“Yeah I called her up. She gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her, or something. I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention.” –Harry Dunne, Dumb & Dumber
One of the most curious societal glues that’s always confounded me, especially in relationships, is communication. The difference between a truly sweet song in The Wallflowers “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” and a creepy line of “I ain’t even gonna touch her at all, man, I’m only gonna lay awake and watch her sleep” comes down to communicating the full context of the previous line in the song. It’s unavoidable. Yet, with networks like Twitter, somehow we’re losing that translation. I think the same thing’s happening in relationships in the twenty-first century.
I’m currently in the process of ending an eleven year relationship, nine year marriage, to a woman who helped me bring two wonderful little girls into this world, and yet I am absolutely terrified of entering that communication fray again soon in dating, whenever that time comes. Perhaps it’s because as much as nine years should have taught me how to communicate with a woman, it was futile because the woman I chose to marry didn’t know how to communicate with me at all, nor did she wish to learn how to, driving her into someone else’s arms behind my back at the end. Perhaps it’s because I get misinterpreted so much inadvertently, whether it’s by something typed on a social network site or my foot-in-mouth syndrome I frequently become infected with. I feel like John Mayer, I shouldn’t speak up again with women! Or perhaps it’s because it seems, in these modern times, that communication has become so abbreviated, cherishing its lengthy examples is a lost art no one cares for anymore, almost to the point of people like me being annoying to them? In the days of one date chances, where you’re sized up based on a few, or too many, words in an online profile, is there a place for someone that’s used to finding lasting relationships built out of friendship that graduates into six hour-long phone conversations, and ensuing love, over time?
I’ve always prided myself upon being a good listener and have learned through this divorce that being attentive has to be your number one priority in a relationship, which effective communication helps nurture. If you find yourself not wishing to be attentive, then the red flags and warning alarms should go off like crazy. In retrospect, I should have seen those signs in my own marriage a long time ago. If you’re truly in love, those things come effortlessly because you enjoy making the person you’re with happy. It comes and goes with kids, but at the end of the day, you still love doing it because you love your partner. You make them better, they make you better. If you sit back and ignore those warning signs, accept silence or lack of intimacy as you sleep in opposite ends of a house, and then wind up confused someday as things collapse in a flurry of cheating or anger, what you had wasn’t love in the first place nor could it have been.
Why not take a lesson from our simpleton friend Harry Dunne and open our ears as well as our mouths in relationships? Revel in honesty based on sound evidence long before things get out of hand. Use those lines of communication to truly find out if this person you’re on your first date with is someone you flow easily with in those regards, rather than sizing them up in the first five seconds or so if that isn’t instantaneous. Most of all, remember that being attentive is the bedrock of relationship success. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. Hopefully, my plans to be far more attentive won’t smother the first poor female soul that decides to date me down the road but we’ll see.