Friday, January 19, 2007

I doubt this is interesting

But then I’m never sure, to be honest. Sometimes things I think are cool elicit zero response; other times I dash off something I think is lame but then turns out to resonate. But enough – let the play say the thing…

I grew up in a family that kissed each other a lot. Hello, goodbye, good night – all marked with a formal peck on the lips or cheek. We kissed our parents good night even into our teens. It was a ritual about validation, about closure, about family togetherness. It was a way of saying that whatever had happened that day, we still loved and were loved. It was so familiar to us that we never questioned it – it was like wearing clothes or not spitting on the tablecloth: it wasn’t that it was the only possible way to operate – it was just the only one that seemed normal and right.

It was so much a part of my idea about how life works, that when I got married I couldn’t figure out what to do when Hannah almost never made an effort to kiss me good night. It sounds stupid, I know – why not just talk about it? – but to me it was so basic I didn’t even know how to approach it. It was as if someone made you breakfast in bed every morning, but never brought you any silverware. If you *asked* for silverware, they had no problem bringing you some, but no matter how many times they watched you eat with silverware, they would never bring you any without being asked.

At the beginning we were very affectionate in other ways – she kissed me hello or goodbye, for example – but not goodnight. Breakfast in bed, but no silverware… And it felt weird -- the idea of talking about it, about making a specific request for something that to me seemed so basic, and obviously for her was a complete non-issue. It can be hard to ask for what we need. And I knew she would see it as a criticism, as if I was unhappy with her. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of incompleteness I had without it.

And we’re self-centered creatures sometimes. I wanted her to notice that I needed this – why else did I go to the trouble of making it happen every single night, even if it just meant kissing her between the shoulderblades? I wanted her to read my mind, and then give me what I needed.

Eventually, I resented the way she would just plop into bed, roll over, and go to sleep. To me, it represented me making an effort to be close to her, and her not being willing to do the same. And I’m guessing she never even noticed it at all.

Of course, she must have had plenty of things like that in her mind as well – assumptions about what a husband does or is, or needs that either she didn’t express, or that she did express but I didn't understand womanspeak*, or I understood but didn’t realize the importance of it, or wasn’t willing to do it.

Anyway, this has no point except to underscore the importance of communication, of the power of the words “I feel _____.” Our communication was pretty superficial, and pretty guarded – I could tell you why, but that’s another story, and even more boring than this one...

1) MAN: What's wrong?
WOMAN: Nothing. (ie, Something.)

2) MAN: I'm going to watch the game with Bob tonight, okay?
WOMAN: Fine. (ie, Not fine.)

3) WOMAN: Silvia looked nice tonight. (ie, I need you to tell me that I'm beautiful, thin, and desireable, and you'd rather be with me than with a thousand Silvias.)

4) WOMAN: Did you see the size of the rock Doris had on her finger? I thought it looked tacky. (ie, I wish you would buy me one, but even bigger.)


At Fri Jan 19, 09:43:00 PM PST, Blogger jay aitch said...

aw,cmon. tell us the rest of the story.....

At Fri Jan 19, 11:38:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

First of all I think you are selling yourself short with the title of this post. I think you should (at least) change it to “You Might Find This Interesting” Seriously Bryan I really think this is one of your better posts. Maybe because I can relate to it so well.
There are so many steadfast rituals that someone becomes so accustomed to when growing up that when you become an adult and get married you’re thinking “hey what’s up with her.. this is not like I imagined it would be when I used to think about what my future wife would do it that situation.” Especially when it involves affection. I finally learned that if you are from a very demonstrative family (like you / me) it sometimes makes it hard for the spouse who might have shown her love in other ways with her family to compete with that.

Anyway I know your post was mainly about the importance of communication which most men (including myself sometimes) stink at. I also enjoyed all of your ie examples.
I think what many couples do instead of communicating their desires to one another is to sadly settle for a silent compromise.

At Sat Jan 20, 07:48:00 AM PST, Blogger Hannah said...

I think there is some revisionist history happening here! I think had you BEEN there at bedtime you would have received a kiss but as I recall you were somewhere else at bedtime more often than not

At Sat Jan 20, 01:39:00 PM PST, Blogger jay are said...

this resonates for sure. My husband is much more demonstrative than I am, and I know that it's hard for him to understand how something so "normal" and "natural" and "obvious" could be so hard. I ask myself that question countless times---it's frustrating for me as well as it is for him. Mostly, I'm sure, he wonders how I can know it's important to him and still not be able to offer these seemingly simple gestures. Blogball, I appreciated the part of your comment where you said, " makes it hard for the spouse who might have shown her love in other ways with her family to compete with that." That is so true.

