Sometimes I get it so wrong. Sometimes I get it wrong precisely – precisely – because I am endeavouring to get it right. There are a number of factors that have brought and continue to bring me unstuck. One of these is my tendency to believe that people should confront their issues with their loved ones, that they should acknowledge them, speak candidly about them and thus (to my mind) defuse and resolve them. Many people utterly disavow this strategy, and I can plainly see why: they don’t take kindly to evidence of conflict if it implicates them in any kind of wrong-doing. Fair enough. That’s pretty human, from what I have managed to glean over the years. But what, then, are we to do with our conflicted feelings?
For a little while now, I’ve been experiencing an internal conflict involving a friend. I’m aware, having had to live with myself for 35 years, that if I am feeling insecure (which happens roughly on a 28 day cycle and usually involves a vicious hormonal surge that is intensifying with age), I am more than capable of experiencing paranoia about others. For instance, I might think Llew is flirting with another woman, or I may think another woman is flirting with Llew. If that other woman is a friend of mine, I am usually able to talk myself down with all sorts of little tricks I’ve picked up along the way, such as the application of pure reason and the extension of genuine trust. I tell myself that I’m the crazy one, that I need to get out more, and that it’s not healthy for anyone to live so much inside their own sick and twisted mind. Mostly this works quite well, all of the above being undeniably true.
In one recent case, such has been my approach for several months, but at a certain point I had to acknowledge that the strategy was failing to defuse and resolve my growing feelings of unease. This isn’t to say I stopped talking myself down and allowed much more sinister and deranged thoughts to fester. No, I didn’t really undergo any change to my actual base level of trust, which is massive. I’m not sure it could be greater. But feeling uncomfortable is feeling uncomfortable, and trusting all my friends not to try anything with my husband is not actually the same thing as feeling totally all right all the time about the body language some of them use when they’re talking to him. I don’t think for a second anyone I trust would betray me like that, I truly don’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still give a start when I look over and see body language I recognise or understand or read as female flirtation and find that its object is my husband. I do still get a jolt, even though I know there’s nothing “going on.”
So what do I do with my discomfort? Well, for a few months I’ve just tried telling myself that I’m simply not as touchy-feely as a lot of women, which is really true. Therefore I am a candidate for misreading body language on the basis of my own boundaries. I see and accept that as a real possibility. Then again, I am an acute observer of people and social rules of engagement, it is one of the things that makes me tick, so in general I would say the chances of my totally misjudging a peer’s body language are actually kind of slim. Still, when I am in paranoid mode, there’s no telling what madness of mixed feedback loops might start misfiring. So I accepted the odds, and I bet against myself. Several times.
Then I thought hey, it’s been a few months now of telling myself I’m just crazy, and I’m still not feeling great about this…it’s affecting my friendship, it’s affecting my time with my friend, and it’s affecting me. What do I do now? Well, naturally (for me), I finally raised it. I didn’t raise it in the hope of starting a fight with my friend, and I certainly didn’t raise it in order to accuse her of some wrong-doing, I raised it very much in the spirit of saying “I know this is actually a problem of mine, but I hope you can help me with it, because I am finding I keep feeling uncomfortable about your body language around Llew.”
Maybe I have different boundaries and different insecurities and different issues that make me especially sensitive. I really don’t know. All I know is I was hoping that by raising it and taking responsibility for my own discomfort, I’d be able to talk to my friend about it and have her understand me. But that was naive, I realise now, because that’s not how conflict works. Shackles come up, temperatures rise, and people get hurt, which is exactly what happened here. So now I’m left wondering what a better course of action might have been, because keeping it from my friend was eating away at me, and therefore exacting a toll on our friendship of which she was wholly ignorant, but telling her was like dropping a bomb between us. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, but I’ll leave you with the same question I have been asking myself since: is discomfort a valid response even when no discomfort was intended? In some ways it’s like workplace harassment: are you still being harassed if the other person says it’s all in good fun? My personal feeling is that if someone’s uncomfortable, then that’s their response to the environment or the circumstances and thus must always be valid because it’s not for anyone else to determine how we feel in a certain situation. I think we have to try to respect our differences rather than simply defend our own position. And that’s probably what I was hoping for in admitting to my conflicted feelings. What can I tell you? It’s a minefield out there.