How to Love a Man of Few Words without Going Crazy

10:38 AM

At first, we fascinated each other. I talked nonstop. I emoted constantly. I even made up sensational drama to keep me occupied. He listened. He absorbed my emotions and never shared his. He never gossiped or created drama.

Seventeen months later, these formerly fascinating aspects grated on each others' nerves. He spoke enough to let me know he wished I'd talk less, and I hounded him with words, words, words regardless. Maybe if I kept talking at him, he'd join in. Right?

I don't need to even answer this question.

It took me up until maybe a few months ago to stop asking How are you? Not because I didn't care but because he didn't care. Track emotions? Label them? Much less describe them? Boring. Overwhelming. I got "good" as an answer way too many times. Actually, he answered honestly every time. His personality maintains its equilibrium even if it whacks out occasionally. (Secretly I kept hoping that he would encounter incredible pain and suffering just so he could break down and spill his soul to me. Awful, I know. But he fascinates me. I couldn't help it. I couldn't pry my way into his mind, so I waited for it to crack. Also an awful thought.) Even though I knew he was "okay" and "good" 24/7, what I really wanted was for him to just start talking about his day.

Duh moment -- if I wanted specific information, I should ask specific information. "Did you injure yourself at work again?" "What stood out to you in the sermon?" "Did you think you deserved that grade on your physics exam?" Not "Yo, how'd the Frisbee game go?" Afterthought: that topic usually gets him chatting up a storm. Bad example.

I discovered his chattiness the first time I asked about video games. Truth be told, I don't recall actually asking about the entire system and intricacy of League of Legends. Maybe I asked a dumb surface question. I got an in-depth explanation with vocabulary unrelated to anything in my life. But man, that boy talked. Fluently. Engaging me. Rethinking. Same thing happened when I asked a question about Frisbee or bomb making or anything technical and geeky. I'm pretty sure I just enjoyed watching his facial expressions and rapid hand motions and flawless rhetoric. (He doesn't say "like," y'all. It's a beautiful thing to love a human who never says "like" as an interjection. I supply all the "likes" necessary for the both of us.)

Our conversations usually went like this -- one person passionately explaining his field of expertise, the other listening, nodding, maybe suppressing a yawn if she got lost. I tried not to yawn. And eventually I learned cool things from all the YouTube videos he sent me over the summer about science and psychology. And he learned enough about theology to troll me when I got too serious and angry.

That bothered me. Not taking me seriously, I mean. I mean, here I was in a dining booth in Saga, arms flailing as I derided some minor aspect of life that ought not to be, and right in the middle of the important climax -- "Oo! The leaves are turning colors! Let's go jump into a pile a leaves sometime."

Glare.

Submissive excitement. "Oh. Sorry. I'm listening, I promise. Keep going."

And he was listening. He just does the thing that apparently is common in certain personality types -- the ones that cry SHINY! at the most inopportune moments. I learned that's how his brain works -- spurts of randomness, not drawn-out diatribes. If I really cared about what he thought, I had to learn to monitor the shiny moments.

At least when he blurted out random thoughts and feelings, he talked. Otherwise our dinner dates consisted of me self-consciously talking and wondering whether I bored him to death, with an "uh hum" and glazed over look that meant he'd just taken way too many chemistry exams and wanted to zone out existence for a solid several days. See, it's taken me until last night to realize that for reals, he doesn't do that emotion thing; his depth consists of unique thinking and profound calm, not hidden, subterranean emotions that must somehow exist...somewhere. The three emotions that express themselves consistently are ecstatic squealing happiness, especially in reference to loving me; intense concentration, usually on the Frisbee field; and stress. When he's crabby, I learned not to posit that he just got a terrible phone call that crushed his soul -- he probably just lost a game, didn't sleep in two days, and/or is burnt out with people. Nothing more exciting than that. If he did ever get a terrible phone that crushes his soul, I doubt he would respond emotionally at all...just carry on in life, suffering silently, not fully aware of his own emotions.