It's just as important to be able to HEAR how the other person says I Love You as it is to demonstrate your way. Which isn't to say that it's not necessary to hear and understand where each person is coming from and be willing to try to give them what they need. So, Bryan, as was your point in all this---communication is key. Why is that so hard too??

Obviously, as Hannah pointed out, we see ourselves in a different place sometimes and have a different perspective and there's more than one side of the story. That's always true. I think you allowed for that when you acknowledged that she had expectations and needs that she didn't have met either---that you either didn't know what they were or underestimated their importance.

Sigh. Relationships are fraught with minefields, are they not? Let's all live alone on little islands!!! Oh, wait, that would be boring. Guess we'll just plod along, then, the way it is.

At Sun Jan 21, 02:49:00 AM PST, Blogger Chris Cope said...

It's a bit lame of me to offer no more than this comment, but, 1,000 Sylvias is a good name for a band.

At Sun Jan 21, 11:31:00 PM PST, Blogger mamacita said...

I thought your post was valuable as well as all the comments.
Maybe this would be a good time to plug the book, "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman

At Mon Jan 22, 07:21:00 PM PST, Blogger Connie said...

I hopped over from Alan's blog. I've been lurking for some time, but now feel compelled to comment. I know exactly what you mean about the kissing thing. My family was very kissy also, and I don't think I could stand being married to a non-kisser. Or a non-hugger for that matter. Fortunately, my husband (Dave from eMusings) is both a kisser and a hugger. On the nights when I feel he is paying more attention to this computer than me, I simply say, "I'm feeling strangely uncuddled." The first time I said this to him, he was totally aghast and immediately put his computer down and cuddled with me :)

At Wed Jan 24, 07:50:00 PM PST, Blogger Andi said...

This is one of my favorite blogs. I pretty much had to teach my husband's family how to hug.

At Thu Jan 25, 03:16:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

So here's a thing:

I thought (naively) that I was very fair and nonjudgemental with this post. I didn't say Hannah had an obligation to be or do anything. I didn't say she was less, or wrong, or anything else -- I just said her way of operating was different, and I described how I remembered it, my reaction to it, and my feelings about it.

I thought I left ample room for her to have felt the same about any number of things about me.

A man I talked to about it said he thought it was pretty even-handed and non-accusatory.

However: the two women whose opinions I solicited told me they'd have felt terrible if they read that about themselves. That I was saying that Hannah was cold (not true) or never cared about me (also not true). And clearly, Hannah, you feel what I wrote was untrue, unkind, etc.

From this I conclude that
a) I'm not as distanced and logical as I think I am, and/or
b) a lot of women don't give a fig about even-handed or logical -- the emotional factor is what counts, and what they operate from.

And I thought I already knew both of those things, but I guess I forgot for a minute.

So let me hereby apologize for making Hannah look bad.
My feelings are what they are/were, but I'll be more circumspect and considerate about sharing them in the future.

At Fri Jan 26, 12:07:00 AM PST, Blogger si said...

okay, decided to comment at this late stage...

when I first read this post, i was wondering how you came up with/why you posted this now. wasn’t sure how “productive” it was to bring up ancient history (don’t mean to sound judgmental here). then initially decided to not comment because it felt intrusive, somehow. but now, well, i guess i changed my mind... :)

as i told you this afternoon, your blog is YOUR blog. you should be able to post whatever you want. on the other hand, i do understand that hannah may feel upset, as i probably would, if certain less than flattering or too personal statements were made about me for the blogging world to read. since you had already posted your answering comment before we talked, i know you’ve already increased your mental count from 2 to 3 for the female reaction. part of MY reaction is that i’m basically pretty insecure (though not saying that about anyone else) and the culture in which i grew up had ingrained in me to be concerned about what people thought of me. but in your defense, you almost always add the caveat on your posts that from hannah’s point of view, “reality” was probably quite different. i also didn't think you were saying that hannah was totally cold and unloving -- just didn't always give you what you wanted/needed (which YOU could not communicate, btw).

it seems an injustice to paint us with the “lack of logic” brush. logic isn’t usually a large component of emotions and feelings. and i do think your stance was not completely coming from the logical corner in this case either.

obviously just my opinion and hopefully we can discuss further if we need to... (i'm still your friend. :))


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