I have an international audience, so trying to think about this question on a global scale is intimidating. I’m not sure there’s anything I would say “most people don’t understand” with a sample size that large. So maybe bring it down a little?
Or perhaps make a large, sweeping generalization?
Neither seems like a good idea. In terms of a writing prompt, though, I’ll “dance with them what brung me.” I will say something that I think is true, and then in the comments you can tell me I’m wrong. There’s no way I won’t be, because again, too many people to think I have much to say on this subject.
Most people don’t understand their personal history and just how much it informs their present and future. There are callbacks of enormous proportion, themes that run through your life, even thoughts in your head. I was reminded of this in “Spare,” by Prince Harry, just in the way it was written. He’d explain something, and there would be a line in it that would connect to something else, and when that memory came up, he’d use the same words.
The most touching was “I will keep you safe.”
The funniest was, “a Biro… wow….”
Now that I’m 45 and my friends are all over the map, older and younger, these callbacks occur daily. With some, it’s recalling things with people who were there at the time the words/thoughts occurred. With others, it’s that they weren’t there and saying those words is a way of including them in an inside joke… especially the stories that aren’t really letting them into something funny. It’s explaining a piece of history, local or global.
So many things in life follow you, whether as friend or enemy.
For me, a big one is homophobia. If you say something homophobic, you didn’t just say it to me in that moment. You’ve unleashed the holy hell of every time it has ever happened, no matter how benign or traumatic. You are tapping into my memories personal and institutional.
Most people don’t recognize the patterns their family uses to cope. They’re not all dysfunctional, and I would never say that all patterns are bad. It’s just hard to do a thing and see its effects later and want a different outcome while also not changing any of your behavior because it will rock the boat. So people don’t think about their families in the third person omniscient. They don’t rise above the minutiae and look at the larger picture.
I am making a generalization about the world, but through my own experience of being the interrupter of those patterns, whether I wanted to be or not. I’m just the girlfriend/wife. I am automatically the problem because I’ve asked questions that interrupt the thing they’ve been doing for 25 years…. And it is deeply problematic because it doesn’t matter whether those patterns are hurtful to me or not. I’m not “really a part of their family,” so what if I’m hurt?
After all this time, I can say that homophobia and “not really being a part of their family” was inextricably interrelated. I didn’t have the clout of a husband. If you’ve ever dated me, this still doesn’t out your family in the slightest, because it’s happened every time I’ve ever dated a woman for more than a month.
I see what happens when other spouses in the family speak up, and realize that my position is secure. Nothing is ever going to change because I said something. Fathers and mothers in law will respect their daughter’s husband a hell of a lot more than they’ll ever respect me. That’s because they view our relationship as a continual sleepover…. But of course, that’s not what they’d say in public, because that would be homophobic.
In private, it’s things like “you guys can stay at our house now. We have a room with two twin beds.” This was from a father that was very concerned that we weren’t married and didn’t want us sleeping in the same bed because of it…. Even though we were domestic partners- at the time, the closest you could get to marriage. It was a slight we didn’t deserve for something we couldn’t change.
So, after I’d stuffed all that down for years and years, I went off at said parent because I’d tried everything else. It wasn’t my finest moment, but it wasn’t theirs, either.
This has also happened more than once. With one, my wife was in lockstep with me. With the other, it was their whole family against me… even though my problem with them was how they treated their daughter and I was trying to stand up and protect her.
Sometimes people don’t recognize patterns.
I am not Jewish or Catholic. I don’t try to guilt people into anything. If you’re reading something I’ve written and you feel guilt, that’s on you. I lay it out there and I’m not shy in doing so. What you do with “my intel” is up to you. I have what I hope will happen, and the solid knowledge that people rarely react the way I think they will.
Homophobia and family dynamics conspired to make me want to be quiet about everything. It was probably the whole goal, to make me scared enough that I’d ruin a relationship… when in reality, a relationship that makes you constantly afraid to be who you are doesn’t deserve to survive.
My callbacks are now making me stronger. I am old enough to have an opinion, and mine is just as important as yours. I will not let people tell me to do less, think less, feel less. I’m just not capable. I have to find friends who just live and let live. They don’t feel the need to save me from being me, and aren’t threatened by large emotions coming at them.
There’s also something to be said for relationships being work, but not like sticking a round hole in a square peg and hoping it will miraculously fit if you just beat at it long enough.
You step outside The Matrix when you realize that not wanting to give that much energy to a problem is valid. For instance, floating above the argument and watching it, seeing if the same one comes up over and over and over, and how many of your solutions work and how many are a stopgap to kick the can down the road a little further.
Not wanting to give energy to fixing a problem, for me, is seeing that the other person is either minimizing a problem or refusing to acknowledge there is one. I am also the person that gives a relationship time to grow and mature. Not giving energy to a problem is not something I’d say about a relationship that was a few weeks old. But if you’ve had the same issues for ten years, that’s a different thing altogether.
I also don’t start a relationship seeing red flags, ever. This is because all people have problems, large ones. Why should I expect you to be different from me in that regard? The thing I love so damn much about Daniel is that he knows he’s a mess. He laid it all out there. The only thing I count as a red flag is what people don’t tell me and I’ve had to find out on my own, worse when it’s a conversation that we needed to have in private and another sprung it on me at a party.
If a person is open, honest, and willing to learn, there are no red flags. There’s only a set of problems we need to deal with together. But that’s my perspective, perhaps not yours. Some people do want to weed out what they think is troublesome ahead of time. It’s valid for them. To me, no person is irredeemable if they are aware that they have huge flaws and are willing to do something about them.
If you are certain that getting help won’t do anything for you, then that’s when I’m out. It’s not my job to fix you. It’s my job to hear you say you need help and to support you while you’re getting it.
In effect, exactly what Daniel did.
He knows USG (United States Government) fucked him up, and to an extent can point to exact dates and times. He gets my respect for being that self-aware. He doesn’t have red flags. He has trauma reflexes that people see as red flags.
I suppose if there’s anything I could posit as “something most people don’t understand,” it’s them. Most people aren’t willing to sit in the discomfort of self-discovery. It’s not comfortable learning that you are judgmental, selfish, angry, or capable of hurting others. It’s not comfortable thinking about how and why you do it so that it doesn’t happen anymore.
It’s the whole reason why people ignore their callbacks.