Recently I found myself down one of those internet article rabbit holes, where I will almost compulsively start reading one article after another, and I will find it almost impossible to drag myself away from the next article, and the next and the next and the next and the next, and it invariably happens when I should be sleeping! Anyway during this particular session I came across an article, which is apparently about what men secretly wish that they could ask on their first dates. One of the questions particularly caught my eye, and it was this one:
If you get upset, will you tell me why or just ignore me and treat me like [“very badly”] for not knowing the reason?’
The reason this particular question caught my eye is because, to be honest, this is something that I personally do. I just walk away from people without giving an explanation. But here is the thing: I always feel that they should know why!
These are some of the reasons why I usually do not give an explanation:
In short, communication on the whole requires lots of hard work. I find it hard enough to communicate when I am the one who has acted wrongly. However, when it is someone else, it takes me a really big effort to be able to correctly gauge how to express disappointment without sliding into sarcasm or rudeness. I spend ages thinking about how to express it. And you know what? I actually resent it: that they should have acted wrongly and I am the one having to invest all the effort into working out how to graciously communicate my disappointment. Especially when they should know that they have done something wrong. So this why I usually don’t bother making an explanation when I feel that the other person should know what they did wrong – not only should they know what they did wrong, but by not acknowledging their actions they are then also foisting on me the responsibility of putting things right, and then some people will even act like they don’t know they did anything wrong. I resent being the one to make all the effort in a relationship. This is not just about romantic relationships, but about all interactions with other people. In these sorts of interactions I will often just walk away, and if they want to reinstate the friendship, then they can be the ones to make the effort.
Another big issue is that these things often happen when you are still trying to get to know one another. I recently read somewhere something with which I strongly agree: that criticism has to be earned. What this means to me is that you can’t just open your mouth and just express disappointment anyhow to just anyone regarding their behaviour; first between you and me we have to establish that I am in a way “allowed” to feel disappointed by your behaviour, or that you accept that my feelings are significant in your life; that that level of interaction exists between us. While this has not been established then it makes it even trickier for me to express disappointment or to say I am upset. In a way it is neater and easier to simply walk away.
This does work both ways. There have been times when people tried to express disappointment in my behaviour where I thought that that level of intimacy had not been fully established between us. If I am truly honest, what went through my mind was this: “Why do you think that I care about your opinion?” That probably sounds really awful. What I mean is this: In these particular situations, people tried to assert leadership over me where I had not actually submitted to their leadership. So they expected me to do what they said automatically just because of who they were, whereas to me that leadership/followership interaction had not been established between us. I immensely resent it when people seem to assume that I will automatically submit to whatever they say or suggest where that relationship has not been established between us. For me, these things have to be established. This is why I don’t automatically go around expressing my own disappointment at people’s behaviour. I need to know and I need to be confident that my words will not be thrown back in my face: are we in that kind of interaction? Does that intimacy exist between us?
To be honest though, this is simply another layer of complexity when trying to interact with someone. I am trying to navigate the question of how far I am allowed to express my disappointment. We might not have mutually established that kind of relationship where I can honestly express my disappointment at the way you have acted – and yet your behaviour has still annoyed me. So the simplest thing is often for me to just walk away.
Related to this and following on from it is this: I believe that communication is something that has to be deliberately cultivated between two people. It is honestly not about how long you have known someone. Within the relationship each party has to make it clear that they are open to feedback; that the other person is free to speak; that they will listen; they will take it on board, and they will take appropriate action.
Something else I resent is the idea that this feedback should be one-sided: that the other person feels free to tell me everything that is wrong with me, without giving me space to give my own feedback too. It is not a tit-for-tat thing. I hope I am more mature than that. (In fact, when someone does act in a tit-for-tat way, that immaturity in itself is enough to make me walk away.) What I do mean though is that when sometimes when people give their “constructive criticism”, they often seem to do it in a way that fails to acknowledge that they also may ever have done anything wrong; they sometimes assume the position of God, speaking down from on high; it’s like they can only see the other person’s faults. When people do this, to me it suggests a phenomenal lack of self-awareness. Trying to point out someone else’s flaws and failings can be such a delicate, uncomfortable matter that on the whole I will try to know myself and acknowledge my own flaws inside-out and upside-down before I will point out someone else’s, so at least I don’t make it sound as if I am some god-like expression of perfection. For someone else to not do this to me suggests a gross lack of sensitivity. How hypocritical for you to be pointing out someone else’s faults when your own faults are glaring in everyone else’s face. Duh! Once again, this can cause me to walk away from people. If they honestly invited my feedback, and I genuinely felt free to talk without fear of censure, then I would try to express it as sensitively as I possibly could. But the fact is that they don’t invite my feedback! Or when they do, it is not really sincere: “Please let us know if we are doing anything wrong!” – knowing that they actually expect to be found perfect, so if you were to actually take them up on it, and actually start telling them difficult things about themselves, it would be such a huge slap in the face, and you would start to see all the blood just drain from their faces. Man, seriously, do I have time for this?! I just walk away.
In this post I have already touched on the subject of imbalanced effort in relationships. The truth though is that it is a huge issue – especially for me. Rightly or wrongly, it often feels to me as if I make a tremendous effort in my friendships, and other people do not make the same level of effort back. This is especially true actually, of potentially romantic relationships. I definitely do not mind making a huge amount of effort for my man. But I need him, whoever he turns out to be, to make a comparable amount of effort for me back in return. This is the kind of marriage that I dream of! This means that if a potential husband does not make the same level of effort towards me that I make towards him, I will walk away from him as a potential husband. The awkwardness comes when we have not officially announced or declared that we are checking one another out. In that case it is easier to just walk away than to try to offer awkward explanations. What is more, I may already have invested so much one-sided effort, into someone who has demonstrated himself unworthy of my effort, that I simply cannot bear to invest yet more effort into trying to think endlessly to come up with an explanation that is honest yet gracious.
Aha, and now we come to this issue which is simultaneously the most difficult of all these issues to talk about AND the reason why I decided to write this post in the first place.
Say for example that you have been checking someone out romantically, and they keep doing something wrong, but because you really want this relationship, you really want to believe, so you keep overlooking it. And this happens over and over and over and over until finally you come to the stage where you feel that you can no longer overlook it. You get angry. You suddenly break things off. Now this is what the other person does not understand: “What did I do?! Yesterday everything was fine, I did not do anything, and between yesterday and today everything has fallen apart even though I did absolutely nothing between yesterday and today!” Now the question is whether the other person would be justified in thinking “You know what you did…I don’t have to offer you an explanation!“? It is awkward, it is difficult, there is also that awkward issue of my having to acknowledge that I was checking you out romantically! Because the thing is that they did know what they did! They were fully aware of what they were doing as they were doing it, they were aware it was wrong, and they still reached out and they deliberately did it. Over and over and over again. Now they are protesting that they don’t know what they did wrong; what they mean is that they don’t want to believe that they are being held accountable for their actions; they don’t want to believe that it is that, after feeling able to get away with that for so long! Or they can’t understand why this should “suddenly” become an issue now, “when you have not cared all this time!” But of course the fact is that it has always been an issue; I have been hurt and angered by it all that time, it just finally reached a point where I thought I could not take it any longer, and I decided to walk away; and if you were really honest with yourself you would know the ways in which your actions have fallen short – and I definitely do not owe you an explanation!