Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why Communication Didn't Work

Some people will never accept what I say at face value. Some people will just never, ever accept that when I say something is of a certain importance, or that something is really bad, it actually IS that important or that bad. Clear communication can't fix that.

I wrote The Unencrypted Truth for myself, because I wanted to share my story with the world. But a part of me also wrote it for my ex-boyfriend. Well, not really "for" him. It was more like, I wrote it so that he would really understand what happened. Earlier on in our relationship, he was giving me grief for why I was unwilling to visit a friend who was still at Colby. He couldn't accept the fact that I was never willing to set foot there again and thought that visiting my friend should take priority over any bad feelings I had about the school. I gradually told him more and more details about Colby in the years we were dating, and he kept trying to comfort me by telling me that it was over. He kept being annoyed at how I always assumed that people wouldn't take me seriously about things before even asking them. When I sprained my ankle during grad school winter break - the absolute worst timing ever - I was mainly upset because no one around me understood just how upset I was. But the truth is, I hadn't told them. I didn't mention to anyone that I sprained my ankle because I predicted that they would react this way. It drove my boyfriend crazy.

When I was in college writing classes, I wrote things in a very cryptic way because I was attacking the people in my class, and my professors kept telling me that I needed to learn to communicate more clearly. When I was a freshman in college and said exactly what was wrong in plain English, no one took me seriously. People kept telling me that stuff was okay or good when I told them that it was unacceptable. People looked at me like they were waiting for me to say something more, like what I just told them couldn't possibly be enough for me to be acting the way I was acting. It was never enough. So I had learned that open honest communication got me nowhere in this world and that I had to communicate in a different way to be effective. That's when I got cryptic.

Writing classes at Colby were damaging. Communication is communication - it doesn't matter whether it's a fiction story, poem, blog post, or Facebook status. It is all communication, and I had internalized this idea that it was my own fault that people were treating me badly because I wasn't able to communicate clearly with them. This was a skill that I needed to learn. I had lost sight of the fact that my clear communication had been ineffective in my earlier years which was why I had become cryptic.

I wrote The Uncrypted Truth hoping that my boyfriend would finally truly understand where I was coming from. He would understand why I could never go back to that place. He'd understand why I had such a hard time trusting people to take me seriously. I told myself that I was a writer, that I have ability to make people feel things, and that I should be able to write this raw, emotional piece in a way that made other people feel angry and hurt over what happened to me. I could make them hate a place that they'd never been. I was a writer and I had that ability. If the essay didn't affect people that way, then I didn't do it right.

It was very effective with my friends. One of my closest friends had the reaction I described and honestly hates Colby as much as I do because of what happened to me there, even though she's never been there herself. With my boyfriend...the essay did make him cry in a couple of places. He wrapped his arms tight around me and said "No one hurts Nikki!" and it felt really good. But...I don't know. There was something that still felt missing from his reaction.

I always felt like my boyfriend and I were physically compatible. We both liked hugs and lots of physical contact, and we had similar sexual interests. Physical contact is very important to me, and I never wanted to stop getting hugs every day. But I always knew that we weren't mentally compatible. We didn't think the same way about anything, and he just didn't think about things as deeply as I do. I shared lots of deep stuff with him and he never had anything to say back when I asked him. We never had the emotionally deep connection that I have with my closest friends. We couldn't talk for hours. If I had to be stranded on a desert island with someone, I wouldn't have picked him. Okay, honestly, I would pick someone who was really smart and had the skills to survive on the island, but to answer the question it's really asking - who would I choose to spend a long period of time together where we're trapped and have no outside contact and no entertainment other than each other? I have two very close friends I would pick. I wouldn't pick my boyfriend. I would have in the early infatuation stage, but not in our final year. We didn't have the ability to just talk for five hours straight and be entertained and engaged by each other's company alone. I have that with a few friends and with my mom, and it is a really special deep connection. He and I never had that. The only deep connection we had was physical. We could never talk for hours. 

So back to the essay, my boyfriend didn't react to it in a mental way - he didn't seem to have a deeper understanding of why I couldn't trust people to take me seriously. I mean, he said he understood, but it didn't feel real to me. When my close friend read the essay, I could tell that she had a very deep understanding of what I had been through. Not only does she hate Colby, but she really understands how hard it is to trust people to take you seriously after you've been through something like that. She gets it because she went through something similar. When my boyfriend dumped me, she was very concerned about checking in and making sure I was okay and that I wasn't going to hurt myself. She took it completely seriously when I talked about the feelings I had at Colby and understands that those things can happen again. My boyfriend never did that. He never cared about me on this level. All the times he talked about whether or not he still wanted to be with me were when really bad things were happening to me, like when my grandma was in the hospital. He assured me that it wasn't caused by that, but I could see clearly that he just didn't like me as much when I was upset. I told him from the start that I wasn't happy-go-lucky like him. On our first date, I told him to go and read my 100 Facebook notes about Colby to understand what I'm really like. I kept warning him that we were incompatible in this way and that I didn't understand why he would like me. He just didn't seem like the kind of person who would want someone like me in his life. But he kept insisting it would be okay until our final year when I was too deeply attached to let go of him, which I knew would happen, which was why I had mentioned all these issues from the start before we got so attached. 

