Friday, September 12, 2008

What I was wrong about

Dear Spouse and Interested Onlookers,

In reference to yesterday's post (which we had a good and not-very-heated conversation about) here is what I was doing wrong that contributed to the problem. (This is not an exhaustive description; I'm sure there are many other things, but this is what I've got traction on at the moment.)

From what I understand, I sometimes get SO! EXCITED! AND! ANIMATED! about my take on a particular situation -- especially involving church -- that I drown you out, without meaning to. Or maybe I just overwhelm rather than drown out -- because I really am listening intently. I don't know quite how to put it. It's sort of like my dial goes all the way up to eleven, whereas yours has a smaller range from 1 to 2. If your dial goes from 1 to 2, the difference between 1.01 and 1.03 has some importance, far more than on my dial that goes from 1 to 11, kwim? So I miss things. I try hard, but I miss them.

I do get frustrated sometimes because it seems like I have to spend an enormous amount of energy to tease things out of you and take note of these tiny incremental differences in tone and interest, and then on top of that it seems I now have to tone down my reactions so they don't completely overshadow yours. That's a lot of work. It's work that you - by virtue of the very fact that your dial only goes from 1 to 2 - don't do. I kind of feel like, maybe you could put some effort into having bigger facial expressions and working in some vocal inflection to let me know when something's REALLY IMPORTANT versus Pretty Significant versus important versus mildly interesting versus zzzz....boring.

But then I remember several things. First, it's not like this is a new trait in you that only appeared when we got married. I found it attractive, initially, precisely because I *do* overwhelm people sometimes with the sheer vastness and intensity of my reactions to things; and I thought your comparatively smaller range would balance mine. Balance? Or maybe, protect me against rejection, because if you don't even have receptors for all that I feel and experience, you won't reject me on that basis? Anyway, now I blame you for those very traits, and that's stinky. So I'm sorry. I didn't know how wearing I would find it to have to do so much detective work to figure out what you think/feel/wish/fear/love so that we can be close. But still, I'm sorry.

Also, there's the oft-trotted-out fact that boys in general aren't allowed to express emotions. And you in particular are from a religious subculture where Emotion = Immature Lack of Control = opening for SIN SIN SIN!!!! = possibility that you might become one of the Unsatisfactory People whom the Satisfactory People love with humiliatingly virtuous grace. You've come to question that cultural message, to a degree I really admire (when I can step back and gain perspective) and you deserve credit for that, I think.

(For my part, I can't say I was exactly ever encouraged in my intensity -- indeed, it's been implicated in my profoundest spells of loneliness -- but I wasn't discouraged from it in the same way you were, growing up. It was more that it was slightly embarrassing. The message I got was not "If you feel things intensely you might get dangerously out-of-control, and your gender especially is supposed to be IN CONTROL!" Rather, it was more like, "Look, it's all well and good to be an extremely smart kid, but the smartness is supposed to have a point: to make you do well in school, pave the way for future successes, make you a leader that gets things done and that other people want to be around. To just be intensely interested in THE DEEPER MEANINGS OF EVERYTHING, to a degree that you end up NOT doing well on school work and NOT impressing people, is missing the whole point of being smart. Just tone it down, will ya?")

And thirdly: I do, as I said, get worn out from doing all the work of taking everyone's emotional temperature in the family. But, you do A LOT of work for our household too. Not just "a lot of work for a man," but "a lot of work, period." And I know you get worn out too. We're both worn out a lot. I'm not sure what to do about this but wait.

Anyway, the point is: I see now that sometimes - not always, I think, but sometimes - the reason I don't hear you saying P, Q, and W is that my espousal of A, B, and C is SO VERY LOUD! AND ENTHUSIASTIC! When you later tell a third party that you think differently than I do, you're really just telling them what you'd tried to tell me, except I didn't hear. Which makes yesterday's script not so accurate, in those situations. So although I don't think this invalidates everything I said yesterday about sexism, I'm sorry for being unfair. Please forgive me.


bonrhe said...

Yes but (and this is in defense of MYSELF only) doesn't he, if he is fairly sure that you are gonna turn around and tell a third party that "we believe A,B and C," that he really ought to put some serious effort into communicating to you IN A WAY THAT YOU CAN HEAR that he also believs P,Q and L. He managed to say it to the third party.. why not to you?

bon said...

Ooops! That comment was really from me.

These sound like some of the dynamics between Dadguy and I.. hence the comment.

A Sarah said...

bon, I wish I knew!! If you figure it out, let me know. It's comforting to know these dynamics don't just extend within our own walls.