Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 64: Emotional Vacuum

Ivy (The Companion): Hey Mom.

Mom (Me): Hello Ivy. What’s on your mind today?

Ivy: The same thing that was on my mind last time we spoke one-on-one… Emotional processing. You spent a lot of time explaining emotional processing to me, only to tell me that it’s not why I felt frustration in dealing with our partner.

Mom: It isn’t, but it’s fundamental to understanding that frustration. I think you have to understand what emotional processing is to accept that’s what our partner was doing, rather than just acting on urges or gut feelings.

Ivy: Okay fair, but we’ve talked about that now, and I’m starting to accept it, so do you think we could talk about my frustration?

Mom: Of course, dearest. If I recall correctly, you were frustrated because our partner always leads with her feelings.

Ivy: Yes! She tells me how she feels about something before she even tells me what it is.

Mom: Why does that bother you so much?

Ivy: Because then I have to hold all those feelings in my head until she tells me what they’re connected to! I need that context before I can ground myself in those feelings.

Mom: I think that’s your understanding of the phenomena now, but let’s be honest — is that really how you felt back then?

Ivy (sheepish): Well… To be honest I didn’t really consider her emotions back then beyond “this is making my partner upset.” When I noticed that, the rest of her feelings felt kind of irrelevant.

Mom: That’s what I remember too. There’s two separate things going on here, so let’s take them one at a time, starting with the simpler one. Our partner tends to process more emotionally, so she leads with her feelings, and we tend to process more analytically, so we lead with what we believe are the facts. I can tell you that over time both of you get better at considering each other’s processing style and presenting your case accordingly, but neither of you have developed that yet and it frustrates both of you.

Ivy (confused): Wait, how does that frustrate her?

Mom: The same way it frustrates you. You hear her emotions first and don’t know what they’re connected to, so you can’t anchor her feelings to anything and you just have to hold them in your head until she tells you. Likewise, you tell her about a situation and she doesn’t know how you feel about it, so she doesn’t understand why it matters to you until you tell her. That is, if you even talk about your feelings at all — sometimes she has to ask you how you feel before you mention it.

Ivy: Okay, I guess that makes sense… But the situation is what’s important! I can’t fix the problem until she tells me what it is.

Mom: That’s the second thing that’s going on here. Sometimes she doesn’t want you to fix it.

Ivy (annoyed): Then why is she telling me about it!?

(A look of shock flashes across Ivy’s face just as she finishes her sentence. I wait patiently as she composes herself and refocuses on the conversation.)

Ivy: Whoa, saying that felt really wrong.

Mom: It’s what we felt at the time though isn’t it?

Ivy: Yeah… Gosh, were we really so oblivious to her needs?

Mom: Yes, we really were. We couldn’t sense them, let alone understand them. I guess you know why she wanted to reach out to you then?

Ivy: I do now. She was venting. She needed to say it out loud, or she needed emotional support. Emotional support that we couldn’t provide.

Mom: No, we couldn’t. We learned that emotions were something to be dealt with in private, on our own. It wasn’t appropriate to ask others to help you with them, so you shouldn’t be talking about a situation with someone unless you’re asking them to help you fix it. When our partner asked us for help with a problem she was having, we got annoyed because she told us how she felt before explaining the problem, which felt pointless. And when she vented to us about something *without* asking us for help, we got *really* irritated.

Ivy: I feel awful about that now. But I guess that’s what happens when you grow up with male acculturation, huh?

Mom (pained): Not exactly. It would be convenient if it were just a male thing, and I went through a phase when I thought it was, but if I’m being honest that isn’t the whole story. I won’t deny that if someone presents male, they’re encouraged to think rationally exclusively and to suppress their emotions, but even in male spaces it can be culturally acceptable to open up emotionally to close friends or romantic partners. By contrast, we learned that it was *never* appropriate to share our frustrations with *anyone*. 

Ivy: So… That isn’t a male thing?

Mom: I’m afraid not. As I said, we thought it was, so when I finally realized I was a woman that *did* allow me to open up to my partner emotionally. Estrogen helped me even more, but ultimately our inability to open up emotionally is something *we* linked to our gender, not something that’s inherently tied to it. The idea that it’s never okay to share your negative feelings for their own sake is something we learned.

Ivy: If that’s the case, then where did we learn it?

Mom (hurt): That… Can we leave that conversation for later, Ivy? Much later, I’m afraid — I don’t think I’ll be ready to talk about that for a while.

Ivy (surprised): Oh! Um, I’m sorry…

Mom: Don’t apologize. You’re allowed and encouraged to make me feel uncomfortable. But at the same time, I’ll let you know when I’m ready to open that Pandora’s Box.

Ivy: Okay Mom. Thanks for explaining the rest to me.

Mom: Anytime, dearest. Anytime.