We came full circle. He couldn't accept that my job and commute situation was unacceptable to me. When we were looking at apartments, I told him that I was having my birthday party at one place or the other - the old apartment or the new one, but I was not willing to have it during our transition time, so once it got past a certain date, I was not willing to make the move until after the party. He told me he could run over and grab the keys the morning of the party, but I told him no, I wasn't willing to deal with anything like that the day of the party. I wanted to be completely focused on the party. He told me he'd handle it, and I told him NO. I said that if he had something he needed to take care of the morning of my birthday party, that was fine, but this involved me even if he was handling it and I was not willing to have this happen the day of my party or close to it. 

I WAS RIGHT when I said that I couldn't trust people to take me seriously. My boyfriend WAS one of the people who never took me seriously and proved it to me in our final days. He finally admitted that he didn't see what was wrong no matter how clearly I communicated with him, and that he was never going to. And that was the end.

I am not going through this again. This thing of having everyone like me because I'm not sharing everything and then have them change their minds when I do share stuff - I'm not doing it again. I'm gonna share everything from the start so I never let anyone in in the first place who's gonna ditch me later on. 

I used to think that clear communication could fix everything, but it doesn't. I never want to feel this way in a relationship ever again. I LIKE to talk and write about my feelings. I wrote my 34,000-word essay for myself, because I wanted to. But I should NEVER feel like I have to. It should never take 34,000 words to get someone to accept that something is as bad as I say it is. I need to surround myself with people who get it. My close friends who were outraged when Colby reading my essay? They are validating people. Some of them already knew my story, and the ones who didn't, the only reason they hadn't experienced this rage before was because they didn't know what had happened. These are the kind of people I need to be with.

As a writer, I want to communicate to everyone. I want to affect how other people think about things. My friend wrote a story about someone who sexually assaulted her friend without realizing it, and without wanting to hurt her friend. This girl wasn't very aware of other people's wants and needs and tended to push what she wanted on other people, while her friend was taught to always do what she was expected to do and not make waves and stand up for herself. Earlier in the story, the friend who later gets assaulted was sitting on the edge of the pool, clearly not wanting to swim, and her friend pulls her in. After reading this story, I really though about all the non-consentual things we do that's we've been taught are okay. I've always pulled people into the pool without asking, and I've been pulled in without asking, and I grew up thinking that this was okay. One time my cousins and I were fooling around in the pool and one of my cousins pushed someone into the deep end of the pool and didn't realize that she couldn't swim. She was okay, but very shaken. Everyone referred to this incident as just an accident. It was an accident in the sense that the cousin who pushed her didn't know that she couldn't swim, but no one ever said to us, "You really shouldn't push someone into the pool without asking." My friend's story really helped me to notice all these ways that we're taught that it's okay to violate consent. This is the impact that I want to have on people. I want people to think, "Wow, I didn't realize I was doing this thing that's hurting people. I should stop doing it." I haven't had that reaction yet because the only people who read my stuff already agree with it, and the people who don't see the problem don't want to hear about it.

I do want to communicate effectively to the masses, but I can't be doing that with the people closest to me. I can't keep people around thinking that if they don't get it, it's my fault for not communicating well enough. There is a huge difference between explaining your needs to someone who is validating and consent-conscious but just doesn't know your specific needs yet, and trying to get someone to take your needs seriously when they're used to brushing other people's needs off. I need to be able to say that I have really horrible associations with, say, green wallpaper and that I'll feel depressed for weeks on end if I have to be in a room with it, and have other person not demand a 34,000-word explanation, but just say, "Okay, I won't try to pressure you to go someplace that has green wallpaper." And writing that 34,000-word explanation might make some people rethink how they're brushing off other people's emotional needs, which is my goal, but anyone I let in and have a relationship with needs to be someone who already has an instinct to take people seriously. In our final argument, I said to him, "I feel like I've said all of this so crystal clearly. What I am doing wrong?  What can I possibly say that will make people see the burning building and not the wilted flower? Because I feel like I am describing a burning building so clearly and some people just always still see the wilted flower!!!" I asked him to write a Facebook status for me that explained things in a way that he thought people would understand. He did it, but there was no insight, no emotion, nothing I hadn't already said. I told him to hug me tightly so that nothing could hurt me, and he squeezed me tight, but it wasn't real. I could feel that it wasn't real. He was just doing what I told him to do. He finally admitted to me that he doesn't see the burning building even when I do describe it that way. I told him from the start what I needed, that emotional validation was literally the most important thing to me, and he said he could give me that, but it was never true. He never did see anything for what it was. It's my experience, and if I say that this is how bad it is, then this is how bad it is. But he never accepted that. He finally admitted that he never really accepted it, and we were done. Forever. 

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