It’s after midnight on a weeknight. I have to be up at 8 a.m. I’m seething beside him.
The thing was no big deal. It’s never a big deal. It’d be so easy if he hit me. It’d be easier than it is if he were less thoughtful, less sweet. Put in less effort. It’d be easier if he actually screwed up, and did something wrong. He didn’t do the thing knowing it would hurt my feelings. The thing wouldn’t hurt a healthy person’s feelings. Someone who felt better about themselves, who was less sensitive, they wouldn’t care.
To know you’re being petty while you’re being petty makes it worse.
In a way, I wish that he had hurt me intentionally. Because if he’d done the thing to hurt me, it would mean he knows what hurts my feelings. Which would mean he’s been listening to me, and knows me. Because you can’t love someone you don’t know. Instead, he just did something small and unimportant. Him not knowing that this small and unimportant thing would hurt my feelings makes me feel small and unimportant. It makes me feel like he’s not been listening to me. That he doesn’t know me. And so when he says he loves me, it’s not true.
And it makes me feel like a petty freak.
Earlier, he had asked me, “Haven’t you ever had a conversation for 15 minutes without looking at your phone?”
Yes, yes I have. I mean it’s rare. But it happens. It’s also not the point. It’s quite far from the point. It’s making an altogether different point. The point it’s making is that I’m being absurd. That he didn’t do anything wrong. That I shouldn’t feel upset. I understand this point. I agree with this point. Or, rather, I would agree with it if I were not me, and he were not him, and we didn’t have our backstory.
But this isn’t just any 15 minutes. And this isn’t just any conversation. This is a 15 minutes that means a lot to me. And this is a conversation with someone he’s hurt my feelings with in the past. And I want him to know that. I want him to understand that. More than anything in the world, I want him to understand me.
I don’t want him to apologize, or stop talking to this person, or to do anything at all. I just want him to listen. I just want him to get me.
I replay all the things he said that prove that he doesn’t get me in my head. I formulate responses I wish I’d said at the time and wish I could say now but don’t say because I don’t want to start screaming at him again.
Right, the screaming. The thing never sets off the yelling. The thing is always too small for that response. What sets off the yelling is the defenses. “Haven’t you ever had a conversation for 15 minutes without looking at your phone?” As if this 15 minutes is just like every other 15 minutes and this conversation is just like every other conversation. Which might make sense as an initial reaction. But after I explain to him what this 15 minute conversation means to me, he still doesn’t get it. I know this because if he got it, he’d stop explaining the details to me like if I just had more information, I wouldn’t feel hurt. The details don’t help. Because they don’t matter. The details enrage me, because he’s listening with his mouth again.
I know this, so I tell him I want him to ask me questions. He does, but they’re not questions aimed at understanding me. They’re questions aimed at showing me that I’m being absurd. They’re questions aimed at helping me see myself as he does, as irrational, as defective.
I know I’m irrational and defective. Him explaining that to me lets me know he also thinks I’m lacking in self-awareness.
It’s after midnight on a weeknight. I have to be up at 8 a.m. I’m seething beside him. I’ve stopped yelling. I’ve stopped speaking.
He finally asks me what I’m feeling. I tell him some of what I’m thinking. I’m feeling tired, defeated.
A lightbulb goes off. He might not know me at all. He might be too stupid to learn when and how to shut up. But damn it if he isn’t right about what I’m doing right now. So I try to stop. It’s hard. But I mentally reward myself for trying. It would be easier to just do it. But I don’t want to burn these pathways deeper into my brain. Every time I go over what he said, and what I should have said, I teach my brain to do that. I make it easier to do it the next time. I dig trenches into my brain that make doing it easier and not doing it harder. So I try harder to stop. I get out my phone and try to do a guided meditation. I stop 1/3 through the intro video. But I’m proud of myself. I tried. I’m still trying.
The most important lesson you can learn is the lesson that precedes all the other lessons.
Before you can learn, you must learn that you can learn.
There’s a whole book about it, called Mindset. But the basic idea is this: You often act like a shithead. But that doesn’t mean you are a shithead.
I’ve been thinking very hard lately about my shithead habits. I’m in a long-term, committed, live-in, full-time romantic relationship now which, all else equal, I’d like to see continue indefinitely. And nothing forces you to face your own shitheadedness like trying to meet someone’s emotional needs and trying to get them to meet yours.
The problem isn’t that I’m petty. I mean, that’s suboptimal, but not a huge problem. The problem is that I get enraged when I don’t feel understood. I fly off the handle when I feel dismissed. And I’m not good at calming myself down.
It’s funny that he says he can’t predict when I’ll lose my temper. Because if he knew me at all he’d know that feeling misunderstood and dismissed is what does it.
But, regardless, I have to live in a world where sometimes people dismiss and misunderstand me. I have to cut new pathways in my head for how to react to that rejection.
Lately I’ve been able to face the ways I act like a shithead because I feel confident that I can cut new pathways. I’ve never really wanted to change for someone until him. I want to react less strongly to rejection and calm down more quickly. Because I think that’s a better way to live.
Before that I’d been telling him that he has to listen to me. That this is a non-negotiable emotional need of mine. He kept telling me everything he thought was wrong with me and I told him that he needed to stop focusing on me and begin to focus on himself. That’s all still true. But now I’m doing it too.