Playing stupid

November 25, 2008 at 9:38 pm Leave a comment

Do you ever catch yourself playing stupid in order to protect someone or not hurt their feelings? Or maybe as a way to manipulate them? Lately I’ve come to recognize my own behavior in that area. There is the harmless version of listening to a story for the tenth time and pretending I haven’t heard it all before. That doesn’t bother me. I figure, if someone has a need to tell me, then it does them good. So I listen. (And sometimes I’m so forgetful that I only realize after the fifth repetition that I’ve heard it before!)

But there’s a different kind of playing stupid that I have recently become aware of with such clarity that it bowls me over — well, it only nearly bowls me over. These days I’m standing quite well grounded on both feet, so it would take more than a revelation for that. The other kind of stupid is when I make myself appear stupid as a means of avoiding conflict. Like today I spent most of the day working on a project on the computer. It was what I wanted to do, and it needed to be done (in my opinion).

As I stood with my husband in the kitchen earlier, it occurred to me that in the not too far past I would have made some comment like: “Oh, I had no idea it would take so long.” That implies: I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I really wanted to do something else (like clean the bathroom), but got caught up in that. And it probably even implies that he would have known better, if I’d asked him, how long it would take. Perhaps there would be a hint of guilt hidden in there, because I “know” he disapproves. Or I might have giggled like a little girl and showed him what I’d done — seeking approval, waiting for him to validate my efforts. Or I would have made a comment nearly scolding myself, in order to fend off any potential comments in that direction from him.

What did I do today? I worked hard with total concentration on what I was doing, taking breaks now and then to deal with other responsibilities. And when the work was finished, I didn’t apologize or anything of the sort. I brought out my finished work and said confidently: “See? This is what is looks like.” I was quite pleased.

Either he didn’t dare cross me and my positivity, or maybe he’s not the grouch I think he is. I tend more toward the former explanation, but at this point: it doesn’t really matter. Oh, that’s the title of a song I wrote several years ago. And it’s still true: It doesn’t really matter what, how or why. The situation at hand is what counts.

And even more important than the above is the realization that I have learned to do what I’m doing without fear of his judgment, scolding, criticism, or any other uncomfortable reaction. I can take whatever he dishes out. If I don’t like it, it bounces right back off me. As time goes by, the stuff that bounces off is getting to be less and less. He must have liked it better when those remarks sunk in and hurt. They don’t do that any more. They reflect off, and might even hurt him on the rebound. Again, it doesn’t matter why. He’s not doing it (as much) any more. That’s nice.

The other day, an unnecessarily negative remark was made to our daughter, which served to exacerbate an already difficult situation. After a brief exchange, she left the room in tears, telling him that a different tone of voice would be appreciated. (She’d heard me say that to him recently.) Where I once would have been silent and thought: “What’s the use of trying to talk to him?”, instead I turned to him and said: “I’m sure you don’t mean it, but when you say things like that in that way, it really hurts. When you talk to me like that, or one of the children, it makes us feel really stupid and incompetent. I’m sure you don’t mean it to, but that’s what happens.” His response was not exactly rewarding. He made some inappropriate (in my opinion) comment and left the room. That didn’t bother me in the least. I was simply happy to have spoken up and shared that information with him. Maybe he will think about it in a quiet moment.

I’m not sharing this to show what a lousy relationship we have. No. What I want to share is that even in this hopeless (in my opinion) situation, there are still things to learn. Things can change, and perhaps even get better. I can’t know the outcome now, nor is that necessary. What matters is the step-by-step change in communication habits. These are deep-seated habits that I brought with me from my childhood. If I don’t change them now, then when? With the next guy? When? After we get over the honeymoon? Or maybe the guy after that? I want to clear it up now, and then see what happens. I do believe this relationship is on the way out, but I’m not going to wait until then to change. I believe these behavior patterns could evolve with anyone if I spent enough time with them. I need to change things and that’s what I’m doing. Now.

That’s said for emphasis. What I’m actually doing right now is listening to Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft and enjoying the feeling that comes after a day of hard work and progress made.

Entry filed under: Coping, Family/Relationships. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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