Friday, August 03, 2007

Something To Talk About

A few friends got together tonight for a much needed happy hour and we broke out of usual mold and went to a a sake bar in Belltown. Great apps (the rule of the short ribs* remains in place), nice sake cocktails and good times with great friends. This post may be blogging under the influence, as the aforementioned sake cocktails were, in fact, outstanding, but as of yet, my laptop lacks a breathalyzer prior to posting. That really needs to be invented.

There was a conversation early about strained communication in a relationship and it has stayed with me. I am hardly a guru on successful relationships, but I have learned quite a few things along the way. I am a veteran of relationships thwarted by poor communication and I have to believe I am wiser for the experiences.

As an aside, the whole cliche about communication being the lifeline of any relationship is true, but that entire expression is kind of bullshit. It is therapy-speak, to some degree. "We just stopped communicating" is a bullshit excuse and, truthfully, code words for a bigger problem. You didn't stop communicating, you stopped saying what was on your mind. You opted for quiet over arguing, avoidance over dealing with the purple elephant in the room, and a good night's rest over resolution. I know all about this and am guilty of the same offenses.

Few people truly enjoy conflict, although there are many who are comfortable with it in their daily dynamic. Thing is, in the best parts of my past relationships, conflict was about 10% of the relationship and a necessary part of it. I am a firm believer in a "pick your battles" type of strategy when it comes to maintaining the precarious harmony of a long term relationship. I only fought the battles I really cared about and usually deferred to the ones I wasn't invested in. At least with B, the one thing (heh - like there was only one) I fucked up on was not seeing my battle through to the resolution I wanted. I stupidly thought that just by voicing my objections, he would understand that, since I wasn't naturally combative, when I got my panties in a bunch, it was important.

Not the case. B and I had the same arguments over the years, and of those that I actively waged, none of the behavior I complained about changed. I became quite adept at hearing the subtext to unpleasant outbursts and taught myself the translations. When he was trying to provoke a fight, I knew he was tired, frustrated and felt guilty at not giving us 100%. I would respond accordingly ("hey B, I can tell you had a shit day and don't want to argue, so let's not. You get a "get out of jail free" card tonight and hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day.")

Thing is, he didn't reciprocate and, after time, I grew resentful and withdrew and stopped saying what was on my mind. Hell, I did almost anything to avoid the big talks towards the end, as the gulf between us was so vast, especially compared to how aligned we once were. Like many couples, I assumed that we would work to repair the gulf, but, alas, we didn't. Neither of us did. I can't lay all that blame on B.

In any event, what struck me tonight is how fucking good I am at communication, and not destructive communication. I know how to read between the lines and to interpret what the other person isn't saying, but really means. I argue when it really matters to me, not out of a defensive posture or to play mind games. I am completely gobmsmacked by the folks who cannot confront an unpleasant situation and tell you directly what is on their mind and why they believe you have wronged them. I am likewise gobsmacked by the folks who think they can bury it all in the sand.

Hello? Have you not seen Poltergeist? Buried corpses are scary and turn stuffed clowns into the stuff of adult nightmares.

I don't know my fate or what lies ahead, but I do know this. B and I had a very frank style of communication for most of our marriage, because we were like minded on the purple elephant situation. We ended because we both dodged the hard conversations, even though we never dragged those out. If and when I get into another relationship, it will need to be with someone who can say anything to me, but also needs to say everything to me in his time. I have said this a million times, but I need a courageous man --- a man as willing to say what he thinks and means as I am -- and a man who can read between my own lines and do some introspection.

This whole post made no sense. Unrelated: If you haven't read the story about "Pulitzer-prize" winning author Butler, go there. Now. What a cautionary tale about the ease of forwarding sensitive email and how you should never, NEVER, send sensitive information on the internets.

* The rule of the short ribs, I learned at Tra Vigne in Napa. As told to me by their executive chef, when presented with a daunting menu with a host of palatable options, always go with the short ribs -- you can never go wrong and will likely get the best thing in the house.

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