Emotional Unavailability

How do you feel? 

I feel scared.

Why?

Because you seem so far away. You don’t tell me what’s going on in your head. You don’t share your feelings with me. You won’t even tell me what you would like from me. 

I feel invisible.

You don’t ask me how I feel or how I’m doing.You don’t respond to my flirtations. You don’t seek me out when you feel sad or hurt or worried. You don’t ask me how was my day or hug me. When I tell you that I feel sad or anxious, you don’t respond with words or action. You want me not to need you.

You don’t say anything when you’re vexed with me. Instead, you hold it in and leave me to guess or read your mind. When I ask if you’re upset with me, your body language says, yes, but your answer is, no.

The silence.

You come home, kiss me on the lips, and disappear into your sanctuary, the bathtub. You stay there for two hours. Sometimes you fall asleep. You read in there, send me article links from there and take a phone call once in awhile as you soak in the hot water.

The greener grass.

I leave you alone and stay out of your way. Your day was stressful and you tell me how you wish you were independently wealthy so you didn’t have to work. You want to travel the world, hike in verdant woods and kayak on calm rivers.

The distractions.

When I come into the bedroom to say hello, you’re out of the tub and lying in bed. The laptop is on your chest. Your cell phone is beside you. I ask, how are you? Your eyes remain glued to the laptop and you tell me that you’re uploading files to Flickr but it’s so slow. Then you glance at me a few seconds and tell me you’re very tired because you had a long, dreadful day at work.

The eyes.

I climb in the bed and sit beside you. I’m all ears to listen. But your eyes remain averted, focused on your activity. You say no more about your experiences. You mention to the wall that the polls show one candidate has more favor than the other. You tell the air that a school teacher from your third grade class just passed. I see a few tabs open on your laptop and realize that I can’t compete. I rise and leave you alone.

The bed.

You’re lying on your side, eyes closed. You’re not sleeping well lately. You told me this several times. I quietly brush my teeth in the adjoining bathroom and softly climb under the covers. You don’t move. You’re wrapped in the sheet with a pillow safely tucked against you. Your arms hold the pillow close. Your back is facing me. I grab hold of my body pillow and hold it too while I fall asleep. The mattress has not known hunger or ecstasy, passion or sweat in months.

The waiting.

I’m a fool to stay by your side. I wonder how long before you learn to trust again. You want me to trust you, but I don’t know you. I can only trust whom I know to be a compassionate friend.

The remedy.

You finally understand that you need healing. I, too, need to heal. We’re both of us in something we cannot handle. Experts, we agree, will help us through. You see yours and I’ll see mine. The adventure you begin will take you on an emotional journey where the darkest clouds hover and storms raging beneath the surface may break through the icy ceiling. Are you ready? Do you have the courage? Will you go the distance? Can you see your future? Am I in it? 

Please, say something, I don’t want to give up on you.

The detachment.

I’m brutally aware of your presence. I hold myself together and carry on with my life. I ask nothing of you. I stay out of your way. I focus on work, the puppies, my favorite books, my diet, my workouts, my mum, my sisters, my writing. You act as if you’re okay with the distance. I’m a cool girlfriend. Each hour that I’m around you, I’m painfully aware that we’re not a healthy couple. 

But I’m doing something different. I’m not leaving. You’re the first to get help in a string of desolate lovers. You asked for my patience. It will be my last offering.

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Are Words Overrated?

Cavemen, before language was developed, used gestures and body positioning to convey feelings, ideas and plans. Mannerisms and gestures were powerful, unquestioned and accepted. There was little to doubt unless they were facing an enemy. Then, all the rules were off the table and they used decoys, called one another’s bluffs and misled their foes in order to achieve victory and dominance.

In the game of matchmaking and sexual conquest, it goes without saying that strategies were also employed to secure a partner for twenty minutes or twenty years. Who are we to judge then, when foes and friends, family and co-workers offend or injure us without a verbal apology?

Pride, I suppose, leads us to resent others and hold our position of self-righteous indignation. So we wait until a verbal apology is forth-coming. Hours or days pass, sometimes years, and still we wait.

But what if we were less resentful and more open to forgiveness? What if we paid attention to more than verbal cues?  Body language will forever remain our primal, and primary, language because none of us are able to speak for the first year or two of our lives. We communicated with smiles, grimaces, giggles, crying, silence, arms flailing or blocking, legs kicking or curled, and I’m certain, with a plethora of meta-communication techniques that actual parents can describe from personal experience.

Instead of waiting for an “I’m sorry”, perhaps we should watch for an offering, a thoughtful gesture, an accommodation, a space saved or given, a predicted anticipation. Can you visualize what these actions look like? And speaking of actions, if they do indeed speak louder than words, why are we waiting for platitudinous apologies instead of visual cues that are worth a thousand words?

I had an ex who rarely apologized with words. I should add that perhaps men and women differ in the methods and modes we employ to rend an apology. After many a verbal battle, followed by retreat and silence for a day or two, the sun would peak over the horizon, a pale yellow-pink; we both knew it was time to bury the axe.

Neither of us wanted to acknowledge verbally that the argument was silly and hurtful, that we held onto our positions far too radically, that we were more wrong than the other, or that our silence caused two days’ loss of affection, sex, fun, reading together, enjoying a movie, eating at the same table and … conversation.

Apology rarely came in sound waves. They seldom required our ears. One of us would offer the first act of contrition. A meal prepared with two plates instead of one. The softening of the eyes when a glance is exchanged. The bed made and pillows fluffed when it’s not ordinarily done. Chuckling affectionately when the other is caught in a clumsy act. Two coffee mugs out instead of one. These gestures are the equivalent of ice melting on a glacier. Your foe’s heart has warmed and is ready to make peace.

How to accept the gestured offering? With patience, understanding and forgiveness. Not easily practiced if disrespect was included in the argument. But where two healthy adults think long and hard before each uttered sentence – and speak slowly and deliberately when emotions flare – they can prevent 99% of degraded arguments that include accusations, interrogations, baggage-mining, button-pushing and superlatives. When it’s understood between two people that respect far outweighs being right or wrong, then we naturally invite peaceful reconciliation without words.