Ask a direct question, get a second-guessed answer

I’m about to go all relationshippy. Are you ready for relationships? No? Well neither am I, but I’m going to try anyway. For the last few months, I’ve been seeing a guy called Polites. We started off both saying that we weren’t at all interested in having a relationship, just wanted a casual fling, but we got on really well and ended up spending basically all our time together, so that by the end of term we were seeing each other almost every day, and talking on the phone and online and by text all of the time. In short, not just a relationship, but a pretty close and intense relationship. We were both still sleeping with other people, but one of the nice things I discovered was that I could come home from spending the night with someone else (the charming womaniser, for instance), and tell Polites all about it while he cuddled me. Some of my poly friends would probably call this a ‘primary’ poly relationship, which I guess makes sense. We certainly weren’t exclusive, or even hugely committed, which is how mainstream society tends to define relationships, but we were close and it was nice.

Polites, bless him, is nineteen and has never really been in a relationship before. He is, by his own admission, ‘allergic’ to them. He told me right at the beginning that he is scared of commitment and hates feeling pressured or obligated. This is not a problem in itself, it just means I have to be careful with him, and try not make assumptions. (See my earlier post about dating a younger person.) We’ve had a couple of moments where I’ve felt exploited or he’s felt trapped, which have led to some Deep Meaningful Conversations, but overall we’ve managed to work things out. Talking about stuff tends to help, and Polites is slowly learning that these difficult DMCs, though not much fun at the time, can really improve things in the long term. As for me, I’ve been learning how to coax someone else to communicate better and take the lead, rather than passively making the other person explain my emotions for me. It’s all good.

I mention all this now not because I’m getting all bouncy and excited about my shiny new relationship (it’s not particularly shiny or exciting, and even if it were, that’s not really what this space is for), but because an interesting issue came up last night that reminded me yet again that people are different, and assumptions are bad. I like long phone conversations. I’m not sure why, but I always have. I can spend hours on the phone (thank you unlimited minutes, and skype) without it feeling like a waste of time. I have realised that a lot of people are not like that. Salmacis and Alexander both found long phone conversations boring and unproductive, and much preferred talking online. I therefore got used to asking before I called them, to check that it was a convenient time and that they wanted to talk. Often, it wasn’t, and they would tell me that. This was occasionally frustrating, but was overall much better than me just calling whenever I wanted to and trying to pressure them into talking to me. Communication win.

Or so I thought. Term ended a week ago, and Polites and I are not going to see each other again until September. We’d been texting and talking a lot online, and every so often I’d ask if I could call him. He would say yes. This was fun and exciting for me – finally, someone who likes to talk on the phone as much as I do! So I would call up, and he would be sulky and irritated on the phone, and I would ignore it because re-adjusting to living at home after being at uni is stressful, and sometimes you just need to let it go.

Except that last night, during one particularly difficult and frustrating conversation, Polites finally admits to me that he doesn’t like phone conversations. They feel like a waste of time to him. He didn’t refuse when I asked to call him because he was worried it would upset me, but he expected me to get the hint after a while. Of course, I didn’t, because as far as I was concerned I was asking direct questions, and getting direct answers. I assumed that, like Salmacis and Alexander, he would tell me clearly when he didn’t want to talk. Conversely, he assumed that I would pick up the signs he was sending me and stop asking.

This to me seems like a great example of why ‘communicate better!’ isn’t a quick-fix solution to everything. We both thought we were communicating. In fact, we were both making an effort to communicate, but previous assumptions still got in the way, to the result that we ended up arguing over a problem that could have been solved a week ago. And really, I’m not sure what the moral of this is, except that it’s never okay to get complacent. You can practise good communication and honesty and all the other rules for a healthy relationship, but it is still going to get all screwed up and explode in your face sometimes. And there is nothing you can really do about that, except try to remember in the heat of the moment that it really isn’t anyone’s fault. People are different, and everyone comes to the table with a different set of experiences that they assume are the norm.

Relationships, even super-casual non-exclusive short-term relationships, are hard work. Who knew?

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