when my boyfriend and i got back together, we knew we had to do something that we really hadn't done before: actually communicate.
a key part of communication is being vulnerable. it is sharing how you are truly feeling. it is sharing your ideas. it is trying to understand someone else's ideas and feelings. it is a back and forth, an attempt to bring something into view.
i've noticed in my relationships--be them romantic, familial, friendly, whatever-- that another key part of communication is vocabulary. more specifically, the words we use to express ourselves. basically, it is easier to communicate when you have the same understanding of what words, phrases, etc. mean as your friend/family member/partner/etc.
we may think we all have the same vocabulary, the same understanding of a word of phrase, but often we don't.
my boyfriend and i communicate a lot more than we did when we dated in college. there were so many things we didn't share back then. now we share so much more and it is great. i see why it is probably the number one thing you can do to make a relationship work. but now that we are communicating, i think the times when we aren't understanding each other when communicating have become so much clearer. the times when the words we use in a certain context don't mean the same to both us become much more apparent. so i find myself thinking about these moments from time to time.
to give an example, my boyfriend and i were having a conversation this morning. it was about people getting to the root of what they feel. in response to something i said, he said something along the lines of "what if a person is, by definition, okay." i said, i would try to get to the root of whether or not they were really okay. to my boyfriend, this was confusing because he had just said "by definition". to him, this person was okay in every aspect and for me to question that was going against a fact. to me, in this context, the words "okay" and "by definition" were not absolute. what did okay mean in this context? okay healthwise? okay emotionally? okay physically? and "by definition", to me, could mean that someone is okay healthwise and not okay emotionally. personally, even on my saddest days, i tend to think i am "by definition" okay. whether or not i am truly okay is another question entirely. to me there was still gray area in his statement. to him it was black and white.
i know some of you will read this and be like, oh, duh, [this interpretation] was clearly the right way. my point isn't to say one is right and the other is wrong. i understand what my boyfriend meant and i see how the words he used expressed that. i just didn't understand that in the moment, nor did he understand what i meant in the moment. it took me asking "what did you mean?" to actually reveal the truth of what we meant/what we were responding to. we were having a conversation and having a completely different understanding of the conversation due to the fact that we didn't have a mutual understanding of what was meant by certain words and phrases. because of that, we came to different interpretations of the conversation. i may have responded differently had i understood his interpretation and/or he may have done the same.
i want to acknowledge that we are often having conversations with people and not truly understanding what they mean.
it is hard to know when you are misunderstanding someone due to the language being used. it is hard even to admit it. i feel like this happens on twitter all the time. someone writes a tweet, she/he means it one way, and someone comes along, reads the same words, and has a different interpretation. sometimes it is harmless and sometimes debates break out. sometimes it seems like a reasonable misunderstanding and other times it seems like a "misunderstanding" which is due to racism, sexism, and a list of other -isms that make some blind to arguments and language that are not their own. this is a much bigger beast and more complicated. words, and misunderstanding them, become weapons of choice.
for the sake of this post, i am much more interested in how we talk to the people closest to us. mostly because we usually assume that they understand us. we usually assume we are using the same language with the same meanings. we usually assume we are picturing an situation in the same way. so it can come as a shock when you realize those assumptions are wrong. you can take it personally, come to conclusions, feel shame, get angry, or have any number of other responses that may not actually be needed.
let me clarify, i have all those reactions. you may be cool as a cucumber.
of course, ideally, we are on the same page as our loved ones, but sometimes we aren't. i'm trying to figure out some ways to avoid/deal with these communication snafus that happen from time to time. here are some things i've learned about myself:
- sometimes i need time. though i am someone who lives and breathes words, i am not fast with them. it takes me time to process my words and others' words. i get lost and always feel a step behind. i often feel like the conversation shifts and i didn't realize it shifted and suddenly i am in territory i don't recognize. sometimes i need time to go back through the conversation and to evaluate whether i was on the same page, whether the words we shared had meanings we both understood, whether it is the words or my emotions that were causing the misunderstanding, etc. sometimes i just think i get confused in all the words spoken. time allows me to find words that express what i am feeling and make it easier for me to convey them to others.
- sometimes i have to describe how i am using a word or phrase from the get-go. turn something gray into black and white.
- sometimes i need to know myself and know who i am talking to. i live in the gray. i ask questions. i like to dig deep. a lot of how i respond to and understand language comes from this. but my dad lives more in the black and white. he asks questions, but he may expect a definitive answer. i usually don't. he may like to dig deep, but only on certain topics. his responses come from this. i know that when we speak, there are certain words and phrases that are not going to have the same meaning to him as they have to me. i think we both know this and it doesn't prevent us from talking. it just means when i say "living in the present moment", i know he may not have the same picture in his head.
- sometimes i know it is unavoidable. you are going to think you are communicating and realize, actually, you weren't. if we go to the definition of communication (ha! see, i like definitions sometimes), we can see there is a way to communicate without actually communicating. you can transmit information without succeeding in conveying your idea or evoking understanding in someone else.
- sometimes i have to just let it go. i need to learn that there will be communication, conversations, with those i love that will not end with us understanding each other. we can define and redefine all we want. sometimes communication doesn't bring you closer. sometimes it leaves you standing where you were or it pulls you apart a little. sometimes communication is just information transmitted and should only be that. nothing more, nothing less.
the good thing is that it takes communication to realize you and your partner/mother/friend/etc. may not share a mutual understanding of a word or phrase. if you aren't communicating, then this doesn't even come onto your radar. it is a good problem to have.
that said, communication is hard.
i think the older i get, the more i realize everything is hard.