Speak (Up) for Yourself

It’s time for me to rant again about something that I’ve found irksome for years, but has grown into a full-on annoyance for me lately . . . People not speaking up for themselves.

Let me set a scene for you . . .

I’m walking through the grocery store, and stop in the produce aisle looking to get some green beans (this kind of thing can happen in any aisle, but I’m trying to eat healthier, so there you go).  I get my bag and start sorting through the legumes to weed out any old ones, when I get this sensation that someone’s hovering nearby.  Using my peripheral vision I notice that, sure enough, there’s another shopper standing next to (or behind) me, apparently interested in the same veggies that I’m currently picking through.  Or maybe they want to pick up a yellow squash off of the display right above the green beans.  Doesn’t matter . . . they just want to be in the same general area that I’m in.

All they need to do is say “Excuse me, can I squeeze in there for . . .” and I’d happily move aside to let them get the squash, or rifle through the beans with me.  But no.  More often than not, people will just stand there, as if they’re waiting for you to get some sort of hint and move aside for them on your own, so they don’t have to speak to a stranger.  (I’m sure it’s not nearly as obnoxious as I’m describing right now, but I did warn you it would be a rant.)

I’ve actually witnessed one woman get pissed off and yell at another shopper for not using the eyes in the back of said shopper’s head to realize there was a woman standing behind, wanting something that the shopper was blocking.  I can’t remember the exact words used, but she basically accused the other shopper of taking their “sweet ass” time with no regard for people around.  I finally piped up and said “Well, how was [the shopper] supposed to know you wanted something they’re blocking?”  The lady was, of course, belligerent and told me to “mind my own business,” but I’ve often found that people say things like that when they don’t like being called out on their own crappy behavior, so I ignored her and moved on.

But this behavior can happen anywhere . . . even just walking down the street.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped to take a picture of something and there are people who will try to squirm and squeeze their way around me, rather than say “Excuse me.” or “Can I get by you?”  Now, true, I shouldn’t be blocking the walkway (and I try not to, as that’s another HUGE pet-peeve of mine), but that doesn’t preclude someone stating that I’m in the way of something they need, or someplace they’re trying to be.

This is true in EVERY relationship you have, not just with strangers in the store or on the street.  Relationships are SO much easier when you say to your mate/sibling/co-worker “This is what I need from you,” rather than saying nothing, and then getting cheesed off when they don’t do what you never even told them you need!  Nobody but YOU is responsible for getting your needs/wants met.  Period.

It seems to me that this pervasive form of passive-aggressiveness has flooded our culture lately.  I don’t know if it’s because there are just so many of us now, that practically every place you go is crowded, or if people have become so afraid of strangers, or if we’re just so disconnected that we’ve forgotten how to talk to one another.  Or, maybe it’s some fear that the other person will get pissed off at you for . . . I don’t know . . . existing?

I know that children are often taught not to be in “the way”–whether it’s your parents, your teachers, or other adults–so maybe this is left over from that kind of mental abuse.  And I’m not exactly sure how to change it, but it definitely NEEDS to change, in my opinion.

It’s not only passive-aggressive, but it’s also an unfair expectation that someone else should know that they’re blocking your way.  I don’t expect ANYBODY to know anything about me, unless I tell them.  We’re all dealing with our own stuff, people.  From jobs, to families, to daily tasks, to emotional baggage . . .  It takes MUCH less energy for me to tell someone what I need/want from them than for them to put all of their stuff aside to try to guess what I need/want from them at any given moment.

And you don’t have to be rude about it.  Honestly, a simple “Excuse me, I need [blank]” takes all of 3 seconds, the other person will likely move aside quickly, and you can be on your merry way.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

As anyone who’s been happily married for a long time will tell you, communication is KEY to maintaining a happy relationship.  Craig and I haven’t been married a long time, but I can see how important it is already.

That’s not to say it’s always easy, because it’s not.  We’ve each got our own emotional baggage that can lead to fear of upsetting the other person.  Also, the fact that we’re still in the “newlywed” stage means we might not say that something is bothering us (or at least, not right away), because we might still be looking at each other with love-colored eyes.

But it’s essential to talk to your partner and ask for what you need, and what changes (if any) you’d like to see in your relationship.  As scary as it can be, these conversations are necessary, because it can clear up a lot of confusion.  Also, most of us aren’t mind readers, and we shouldn’t expect our partner to be one.  So, how can we expect our partner to give us what we want/need, unless we speak up about it?

While Craig and I have only been married two years now, we’ve been together for five.  And during our first few years together, we discussed this very concept.  I’d read enough books on healthy relationships to know that I needed to speak up for what I felt I needed from him, but Craig also gave me a bit of insight into the male psyche (or at least, Craig’s psyche) to let me know how helpful it is for me to tell him, specifically, what I need/want from him.  He said that 1) it helps him to know exactly what’s expected of him; and 2) he feels like a hero when he knows he’s done something that I wanted (especially when I thank him for doing it), which makes him more eager to say “yes” the next time I ask for something.

