We want to be heard by those who matter to us: known, accepted, cared about. Many people are wanted for particular qualities, but not the whole of them. Often their entirety — their essence — is neither recognized nor understood.
The essence is more than a pretty face, a powerful embrace, a tender or firm hand, femininity or manliness, or a sense of humor. The extent of this elusive thing isn’t sexuality, intelligence, prominence, money-making, the ability to protect, or the capacity to be a capable parent or housekeeper. It is all of these and more.
That which is to be embraced is everything, despite everything. It is their core and voice. We wish to be seen for more than can be seen.
Each of us hopes what we say and feel makes a difference. Not with everyone but with someone. Not at every moment, but often.
No fellow man or woman can fully understand us. Nor can we fathom the extent of our changing selves. Moreover, there is always an element of “seeming” as we move through life and its transforming interaction between who we are in this moment and who we are becoming.
Vision tells us the people standing before us are static, solid, and fixed. In truth, they are blurred, not constant. Time-lapse photography provides evidence of never-ending changes on the physical surface and points to the same ongoing process within. The mirror plays the identical trick when facing it.
Each one of us has had the goal or fantasy of being relevant, not a matter of indifference — not a replaceable part.
An old New Yorker cartoon by Robert Mankoff offers a visual representation of what we don’t want. A woman seated near her husband interrupts him to say, “I’m sorry, dear. I wasn’t listening. Could you repeat everything you’ve said since we got married?”
What explains this failure to communicate, to connect, to be known by someone? What might account for a shortfall in understanding by the person we desire, love, care for, want to be with, want to be close to?
I’m referring to only the ingrained version of this common happening. Everyone gets misunderstood some of the time or falls out of focus and presence.
Here are factors to consider in conversation:
- The speaker has real limitations in word usage. He can’t explain what he wants us to know.
- The talker takes too long, circling whatever his concern is, not quite getting to the central message.
- The pair find it hard to be unguarded in what they say.
- Body language and facial expression interfere with the intake of words and their meaning.
- Genuine hearing problems affect the listener.
- The hearer is a habitual multi-tasker and doesn’t give his complete attention.
- The twosome infrequently sits face to face in a quiet room when speaking.
- Differences in temperament, history, knowledge, and gender create a gap language fails to overcome.
- The infrequency of tender or open conversations increases the danger of big emotions (held back) now overtaking the couple.
- One or both participants cut each other off.
- The auditor assumes he received the same memo before, perhaps many times. He takes in the first few words and tunes out, filling in the rest from his catalog of familiar beliefs about the other.
- One or both are in “attack” mode. The two people engage in accusations, not reflection.
- Transference from previous relationships interferes with the individuals’ abilities to differentiate this person from someone else.
A match between two people in friendship or love requires maintenance. However, unlike an auto whose oil must be changed and tires replaced, the reasons for the work are a bit elusive.
Let’s begin with the duo’s beginnings. The initial affection and mutual interest tend to be motivated by a few appealing qualities: sexual allure, shared enthusiasms, the feeling of being desired, newness, or a temporary fitness between roles. An example would be one party’s search for a protector and the other’s joy in being appreciated for providing this.
Such attributes outshine and obscure other features of significance about the pair’s interconnection.
One of the surprises and challenges of grasping the “being” of the mate is the continual unfolding we go through as we proceed through life. Only a stone statue untouched by wind, water, or pollution remains unchanging.
Existence means transformation. In the best circumstances, this enables the possibility of growth.
A step toward improving our relationships is understanding that none of us are the same as we were. The partner, therefore, must attempt to “know” you — a living, developing, wavering soul moving through unending alteration — while he engages in a motion of his own and tries to understand himself anew. If the pair of friends or lovers can discover their nonsynchronous “becoming,” the endeavor to retain, recover, and recognize the companion may lie ahead.
Each of us loses his way at times. Still, much is possible if we recognize one of the greatest opportunities to be found in the search for friendship and love: to discover another who takes on the lifelong task of fondness, forgetting, and generous acceptance of human frailty, the better to become aware of another being who intends and attempts the same.
No wonder our delight when we come close to this closeness.
The first photo is called Couple Talking by Pedro Ribeiro Simões of Portugal. The second is a A Reading & Conversation with Scholastique Mukasonga. The Moderator was Odile Cazenave. The photo was taken at the Boston University Center for the Study of Europe. Both of the images were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.