Which is bizarre to me, who easily describes and expresses the minutest detail of feeling.

The biggest thing to know, for me, is that his occasional crabby mood swings or reticence should not be taken personally. Last night we sat in a cafeteria booth after we hadn't seen each other in forever. He kept his eyes on his plate, words at a minimum. "Do you just want to sit in silence?" "No, keep going, I'm listening."

"Bailey," my introverted roommate told me, "learn to sit in silence with him. He wants to be with you; he loves you; but that doesn't mean he wants to talk all the time."

And a variation of that is he wants to sit silently and just listen to me prattle on, maybe zoning out a little, but mostly happy I'm there. Unlike me, his moodiness never ultimately stems from something I say or do -- only sleeplessness and schoolwork can claim the privilege of emotionally disturbing him.

The worst is when I need to talk and talk and talk to him about every detail of my problems at the same time he needs me to sit absolutely silent next to him. We only deadlocked once with this issue. But it didn't end prettily. I probably cried. He got upset. We stood on all of each other's strained buttons.

Still, for the most part, I guess we've trained each other how to love our opposite without going insane. I take credit for drawing out the shy, wordless freshman who took a solid five minutes to respond to a question, only to say, "Wait, I forgot what you said. Can you repeat it?" K, so, words are his strugglebus. And he takes credit for making stillness and tranquility a valid way to pass ten minutes or so in the company of a loved one.

With all our experience and training...we're still in the 101 course. And I do go crazy a lot. And if he understood emotions he would go crazy too. Except he doesn't, so one of us is always sane. Kind of.

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5 impressions

  1. Your boyfriend sounds a bit like me :) Except, I wouldn't say I don't understand emotions. You know they say, "Still waters run deep." :D I definitely understand emotions, I just prefer to keep them to myself. I can get excited and pretty talkative about things I enjoy, but once the subject has been exhausted: conversation OVER! I love to just sit with family or friends in silence, talking when we feel like it but no one feeling like they *have* to say anything.
    I actually find it easy to be by myself for long periods of time, large groups of people make me anxious, and if someone talks to me for too long, especially on a subject I can't join in on, I will definitely be doing my best to hide the 'zoned out gaze'.
    Personalities are interesting, aren't they? :D

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  2. You sound like a classic introvert, Anon! :D

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  3. Bailey, I was laughing out loud reading this post. You guys sound like my BF and I! Yea, I'm the one filling an hour and a half on Skype talking about emotion-related topics, and he quietly looks at me and I keep on talking and talking while my mind goes on crazily asking: "Is he bored? Should I stop talking? Talk of something else?" But when I ask about his football night or his newest task at work he goes on and on and on and even though I can't remember much afterwards, I enjoy the rare moments I get to hear his enthusiastic voice. Thanks, Bailey, it's good to know somebody else encountered this - and survived! :) By the way, I wanted to ask you, really ... Did you have moments when you found it hard to love your boy?

    Ruxee.

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  4. Ruxee,

    YAY FELLOW OPPOSITE DATER PERSON!!!

    Hard to love my boy...oh, yes. I always want him and I always want to love him, but because of our differences, I find it hard sometimes to actively love him and accept him instead of screaming at him for failing as a human being. (Cuz, you know, anything different than my personality is wrong. ;) :P NOT.) And sometimes it's hard to like him. But I know it's incredibly hard for him to love/like me too. The only serious almost-break-up thing occurred over a theological difference, though, not a personality issue. We have plenty of spats about those personality differences to make up for it. ;) The way we view it is that it's incredibly hard to love and like ANYBODY intimately for a long period of time. So these conflicts are nothing personal or special. They come with the territory of relationships.

    Email me at baileybergmann@charter.net if you want to pursue this conversation further. :)

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  5. Oh my! This is my daughter and her BF to a "T"
    You guys could be couple friends!!!
    Love your post!

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