If we took a look through a telescope at our relationships, I wonder what we’d see. The fore-shortening effect means we can see distant things as if they were nearby, in the same plane as close (or more recent) stuff.
I like playing this kind of game because it filters out much of the daily junk than inhabits our lives; the drudgery, the boredom, the reflexive behaviours that we barely notice. Many hours of our day is spent doing…well, not much really, and that includes the time we spend with special people.
Which is the way it is meant to be. Maintaining a high pitch of anything is impossible and undesirable, not least because we need variation so that we can have highs and lows. Although it can feel rotten, lows are a precondition for highs, otherwise highs end up being lows too. It’s odd.
Back to my telescopic metaphor. When we remove all the bulk filler of life, the one constant is talk. By talk I mean the communication between all of us, especially in the big relationships of life. The way we talk to each other is overlooked, because we assume it’s just a medium – the method – of being inside the other person’s head. What’s important is the actual state of our minds, our hearts and our emotions; the language is just a delivery service.
However, the modes of communication set the tone. I figure at the most broad, talking falls into two categories: One is responsive, one is interrogative. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to allow that what we want most from someone close to us is a way of chatting that involves listening and responding, as opposed to merely saying the first thing that pops up.
When we’re dating, taking ten minutes to figure out whether the person opposite is taking in what you’re saying (listening, in plain language) or merely broadcasting might save us a lot of time.
Living in a world of words beats the alternative. Totally guessing here, but I imagine we developed language to communicate our thoughts to the people around us. That and to make use of the drive-through food ordering option.
The upside of spoken language is connecting with others, whether we’re fulfilling a cheeseburger desire or a desire for something else.
“I’d like a small number six combo with Sprite” isn’t such a long way from “Would you like to meet for a coffee?”
Note, however, the difference of completeness; the food order allows no room for interpretation, which is good because who wants a number four? Simple commercial transactions exemplify almost perfect clarity.
On the other hand, a date request masks a lot. Sure, taken alone the invitation to meet is clear enough, but what lies behind that idea? Is the person saying “I want to have sex with you” or are they saying “I want to talk about your ideas on llama farming”?
Spoken (and therefore written) language can be used to obfuscate as easily as it can be used directly. Masking happens a lot in dating because we’re oftentimes interested in self-protection, and one way to do that is to keep our true motivation hidden behind our tongues.
Dating, courting and all that stuff revolves around figuring out what the other person’s thinking.
We cannot do this directly, in the sense of plugging in a computer, downloading what’s inside and riffling through the contents at our leisure. What we do is talk, listen, prompt, observe, react, note and synthesize. Problem is that all of these methods are indirect at best, and mostly misleading.
Talking is the way we communicate for the most part. Unfortunately this is the least reliable route to accurate assessment of someone. That’s because much of what we see is filtered through the higher, complex mechanisms of the brain. Every bias, mood, emotion, predisposition, experience, love, hatred, miff, disappointment, triumph and childhood disaster has an input to our communication. Motives are masked, truths cloaked. Deception is a part of the thrust and parry of conversation. Irony too. Sarcasm. Attempts at wit. None of these helps to gain much insight into what’s really going on.
Eventually we build a picture of the person standing opposite, but it does take time. The camouflage of language is imperfect and can be stripped away, which is why it takes years – yes, years – to figure the risk-worthiness of a potential mate.
Occasionally – very occasionally – I see a glimmer of hope that we have a chance at understanding each other.
At work last week, a woman blurted out:
Oh, I understand; he’s in his nothing box.
I nearly cheered.
With one declaration, one woman proved to me that she understood that her husband (the man to whom she was referring) had his mind in neutral, effectively idling away doing not much of anything. That’s the nothing box. The nothing box is the place we go to when there’s nothing much grabbing our attention. When there’s nothing worth thinking about, we do nothing. Yes, ladies, men are really that simple.
The nothing box is invaluable because of the way we think about stuff. We need that time with our minds going nowhere because of the energy it takes when we are in gear. If we were to be in forward motion all the time, we’d burn out.
But that’s a topic for anther time. The key is that the lady understood that her man being in nothing box mode was no reflection on his relationship with her; it is simply the way he was built.
And that was, and should be, enough.
Natural to us all is the assumption that the person next to us will see things the same way we do.
Can you see where I’m going to find the hole in this presumption?
That’s right; I’m a bloke, so that if you’re a woman, you by definition will think differently.
Advantage there for the taking: if you’re looking for better communication, think like the other sex. We can’t do this all the time, and it’s needed most when we’re on the hunt for understanding, but it’s a practice worth practising.
We’re not necessarily interested in unanimity, more like the recognition that what seems blindingly obvious to me will not be as clear to you, Hortense.
Perhaps it’s not so much a point of view reversal, as a listening direction reversal.