January 17, 2008
I hate being misunderstood. Hate it. I despise it more than more than baby powder scented products, more than someone taking the last of something and leaving the empty container behind, more than the thought of Raisin Bran covered in mayo and topped with oysters. It’s the part about not being listened to. About someone not taking the time to figure out where I’m coming from. It’s about the connection between me and another human being breaking even for a second, a connection that I at times value more than my own bones. It’s an emotional fuck you that makes me five years old again, banging on my parents’ bedroom door only to be met with silence. Please open up. That’s not what I meant. Why. won’t. you. listen.

My nuclear foursome has never understood why I have a penchant for raising my voice to that end. In any argument, I’ll be the one thrashing about in an attempt to get a point across, given that neither rational thought nor courtesy prevails in their home. When I was a little Kris, they’d attribute these explosions to an excess of Red Dye #6, a wheat allergy, or the preferred and likely explanation of me just being a ginormous pain in the ass. For as many years, my family has thought my head explosions have been about me being heard, about regurgitating the words just spoken as evidence of their higher order processing. Surely being able to say what Kris just said and in the tone in which Kris said it means we’re simpatico! It never did. It still doesn’t. After all, the mimes and the chimps and even Flipper can mimic. The conversion of these recited words was never quite right, either, as if no literal translations exist in Familyspeak. Yes, Kris. I get it. You need a lot of attention. Really? That’s what you took from me asking if we could turn off the television when I visit so we can spend more time talking to each other? Cue flailing arms, fourth-grade tantrum, me shrieking like a cat in the bathtub while my undisturbed mother drinks a mint julip and pats her brow. It ends with her raised palm – stop – and some form of me begging. You are missing the point. It's me. I need you to listen.

Friends and lovers do this too, although given that most of my cronies and bedmates weren’t born in the ‘40s and therefore missed reading Ms. Passive Aggressive Manners, misinterpretations grow into much stronger fuck yous. The initial miscommunication and resulting misunderstandings are much less civil than with family, what with the EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITALS – which really should be reserved for cat and child custody disputes, don’t you think? – and the F bombs and complete and utter absence of e-tone. All of us can throw emotional grenades safely from behind our electronic devices, including the phone, doing little to help already compromised communication. Before you know it, your in box is a Jackson Pollack full of RE:s. Neither of you stopped to ask what that turn of phrase meant, to clarify a response that made the stomach drop. The outcome changes little.

Fuck you.

I get it already.

I thought I knew you better than this.
It's both an exercise in experience and frustration. Yes, I knew better but I thought you knew me better, too. I find myself banging on the door again, although this time it’s usually by hated cell phone or email. It's trying to get someone to face me without being allowed to touch them. Please open up. That’s not what I meant. Why. won’t. you. listen.

My mind automatically interprets the underlying message. I must not mean enough if they won’t take the time to figure out what I’m trying to say. As a little one, there’s not much else to think. We know love, but we can’t make sense of people giving and pulling it away simply because of trappings and judgments. It’s never being given the benefit of the doubt simply because you are a known and loved entity. An I know her better. Kids screw up, but aren’t their intentions relatively pure until they steal your Stratus and plow it into a snowbank while snorting coke off the dash? In adulthood, the identical message simply shifts sender. Responses are still reactionary, irrational, built on neuronal firing rather than a shared history and experience. And it gets me every time, this baggage, sucking me into a whirlpool of self-doubt. You know me. And if you aren’t understanding me, you aren’t listening. If you cared, you’d take the time to figure this out. In a head that can’t make sense of the shift, the blame resides entirely with me. I'm unable to differentiate things I'd do differently from the pain of not being understood. Screw their bullshit, how their past friendships or shitty day color our interaction. I’m falling short.


And suddenly I’m a fourth grader again, one who’s more glad than ever that the Internet doesn’t allow you a glimpse of all that flailing.


Blogger mysterygirl! said...

