Saturday, January 31, 2009

At face value

Here' s one place where we trip each other up. We read more into what is said than is there. Or actually, we try to guess what each other really meant, beyond the spoken words, and in that, lies madness.

A trivial example:

"Did the cats get fed?" does not mean, "I want you to feed the cats." If i wanted you to feed the cats, i would say, "Will you please feed the cats?"

I have watched my parents perform this dance for years. Because when my mother says, "Did the cats get fed?" what she means is, "Why haven't you fed the cats?!?!"

(Or my all time personal favorite, "You're not wearing those socks are you?" Translation; "Go change out of those hideous socks you hapless boob, they make me look bad because i am with someone who would wear those socks. Do i have to do everything for you? God! Where would you be without me to run your life?")

It's a delicate art, this translation we do inside our heads. The excuse for it is that we are trying to be helpful by anticipating the needs of others. The result of it is that signals get crossed and the cats may get fed twice. Which suits them just fine, but leads to fat cats and running out of cat food.

Of course more serious problems than obese cats can happen because of this inner 'what is he/she really saying' translation gene.

The point is, to retrain myself to answer the question. For example, "I do not know if the cats have been fed," rather than, "Would you like me to feed them?" or, "I'll do it in a minute, Geez!"

Less confusion all around.

22 comments:

Mrs. Chili said...

Yeah, this is something that happens in my life, too. Mr. Chili was raised in a "gee, the grass is awfully long" and "the trash can is kind of full" household so, as a consequence, I find myself having to be direct and to make clear distinctions between when I'm making a request and when I'm making an observation. It's a dance, alright, but we're doing okay - we only tread on each other's toes once in a while...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I much prefer a direct approach that doesn't require interpretation. I rarely mind honoring a request but really dislike the implicit criticism that so often enfolds it like a smelly taco.

patches said...

Have you ever noticed that it is frequently regarded as rude or abrupt when people communicate directly? at least in the south it seems common.

Daisy said...

I have been told that this "interpreting" is a female thing and that men deal directly. That this interpreting thing is part of the Venus bit of us that drives men crazy. My most memorable experience with it was going with a roommate to visit her boyfriend. The sink was filled with dishes. Roommate walked in the door, boyfriend said "Hey asshole, your turn to wash the dishes." Roomate said "Yeah, asshole." and then washed them, no flags/no fouls. Said roommate and I returned to our apartment. In a mater of some time, I poked my head out of the bathroom to ask about a missing bottle of shampoo of mine. I got an answer, and when I got home that night, there was a five page letter on my pillow all about what a horrible roommate I was and how I wasn't hanging out with them enough and about the shampoo bottle and... well, you get the idea.

"Do I look fat in this" is the flipside of the issue. If you ask the question, then expect an honest answer.

Indigo Virgo said...

Hmmm. Now I'm not sure whether it's nature or nurture. I'm leaning toward "nurture."

crazymumma said...

this is why I want to come back as a dog. communication is direct and irrefutable.

Gina said...

If we go by today, everything I say to mr b from "Have the animals been fed?" to "What time is it?" means "Assh@le!"

luckyzmom said...

I am often flabbergasted to hear what my husband thinks I just said. He often imagines "implicit criticism" that I didn't intend. I must admit though that at one time I was hughly critical and though I have worked long and hard to overcome it, he often conjures up his own interpretation.

meno said...

mrs. chili, i was raised in that same family, so i know how he feels. But i'm trying to recover.

hearts, i prefer it too. Smelly taco. Heh!

patches, i dunno, if it's wrapped in pleases and thank yous, maybe not. I guess i'll find out about the south.

daisy, not in this house. The Mister is a much broader interpreter than i. Great story! You should publish the 5 page note.

de, i agree with that. Nurture.

crazymumma, i know. Sniff a few butts, growl, it's all clear.

gina, we have days like that. And days when i MEAN asshole when i say anything!

luckyzmom, it's hard to overcome that label. I've been known to be critical too. (NOOOOOOOO) But i do know how to apologize. At least, i've had to learn how.

SUEB0B said...

I call those "unhappy questions."

flutter said...

I have so learned to just ask what i want to know.

deb said...

My husband and I do not and have never spoken the same language. We are in serious need of a translator. Do they have universal translators? They would come in handy and perhaps even save a few marriages. I'm just saying.

Em said...

I never knew we had the same mother!

Marshamlow said...

My husband and I were having a similar discussion last night as we fell asleep. He feels I overthink everything. I feel he isn't direct enough and I have to overthink his words. He feels he is very direct. I try to be very direct and make sure everyone knows exactly where I stand. Hopefully my girls will not grow up looking for insults within every simple question.

jen said...

wait? are boobs actually hapless?

tt said...

To answer or not to answer...that's the question.

Does this blog make me look fat??

Hummmm?????

egan said...

I know exactly what you mean by these questions. Oftentimes I hear "do you want some popcorn?" fully aware that's a cue someone doesn't want to get it, but wants it brought to them. The things we do in the name of love.

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

I have a creepy smile?
Sorry about your kitty. :(

TTQ said...

Honey are through all those mind games (played with former relationships), we say what we mean. Or just call the other if either of us can't get home to feed the animals.

The one thing I hate most though, Honey says please come to bed with me at 8 fucking o'clock in the evening. Then pouts, I'm a night owl, it's only my free time w/o the chance of interruption. So half the time I stay up and half the time I go lay down with him till he falls asleep.

My life is too short to fuck around with silly dancing symantics.

ETK said...

I wish I could get my husband to read this - we have this issue all the time. Every innocent question turns into an accusation in his mind and I'm always wondering why.

I'm not saying I don't do it myself too, but I have never thought about it so clearly. I will try to better myself.

I will also send him this post. :)
Thanks Meno, for making all of us better people.

Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft said...

In the past few months since I've been off Zoloft, I've had less tolerance for signals being crossed. I am also less nice. I don't think about hurting my husband's feelings. I just say what I mean, sometimes with the assertiveness of a stewardess directing passengers out the emergency exit. Turns out my husband likes me that way better! If he's not going to get all mushy dumb like me, I might as well join the dark side.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Karen said...

We've been having this problem at our house too. I admit I am the one trying to second guess what the next question will be. My husband has now started pointing this out with the question "do you know what time it is?" The answer is not the actual time it is yes or no.
I like your take on this. And I too come from a family with a mom who asked "are you wearing that out?" which means I came by this communication problem honestly.