I’m sometimes guilty of assuming I know the needs and wants of those particularly close to me. For example, my husband and children. It was actually pointed out to me in the early days of our courtship that I had a habit of asking G. a “Do you want?” question, and then responding as if he’d answered in the positive regardless of what he actually said. For example “Do you want a glass of water?” “No I’m fine.” *Pours water anyway*
They were minor things and usually of the type where it was having something that could be ignored if not truly wanted – I was never all “Now drink that water that I so painstakingly poured for you!” or anything like that. But I wasn’t listening – or at least I wasn’t hearing. I was too busy following my own narrative for my husband because, who wouldn’t want water?! And if you’re not thirsty now, wouldn’t it be better to have water anyway because of the spectre of LaterThirst that was so clearly hovering over his shoulder.
I had to save him from that.
Of course, it doesn’t help that G. isn’t great at giving hard “no”s to small things like this. He will often respond with “I’m fine” instead of “No thank-you” and I have a malfunctioning translator in my head; “I’m fine” = “I do want it, but I don’t want to put you to any trouble”. He may mean “No! Don’t you make my glass all wet!”, “Not now, and when I want it I’m perfectly capable of pouring it myself”, “Water is so trivial I don’t want to dedicate a single brain cycle to it” or any of a million other internal responses to which I’m not privy. But familiarity breed presumption and I have enough arrogance to presume knowledge and insight into people’s responses even when I don’t know them all that well.
I’m not the biggest fan of his “soft yes” either: “I wouldn’t say no.” – we’ve had plenty of arguments about that one. And my reading of “I’m fine”. Both of them leave me in a bit of a tizzy. I’m trying to learn to take whichever response at face value. Although I tend to pull him up on the “I wouldn’t say no.” thing.
It’s funny. Funny-peculiar I mean. Internet articles have taught me that it’s usually women who are socialised to give soft yeses and nos. Being upfront and clear about our needs and desires is seen as a little socially undesirable. In fact, a “hard no” from a woman (especially around romantic advances) is read as bitchy, can be responded to with aggression, and a “hard yes” is often read as greedy or grasping. We’re very much socialised to downplay our needs, and certainly stating our “unnecessary” wants is totally gasp-worthy.
I guess this is yet more evidence of how the kyriarchy hurts men as well as women. Men who don’t respond in the expected gender-normative manner can be punished just as much as the non-conforming women.
Anyway, these thoughts started whirling around this morning when I was reminded of my tendency to get super-ridiculously protective of G. when I perceive someone else to be attacking of him. It’s really inappropriate of me and regardless of the strain it puts on my relationships with other people (which does occur from time to time), what’s much worse is what it says about how I view my husband – as if he’s incapable of having his own true reactions to conflict, as if I have to jump in and answer unstated desires – as if I have some adult insight into a situation that he doesn’t have.
Now I do cut myself some slack here, I do believe that these reactions are being driven from a place of love, and of wanting to protect someone for whom I care so very very much, someone who I’d hate to see hurt even more than I’d hate to be hurt, someone whose side I want to be on in all circumstances. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a bit of a jerk move on my part. It’s kind of infantilising. And I’m determined to stop doing it.
As with all attempted changes, I’m pretty sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to fail and then try again. And, y’know, the ever hopeful Fail Better. Intention does count for something, especially when it’s the intention to change. I’m fond of quoting Yoda and his “Do or do not do”, but most doing starts with a bunch of failed “try”s.
It’s probably worth recognising that.