For me, the worst part about a relationship ending isn't that it's over-- it's that there's always something between the other person and me that has been misunderstood, and any attempts I make to clear things up after the fact make me look (unfairly, usually) like a crazy person. It's too bad we both go into reparation mode instead of finally just giving a big "fuck you" to the people who won't give us the benefit of the doubt enough to listen.

Blogger WildbillthePirate said...

All of us have been treated this way at some point. I used to thrash about screaming but, as you have also learned, that gets you Nowhere.

I changed my tactics. I will suddenly go either very Silent or talk in a whisper. If they want to listen, they will make the attempt. If not, they never would anyway. OR Just say what you have to say & Walk Away! Nothing makes sure-er that they will try to make the Attempt then leaving Nothing to Ignore! OR The Adult Way: Change the Subject then if, and when you return to it, Deliberately mis-intrepret what they said! Then stand back & watch the Fun begin!

Blogger Heather B. said...

How perfectly timed this was. I'm reading an email from someone - an email that requires deep breaths between paragraphs for fear of what might be in the next - and then reading this. I'm the one who is probably misreading and he probably doesn't like to be misread but it's always inevitable. The problem seems to be - at least for me anyway - is that we see and believe what we want to see and believe. Sometimes no amount of explaining from either party can change that.

Wow, you wrote this at a moment when I am FEELING this EXACT same way right now.
I tend to get physical when someone can't understand, not physical with them, but I literally FEEL the words flowing inside my body, and the clarity of what i'm trying to convey is taking over my insides and threatening serious combustion.

I understand.

Blogger Gwen said...

Well, I'm sorry, Kris. That just sucks. I think sometimes (usually, always) people misunderstand because they're so busy protecting themselves and worrying about their own shit. It's so hard to get out of our subjective experience, to let our defenses down during angry moments to truly hear other people. Doesn't mean the other person (aka YOU) is wrong or to blame. It just means we're big old narcissists.

Blogger Frankly, Scarlett said...

Unfortuneately, people hear what they want to hear and will drown out the rest.

It sucks - completely, because you think if they UNDERSTOOD you or LISTENED to you, things would be completely different.

I wish it were so...

Blogger Marriage-101 said...

I think this happens to all of us. And I'm sure we're all guilty of it to some extent. We read into things that aren't there and because of pride, don't want to admit we were ever wrong in our assumptions.

Blogger Robot Dancers said...

I tend to get loud when I am being misunderstood and then something clicks in my head and I just give up and walk away.

Blogger KB said...

oh my god, I'm so totally with mysterygirl. I mean, I will go off the cliff trying to make sure that the other person understands EXACTLY how I feel just to be sure I'm understood.

I'm so sorry. :(

Blogger Mamalujo said...

(Definitely a good time NOT to read the preceding comments and risk having my own tainted)

That was some good shit, Kris. As I read it, I kept coming back to this idea that translates roughly as, "this is why you should write." Your insatiable need to comunicate and be understood is one of the driving forces behind being a good writer. I've never met you, but after reading this piece I really do think I know you in a way I'll never know so many people around me. I got it. I listened, and it touched me. There ARE meople out there who know enough to just listen, and not judge. Who just want to know that there are others who feel the same.

Just. Wow.

Blogger Mamalujo said...

That "meople" was unintended, but, oh my god, don't you like it!?

Me-people. Explains perfectly why you're having the problem here. IMHO.

Blogger gorillabuns said...

i blame my need for food and my allergy to dye in clothing for my emotional outbreaks. oh, and the massive amounts of alcohol i consume.

for some reason, i can hear the fresh prince wafting in the background, "parents just don't understand...." while reading this.

This was the most powerful post I have read in a long time. Like KB said, I will go to unreasonable lengths to ensure that I am understood. It works sometimes, but I have been misunderstood to such a degree in so many situations that it is hard not to feel the need to protect myself by over-explaining. Thank you for expressing what so many of us obviously feel.

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