Friday, December 16, 2011

Rejected for Her Communication Skills

I felt a twinge of recognition from both sides of the fence when I read this:

when we met for coffee and he did the Let’s-Just-Be-Friends thing, was that he said it was because of how I communicated. He said: “You know, I really like talking to you, and I liked having sex with you, but I feel like you have really high standards for relationship communication and I’m not sure I can meet those standards. Can we keep hanging out, but just be friends?”

On the bright side, he did his best to convince me that he really does want to be friends, so that made me feel good. As usual, though, the rejection still stung. I did my best not to take it personally, but that’s always difficult. I tried to keep in mind that people are different, but sometimes that’s difficult too. For me, the take-home message seemed to be: “Hey Clarisse, quit trying to actually talk openly about your relationships! You’re unnerving even the guys who you have everything in common with.” I mean … Jesus Christ, if I can’t seduce artsy feminist guys, then who the hell can I seduce?

When I was younger, I definitely was like the guy is this narrative. I didn't know how to communication my ideas about relationships, intimacy, feelings, or anything of the like with the person I was with. I tended to get locked up in fears of rejection, as well as confusion over just what it was that I needed and wanted at any given time.

In more recent years, I have found myself more on Clarisse's side of the coin, doing my best to put myself out there, to aim for as much honesty, clarity, and openness as possible. Sometimes, people love this. Other times, I maybe come off as too passionate, too articulate, or simply too well put together to keep up with (gotta laugh hard at that last one).

One thing I wonder about Clarisse's comments above is how well she is responding to her reading of her date's verbal and non-verbal communication.

This can be really subtle, and sometimes you guess wrong. If you read the rest of Clarisse's post, you'll see that she had a sense something was "off." So, she was reading the situation well.

But what I wonder is whether she continued full force with her openness, directness, etc. as she was reading the guy's discomfort, or if she shifted what she was doing, even if just a little bit?

I have been in fair number of situations in recent years with women who were at the end of, or just out of long term relationships. And my general experience has been that inevitably, I have needed to step back and/or let go completely.

In fact, in one case, I wasn't even interested in a romantic relationship with the woman in question, but somehow, friendship was a bit too much at that point for her. Since I haven't seen her in a few years, I don't know if that's just how she is, or if something was specifically off between us.

And yet, this kind of dance can happen in any relationship - especially at the beginning when you're just getting to know each other.

Furthermore, I think what Clarisse experienced in terms of the "high standards" comment is something that anyone with more developed communication skills can run into. Because people sometimes feel intimidated. Unworthy. Unable to keep up.

The joke of it all is that those of us who have spent a lot of time and effort trying to be better communicators sometimes feel a similar sense of unworthiness, or unlovableness - precisely because we see how those skills can scare people, or turn them away somehow. And there's also the elevated expectations that can come - the "You know how to talk about this stuff, why can't you do it today!" kind of stuff - that sometimes occurs once someone gets to know you more.

Anyway, it's really easy to become like a cat chasing its tail about all of this. Sometimes, things just don't work out, and you'll never know why.

So, you can put some effort into trying to read and respond better to the person you are with. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to let go of the results, and not beat yourself up if things don't go the way you'd hope they would.


  1. In Clarisse's case, (yes I have just read her post, in its entirety), the guy's statement seemed to be code for something -- something I don't claim to understand. She just goes in different circles and speaks a different language than I do. I'll go ahead and agree with the second half of her post that it was probably for the better that things didn't progress further with this artsy feminist guy.

    In general, everyone's level and style of communication is different, and I don't mind adjusting mine to match the guy's, if I like him and if we're objectively a good match. BUT only to a certain point. When you have to change yourself into something you're not in order to be around the person, and it feels uncomfortable to you, then it's not worth it. Minor changes in communication style, on the other hand, can even be fun. Like a roleplay of sorts :)

    To rephrase your last paragraph, if reading and responding to the person you're with becomes too much work, then it's probably best to move on.

  2. "Minor changes in communication style, on the other hand, can even be fun." This is a good point. I have often found myself shifting the way I talk in small ways to be more in sync with a girlfriend - and with friends and family as well. It often just seems to happen naturally, although I also tend to listen for patterns and sometimes will link into those patterns to help build the connection.

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