If communication is essential to a relationship, why is it so hard to do? Heather Maidat discusses how she learned to stop keeping everything to herself.
Him: “What’s wrong?”
Two months later…
Him: “What’s wrong?”
Her: “Nothing… It’s just a feeling.”
Him: “Since when?”
Her: “Since two months ago.”
That’s me, the one saying “nothing,” in every one of my relationships.
Once, I said “nothing” when I was really feeling trapped. Another time I said “nothing” when I was embarrassed that he fell asleep during our date. One time I said “nothing” because I was bothered that when I came over to his place, he’d leave his front door open for me to walk in when I wanted him to greet me instead.
I said nothing because I didn’t want to sound needy. I said nothing because I was hoping it would go away. I said nothing because I wanted to be the cool girlfriend who didn’t care about anything.
So yes, something was wrong. But instead of coming clean, I’d say the opposite of what I was feeling, give mixed messages, and then wonder why my boyfriend couldn’t read my mind. I’d go and talk to my friends about what the “something” was. We’d take it apart and put it back together, speculating on the reasons behind it all. I’d get second opinions. I’d get a guy’s perspective. I spoke more intimately about my relationship with my friends than I did with my boyfriend.
Then one afternoon I called my friend Susan. She sounded annoyed. I asked what was wrong. “Nothing,” she said, before admitting that she’d been mad at me for awhile. “In the fall, there was the time you knew I had the flu and didn’t even call….” I couldn’t understand why she’d waited so long to tell me. Plus, it was kinda scary how she could itemize my offenses by season. Check out the way women talk to each other. It’s a whole world of opposites.
That’s when I sent out a silent prayer to my ex-boyfriends for all the times I said “nothing” was wrong.
Had I been testing them? No, I wasn’t building a case against them; I was building one for myself to justify that the “something” wasn’t completely off base. The problem was that I was used to denying how I felt. Check out the way women talk to each other. It’s a whole world of opposites.
When I’m not interested in a guy, I get encouraging feedback from my girlfriends, like “Maybe he’ll grow on you.” When I am interested in a guy, I get discouraging feedback like “He’s a player.” If there’s a problem in the relationship, I get “Cut him some slack” or “As soon as his job calms down, things will change.” In short, I get everything but, “Talk to the guy.”
Still, it’s hard to be up front when these are the responses you get in return.
“Here we go again…”
“Does everything have to be a whole conversation?”
“Don’t make such a big deal about it.”
And then they find us complicated. We all have the same basic needs. It’s just that traditionally, women don’t express what we desire without debating it in our heads, needing permission to do it, justifying it, apologizing for it, getting flak for it, or scaring someone away with it first. My friend Jake says, “If I want dessert, I eat dessert.” What a novel concept.
I did a test run of my new directness with my next boyfriend when he asked what was wrong. Despite the embarrassing fact that I was sure this wouldn’t bother anyone else, I admitted, “I don’t like it when you say which actresses you think are hot.”
“Good,” he said, “I really want to know what’s on your mind.”
So I continued. I told him that I was also questioning his standards, because one of the women he said was hot was Kathie Lee Gifford. I added that I was extra upset that I was upset about the fact that it was Kathie Lee Gifford.
And there it was. We heard each other’s arguments for and against. I offered the solution that I could bring up Keanu Reeves more often. That didn’t fly, so we agreed to leave celebrities out of it. But we were so receptive to each other when something was bothering us that the somethings became more like nothings.
After four months of practice at this, we eventually broke up. It was time to finally take this honesty thing out for a broader test-drive. I went on something of a “something” rampage. Soon, I wasn’t even waiting until anyone asked what was wrong. I’d just come out and say what was on my mind because how could anyone read it? What we like and don’t like isn’t necessarily common sense. Better yet, it’s what makes us unique. Eventually, I got so good at full disclosure that one guy broke up with me because I was “too real.”
Hmm. That was unexpected. The new me had backfired. In defiance, I considered going back to my nothing ways but then I realized he was right. Admitting a something – as quirky, neurotic, or ridiculous as it might sound – let him get to know the real me. And more importantly, from his reaction I got to know a lot about the real him. Did I really want to care for someone who could only be with the cool girl who doesn’t care? Did I really want to care for someone who could only be with the cool girl who doesn’t care?
I’d like to think that when I find the right person, he’ll fall in love with the whole package, idiosyncrasies and all. Or at least he’ll love how I can own up to it.
Wouldn’t that be something?