Monday, December 20, 2010

No, really, it's you... Or, Lost In Translation

Author's note:  This week's blog is inspired by a very good friend and fellow single siren, N. 

Communication is something that happens from day one of our lives.  Babies cry when they need something, or if they're afraid or tired or have a dirty diaper.  When babies learn to talk, they learn to ask for things they need, or how to express happiness, fear, sadness and anger.  While these miniature humans are pretty cute most of the time, I'm not so fond of them when they throw tantrums.  The fall on the floor, they scream, they kick and become mutant versions of themselves.  It's like watching the Incredible Hulk.  

Usually, humans grow out of the tantrum stage... or, at least we stop throwing ourselves on the floor and screaming.  We throw tantrums in a different way.  Some people are aggressive and downright mean, and in my opinion, they suck.  Most of my experiences, however, are in dealing with passive aggressive people and they suck even more.  

Passive aggressiveness is a way of communicating anger, or displeasure, and it is even considered a personality disorder by the DSM-IV.  I'm not writing about the depths of this disorder but rather the little ways in which we all participate in this completely annoying behavior.  

Be it through status updates on Facebook, or catty comments made at parties, or writing a blog, most of us participate in some sort of passive aggressive behavior.  I honestly don't think we do it to be spiteful or hurtful (N. is convinced that a lot of people don't even realize their behavior.  I beg to differ) but we do it because we don't know how to communicate - or how to take it when someone is trying to communicate with us - so we do other things in order to release the anger, sadness or hurt that we feel.  Maybe I'm upset with a co-worker over the way he/she treated me in a staff meeting, but instead of going to the person, I'll make it a point to pick on something small, such as that person forgetting to re-load paper into the copy machine, and I'll send out an email to the entire staff about how inconsiderate it is to leave the copy machine empty. 

Sadly, passive aggressive behavior happens in relationships more often than not.  Drinking the last of the coffee before the other person has had any because one is angry that their partner came home late the night before.  Being angry with one's partner for buying new shoes so the angry one goes out and spends twice as much money on a pair of pants. Sighing loudly and then when one's partner asks what's wrong, saying "nothing." 
We do this because we are not taught how to communicate with each other in a healthy way. We learn to be passive aggressive in our families, at school, in our early relationships and it is passed down from generation to generation.  I had to take a university level class on healthy communication and it was all so foreign to me yet made so much sense.

We sometimes attempt to communicate but then we are slapped in the face with this reality: it's hard.  It's hard to express ourselves in a way that doesn't use accusatory language, and even harder to listen to someone without thinking of the next response or the next argument, or using the ever popular "yeah, but what about when you..."  We also use cliche excuses because, once again, it's a lot easier than honesty. 

Passive aggressiveness and excuses ease our consciences and help us hide behind a lot of words.  We say the cliche phrases because a) we think they work and b) people don't challenge them, usually because they make some sort of sense, or it's too embarrassing to call someone out and possibly hear the truth. 

My friend N. and I have had extensive conversations about excuses and what they translate to.  Here are a few of our favorites:

"I like you, but I just can't commit to you." 
Translation: I like having you around, but I need to keep my options open.

"I've been hurt before, I can't let my guard down." 
Translation: I don't want to get emotionally involved with you because you're my rebound.

"I'm over my ex, just not over the hurt." 
Translation: Bullshit.  I'm not over my ex and if she calls, I'm running back to her before you can even blink.

"I don't want to ruin our friendship"
Translation: I like hanging out with you because you like the same things I do, but I don't want you to be my girlfriend. 

"It isn't you; it's me." 
Translation: It's you. 

"I'm just exploring my possibilities right now." 
Translation: Due to my insecurities, I'm going to sleep with as many people as possible.

"I just don't have the spark for you..."
Translation: I don't like you the way you like me. 

"...but I'm trying to find it."
Translation: I like the attention you give me, so I want to keep you around."  

"I don't want a relationship with anybody, I just want my freedom."
Translation: ...but if I meet someone who knocks me off my feet, I'm going for it... you just didn't do it for me.
Sometimes it's easier to hear the excuse instead of the translation - really, who wants to hear "I just don't like you," and who likes saying it?  I've used a lot of these phrases because I'm kind of a chicken when it comes to confronting feelings.  After hearing the phrases enough times, however, I've come to this conclusion: it's better to be honest, no matter how hurtful it is, than to lead someone on or worse, insult someone's intelligence.  That's how it feels - like my intelligence is being insulted.  When I hear the excuses, I get angry; angry enough to want to throw myself on the floor and start kicking and screaming.  I'm not angry because the person doesn't like me; I'm angry because the person doesn't respect me enough to be honest and isn't considerate enough to cut me loose.  It's passive aggressiveness at its worst: keeping me around because he's too much of a coward to let me go. 

I've gotten pretty good at sniffing out the excuses and when I hear them, I run.  I'm sure there is some validity to the excuses, but I don't have time for them anymore.  I try not to use them either - although I'm good at them (hey, I'm a writer, what do you expect?) mainly because I know how bad it feels to be on the receiving end of them. 

It takes a lot of work and conscious effort, but I'm going to try and be less passive aggressive... right after I send out this hateful email regarding the taste of the glue on the envelopes at my office. 

Next time: I'm sorry, you just did what during our date?


  1. Translate this. I don't believe it's me I know it's u! I don't want a relationship, why not? Well not because I am still stuck on my ex, I told that $#@? to leave me the **** alone when she tried finding me 2 years after we patted. I don't want to be in a relationship because it hurts worse than being single. Sex, yeah I miss it, but that isn't the point of a relationship. All the good and pleasant parts are overshadowed by the crazy shit we get put through, only to end up where I AK now but with less money. So yeah, translate that!

  2. Um... bitter much? My translation is this: put on your big boy pants and get over it! We've all been hurt but eh, I'm willing to go back out there. What's life without scrapes and bruises, plus stories to tell...