Saturday, September 01, 2007

Healing a Chapped Ass

I was talking to someone today about "healing conversations." We're defining those as the ones where someone calls or stops by and says, "I'd really like to talk about X" for which X = some emotional slight either real or perceived. The real reason for the conversation is generally to air days, weeks, months or years of similar events. Usually the initiator tries to keep the conversation on a very rational level with discussion of emotions but few actual emotions being released. Therapy language is encouraged if not required. (Feeling statements, taking responsibility for one's own perceptions, acknowledging what you're hearing and repeating it back for confirmation that it's being received as it was lobbed, that kind of thing.) In general I also think that we were talking about friendships rather than romantic relationships so I haven't extrapolated this out as a romantical thing.

I was taking the con side of the debate. I can't think of a conversation like that in my experience that has resulted in good feelings on both sides. Of course the common denominator in "my experience" is me so there may lie the rub, but what if it's not just me? I can think of few people I know who communicate with those types of language successfully outside of their interaction with me, either. I got as far as saying that there was an ambush quality to them since the second person is generally tootling along planning what to have for dessert and they pick up the phone and get "We need to talk," and then need to get themselves up to speed on a test they didn't know was being administered. So one-sided. It's true but not much of an argument. It's inorganic, too! Well, sure, but so's Cheez Whiz and if I'd let myself I'd be fucking squirting that neon nectar straight down my throat with an Oreo chaser.

So I kept thinking about it and tried to come up with better, more adult reasons. I know that all the advice columns tout "clearing the air" and "being honest" and "not letting things fester" and the old school method of smiling through things and having another glass of wine and pretending it never happened is especially unpopular in our "enlightened" age.

But I like the old way!

Also not the world's most adult argument for my case. Let's just say that the old way has worked for me in the past, just ask Zelda.

I did come up with something in the way of grown-up rationale for my stance, though, it's just too bad I didn't come up with it during the debate. (Thank the good sweet lord for blogging! I can continue the debate without having to wake up my friend.)

The classic example of my argument is when one spouse cheats but the other spouse doesn't know about it. If the extra marital relationship, and all others like it, is done for good then does the cheating spouse confess? If so are they doing it for the good of their spouse or just to unburden themselves and look for absolution? Is the latter fair? Is the former true?

In the case of "healing conversations" I think that often the initiator doesn't take responsibility for the dialogue. They are prickled by something and it may be the fault of their friend or it may be the fault of their own perceptions or it may be a misunderstanding and nobody's fault at all. The initiator thinks that if they speak their mind and get it out in the air it's freeing. Often it is freeing for them because they've then transferred responsibility for the problem to the other person. They can say, "I did everything I could, I was open and honest and now we can move on." Well, sure, they can move on, they've been thinking about the issue for a while leading up to the Come to Jesus meeting and it's the last step in their process. In their theory everyone will walk away glad and it's all good.

In reality (as I see it) there are two possible outcomes. It certainly is possible (just not my personal experience) that everyone can breathe a huge sigh of relief and walk away on a higher plane of friendship with a greater understanding of each other. The other possibility is that the ambushed person (yes, I realize that's judgmental language, I'm just warming to my subject) may have some issues to bring up as well. They may not see things the same way and they may indeed be offended by the implications of the initiators perceptions. They also may not work terribly well on the fly and be unable to hold up their own side of the conversation. It can all spiral down into a re-hash of an entire relationship and the final result may not be pretty.

I don't think that most initiators factor in the second possibility before they initiate. For me I always factor it in. I think to myself, "OK, this thing is pissing me off and I don't know if I can live with it." Then I stop for a second and I weigh the options. If they are the end of the friendship as I know it, or even all together, and having to live with what's niggling me am I willing to take the gamble? More often than not I can live with something. I can modify my behavior or the situations I let myself get into, set up boundaries in a subtle and pleasant way without taking a scalpel to the friendship. Not always, mind you, but more often than not.

What do you think? Am I full of shit? Am I missing something? Am I still not wearing my big girl panties on this one? I'd love to hear what you think.


  1. I have a lot to say about this entry, but I'm not sure I'm quite awake enough yet to say it in ways that would make sense to anyone living outside of my head.

    I will mention this, though, because I think I can form coherent sentences around the idea: I think a lot of what you're talking about - almost all of it, really - depends on the situation. You can live around your shit, for example; you've figured out coping mechanisms that work for you. A lot of people can't or haven't. It's situational, too: I'm sure there are some things you CAN'T live around, and you'd need to do that airing out thing in order to be upright about whatever it is.

    My jury's still out about your example. My perception of how the Universe works tells me that something like that should be dealt with, and RIGHT AWAY. Better to come clean about it and work through all the subsequent ugliness (or not, depending on the couple) than to let the other person find out later - whenever that "later" is - and feel as though s/he's been living a lie all this time. I mean, I suppose it'd be possible to keep something like that a secret forever, but it seems so unlikely to me as to be pure fiction.

    But that's just me...

  2. I use the example not because I think it's necessarily right but because it speaks to what I was trying to say. Me? I'd like to know the whole truth about an infidelity but the motivation for telling that truth is worth looking at, I think. Sometimes there's a really selfish component to any kind of confession, I think.

  3. Oh, okay - I see where you're going with that. Yeah, the motivations need to be investigated, certainly.

    This conversation didn't happen to be inspired by Auntie Chili, was it?

  4. No, Auntie and I had a great lunch and talked about a bunch of stuff but this wasn't part of that stuff.

  5. I wondered, because Auntie is all about the emotional honesty. She told me the other day that she's writing to me. That made me a little nervous at first - I scoured my conscience to see if I'd done anything that required an airing out - but she assures me that it's nothing like that. I suspect it has to do with a long-buried memory that I came up with about a month or so ago while in her presence - something that disturbed her a great deal. I'll know more when she's done with her letter...

  6. Now, see? Give me the letter ANY TIME! If you (the overreaching you) want to pry open our relationship and tell me all the things I'm doing wrong or all the feelings you have felt please, oh please for the love of all that is chocolate and holy, give me the letter or the e-mail so I can "hear" what you have to say and process it and reply to it in a complete way without feeling like I'm trying to defend myself with a butter knife in a gun fight, you know?

  7. I think the beauty of it all is we communicate in different ways and that what may seem selfish or awkward or unburdening sometimes is just the truth. Can you handle the truth?
    Things that are born or learned from those "healing" conversations might not manifast for days, weeks, months or years...
    just having the conversations sometimes speaks to the importance of communication and commitment.
    If you are having one of "those" conversations with someone you truly love or truly loves you... lose the chip on your shoulder and try to hear what is being said without judgement.
    I still retrieve conversations and memories from times gone bad that were not really fabulous for me at the time the initatior was offering up the bitter pill for me to swallow.
    I suppose it because I really believe in reasons for things. How mature is that?!

  8. Well, Gert, it's way more mature than I can be, that's for sure. In the middle of it I'm usually able to at least see what they're saying and use the rational healing talk and whatnot but I'm almost never able to get over being ambushed into the conversation. And, I guess, in large part all the ones I've had haven't ever seemed to be a good enough reason to have opened up such a cavern. Does that make sense? If they have a reason, and I think you're probably right and they do, I suspect that the reason is that the relationship is ready to end at least on some level.