It was still hard for me to apply at first.  Maybe because women are geared to anticipate people’s needs and wonder why men don’t seem to be wired that way, or maybe because I’ve been so used to doing everything myself for so long.  But over time I’ve come to see it as a very helpful tool to keep our relationship strong, and also so I don’t get overwhelmed or feel that I’m doing more than my “fair share.”

What’s made it easier for me is that Craig’s so responsive to those requests.  Not only is he open to hearing what I need or want, but he actually DOES it, whatever chore it might be.  He’s REALLY good about doing what’s asked of him, which has helped me learn that I don’t have to do everything myself.

This is also true of things that I might need of him with regards to our relationship.  If I’ve noticed that I feel bad about some aspect of us–or that I’m worried I might feel bad in the near future–I’m able to sit down with Craig and tell him what I need to change in our dynamic.  He calmly listens and together we’re able to come up with a solution that can ensure that I’m getting my needs met, but where he’s not being too put out either.

It’s been such a wonderful relief, over the years, to know that Craig’s on my side and willing to step up if I need him in whatever capacity.  To know he’s there for me–TRULY there for me–has been one of the best things about our relationship.  That helps strengthen the trust, which just goes on to strengthen the relationship.  It’s one of those cycles that’s actually wonderful, rather than vicious.

So I encourage you all to ask for what you need; and not just in romantic relationships.  This sort of thing helps strengthen other relationships, too.  What they say is really true . . . the answer’s always gonna be “no” if you don’t ask.  But if you do ask, you just might get what you want.

The False Beliefs on Romance

Popular belief seems to be that you should always be “with” someone, especially if you’re a young woman.  I don’t think that it’s expected, per se, but it’s more the accepted norm that you “have” to be in a relationship.  So many people that I know start looking for the next boy/girlfriend within days after dumping/being dumped by the last one.

Me?  I’ve spent several-year stretches between boyfriends, or even a casual sexual partner.  Granted, much of that was because I was afraid of getting hurt, but I also truly believed that it was better for me to be alone than to deal with all the crappy politics that seems to exist in the dating world.  I never knew how to play those particular games and I had no desire to learn the rules, so I basically began “dating” myself.  Yes, it got very lonely at times, because hugging yourself doesn’t feel quite the same as having someone else wrap their arms around you in comfort, but I always agreed with a line from the movie Some Kind of Wonderful.

In the scene, Amanda (played by Lea Thompson) is out with Keith (played by Eric Stoltz), and says she’d rather be with someone for the wrong reasons, than alone for the right ones.  Keith replies, “I’d rather be right.”

So would I.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve stayed in a relationship longer than was healthy because I was afraid of being alone again.  I got comfortable in the togetherness, and convinced myself that all relationships have their “down” times, and I didn’t want to be someone who bailed just when things got bad.  But eventually I came to realize that I felt lonelier when I was with him than I did when he wasn’t around.

When I was younger, I had certain qualities that I felt were important in a boyfriend: tall, dark hair, non-brown eyes (any other color was fine), swimmer’s build, blah, blah, blah.  I mostly focused on the outer qualities, and only inserted a few that I knew had to be absolutes: non-smoker, non-drug user, non-abuser, etc.  I think most people do a similar cursory list for their “Right” mate, but don’t really focus on the truly important things.  I believe that’s because they jump right into a new relationship shortly after the old one is over.  Whether because of societal pressures, or because they’re too afraid to be alone, they immediately find a replacement to fill the void and don’t take the time to figure out exactly what they want.

After my first long-term relationship ended–badly, I might add–I took the better part of a decade off from men.  I had a couple sexual partners in that time, and even dated a guy (other than Craig) for a few months (all the while knowing that he was simply a rebound relationship), but for the most part, I took a LOT of time to figure out who I was and what I truly wanted in a mate.  I read all sorts of self-help books on love and relationships and had to come to grips with a lot of unhealthy preconceived notions I had about both topics.

About a week before Craig came back into my life (for the “last” time), I sat down and wrote a very detailed list about what I was looking for in a mate.  Gone were all the superficial things I’d once thought were necessary, and they’d been replaced with more important character traits: intelligent, fun, doesn’t take himself too seriously, etc.  I’d also realized that it’s not up to the man to make me happy, nor is it his responsibility to know how I’m feeling at any given moment.  I’d read enough in the self-help books to realize that I’m the only one responsible for my happiness, and that it wasn’t fair to make him “guess” my moods or why I was in those moods.  Communication is key to any good relationship, and that means BOTH sides communicating.

So when Craig came along, I was finally ready to give up my single life.  I’d finally found a partner, in every sense of the word.  Yes, it gets scary sometimes to be so vulnerable to someone, but he’s proven time and time again that he won’t take advantage of my vulnerability.  He’s there to help me become whoever I want to be, and to love me in the process.

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