Clutter and disarray do not bother me in the slightest, unless they’re actively obstructing me in a practical way. If I trip over something, yes, then I’ll notice. Or if I go to make a meal and find there are no dishes, that too will bring the problem to my attention.
Or if I need to use the sink and it’s full of dirty dishes or something.
But it’s all too easy for me to not notice a contained mess unless it’s brought to my attention — or unless I actively scan, which is something I’ve learned to do in order to be a better roommate (although I still feel like I don’t do that as well as I’d like).
I do my best. But there have been moments when my best wasn’t good enough. And I can tell you… it’s humbling. There have been times when being unobservant caused someone else to become completely enraged with me — even though my intentions were good, the impact of my actions was not. And good intentions don’t magically erase the impact of what I hadn’t done.
There’s a sting then… when you honestly are doing your best, and it isn’t good enough. When the fundamental way you are — even with the workarounds and the effort you’ve put in to be a little less janky — causes someone to be gravely disappointed with you. It’s like being emotionally cornered in a way. When you have no defense. Only sadness that you can’t be what someone else needs you to be.
It’s something I try to keep in mind when I’m on the other side of things. When someone else’s quirks are causing me stress and there’s a temptation to be harsh or overly critical, beyond what needs to be said for practical reasons.
I remind myself to be kind, to remember that trapped inadequate feeling that I too have felt and choose accordingly.
The Other Side of a Limitation
I’ve also found that many times a “limitation” sprung up adaptively, in order to help people cope with life.
In my own case, I’m unobservant because I was bullied. Basically, I couldn’t escape from the people tormenting me, so I learned to ignore them. Unfortunately, as I did that, I ignored much more than them specifically. I believe this was because they had a habit of ambushing me at school unpredictably, so it was easier just to limit my focus and tune most of the world out. And to only opt in to things that were safe and enjoyable.
Is this annoying sometimes, to myself and others? Yes.
But on the other side, it does have its benefits. It’s fiendishly difficult to get under my skin unless I let you in. (Seriously, you have to be really close to me to actually hurt my feelings.) And it’s led to my being quite resilient and able to function even in dire circumstances. I’m upbeat, positive.
I’ve found this to be the case with others, too. Many times the things that occasionally annoy me about them are linked to other things I adore about them. Sometimes when I’m really frustrated, it’s hard to see that, hard to remember that.
But it’s true.