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Non-Reciprocity in Relationships, Part 2


Today I finished work in time to get home before bedtime, something for which both I and my cat are grateful. She was unhappy when I came home late and went straight to bed last night, and who can blame her - she deserves attention. She got her revenge in the usual manner - meowing periodically in the middle of the night to wake me up.

I am especially grateful because it means I have a bit of time to write about something that has been bothering me over the last couple of days. The day after I had a long conversation with S, he e-mailed me, and then I e-mailed back, and then, after that, silence, for the past week and a half. When we broke up, he said he would probably withdraw for "some time," and accordingly un-"friended" me here and on other social media platforms. I observed a blog post that I wasn't sure I was supposed to see, and let him know in a very brief message (not sure what the right etiquette is for that situation), but again, silence. That's not the specific bother, but is tied to it.

It's hard to listen to that silence, especially after becoming accustomed to frequent contact, especially coping with the ambiguity of the situation. I had gotten to feel like there wasn't much "relating" going on in what was left of our relationship (felt like a litany of complaints directed at me), and like I was no longer sure whether we were really good for each other, which to me was a sign that it was time to put on the brakes. [I try to not be a Flounce Majeure sort of person, but at times it feels necessary to take a step back from things, the overall goal being one to restore a sense of self-balance so as to be able to think and act from the heart].

Over the last couple of days, tied to coping with the silence, the recurring thought and bother has been about a letter and an e-mail I sent, that were both incredibly hard to write, best summarized by the e-mail subject line, "Things about myself I need to work on." I wrote both things focused around myself because I was starting to feel like outside labels were imposing themselves on my actions, BUT I also wanted to acknowledge that I am aware that I am a far from perfect human being, I do things that are hurtful to others, and need to work on recognizing that, and especially recognizing that I need to work on being patient and listening.

So it is hard to let that silence extend out, a good week and a half now.

But let me touch on the more general subject of this post, on non-reciprocity in relationships, before returning to the specific bother. One of the items I found in one of the boxes of mementos was a copy of a typewritten letter I'd sent to my Writing professor at Tufts, concerning a conflict I was having with her over some of the final assignments for our Peer Writing Tutor class. The details of the conflict aren't critical, but the outcome is. Instead of acknowledging and addressing my concerns, she basically said to me, "Well, _I_ am the professor and you are the student, end of story." So I finished that course still deeply unhappy with how things were handled, and I've had to carry conflicting feelings with me ever since then. There's really no chance for resolution, because it all happened about 15 years ago, and besides, she passed away from cancer.

What do we do, about these things? Many would argue that reciprocity an intimate part of forming friendships - I think tied to the concept of social exchange theory, but this could be inaccurate. That's part of why, when going on bike rides here in town with strangers right after S and I broke up, I didn't run around going, "Hi, my name is Rebecca, and I just broke up with my boyfriend!!" I could have done so, but that assumes an often unwelcome level of intimacy and familiarity with strangers. Instead, they ask where I have moved from, and to reciprocate I ask about where they are from (general answer: Nebraska, heh). So when things go non-reciprocal, my sense of what's right and proper gets violated, and I get rocked back on my heels. I think humans are also equipped with extremely good bullshit detectors on this front, such that I readily register the difference between a thoughtful response and something parroted back at me.

But non-reciprocity is as much a part of life as reciprocity. After struggling with waiting, I've had to remind myself that it's still patience that I need to work on, and that I can't tell someone else to write their own homework assignment of "Things I need to work on" to reciprocate my own list. Wow, that would be a good way to get exactly the WRONG thing. So that's the answer to my bother, after several days of thinking.

Multiple times over the past couple of years, S suggested that he and I "take a break," although he never explained what he meant by that or how it differed from living two timezones apart and communicating only sporadically. He also suggested that I go and date some other Mister Perfect and said he doesn't need to hear about it, at which point I go, to me, being in a relationship with someone, whether it's a friendship or otherwise, means I should be able to share things about my life with that person, and not have to sneak around or hide anything!! For one thing, I'm not interested in dating other people (good Lord, especially not right now, and especially not in Lincoln), and for another thing, I absolutely reject the notion that I should have to separate out parts of my life in that fashion. [And why does Miss Perfect get left out all the time?? It's always Mister Perfect that causes the paranoia.]

And so here I am, sitting home alone with my cat in my lap, purring, as I have been spending most evenings lately. As I think even further, I think, inasmuch as S declares that he wishes I find Mister Perfect, you know, altogether, I will continue to hope that he finds meaning and satisfaction in his life's pursuits, whether those pursuits involve finding a deep and satisfying relationship with another person, or otherwise. I cannot know whether that will be the case, but I hope that it is true for all of you as well.

Lastly, I would return to the same notion as I put as the title for my previous post, because sometimes it deserves repeating: when I write things about other people, in actuality I am mostly just saying things about myself.


( 4 remarks — Remark )
Apr. 9th, 2015 04:45 am (UTC)
I wonder how much of this is cultural expectations, too. If I'm going to have a difficult or unpleasant conversation with my partner, I usually try to spend a bunch of time up front thinking through what parts of that I'm contributing to, what I am and am not willing to change, and what I can do to improve matters. There are definitely still times in which I'm caught flat-footed by their perspective and feedback, but I often will open with "Sorry I [thing I did], I was [feeling] because of [reasons]. I'd like to not [feeling] again; how do you feel? Maybe [my best ideas] would help?". And sometimes I do get "you're right, that's all your fault, you should cut that out" in response, which is rather less than satisfying. (I once saw that situation hilariously referred to as "you see their point and so do they", and hearing it encapsulated like that has helped me recognize and bail on pointless and infuriating arguments ever since, heh.) Or, y'know, sometimes it's silence and you have no idea what they think. My sympathies on that one. But you're totally right, if they don't want to engage with you on the subject, nothing good comes of asking for reciprocation.

I think a lot of guys are less threatened by a theoretical Miss Perfect than a Mister Perfect, sometimes because there's a sense of "well she can give you something that I can't" and other times because of some residual "hey that's kinda hot". The fear is of replacement, of becoming outdone rather than of being irrelevant, and they won't feel equivalently replaced by a woman.
Apr. 9th, 2015 05:52 pm (UTC)
The "you see their point and so do they" and point about the fear of replacement are both helpful perspectives - thank you. I'm adding both items to the mix of ideas to chew on.
Apr. 10th, 2015 04:00 am (UTC)
This is one of those posts where I've read it twice and found piles to think about but nothing that I can actually intelligently respond with other than to say that it's an amazing, insightful post.
Apr. 10th, 2015 03:25 pm (UTC)
That happens sometimes, and it's okay - thank you for the comment. I have found further insight in thewronghands's response as well. I'm not always good at putting a name on the dynamic that occurs, especially in the moment when it happens, that's for sure.

Still a hard and painful situation to deal with, but I don't think there's any easy cure for that.
( 4 remarks — Remark )

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