Friday, September 26, 2014

Fishing for Love and Grasping at the Wind

There's this thing that I do, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  It's simple, instead of coming right out and saying I need something, I hint at it; I make the need known in some indirect way.  You've heard the phrase "fishing for a compliment" before, I'm sure:  When a person says something like "I'm ugly/plain/fat/dumb/insert-something-negative-here" in hopes that a good and reliable friend or relative will jump in and say "No, you're not!  You're insert-high-praise-here!"  Rather than coming out and asking for the compliment or reassurance, you're sort of "casting a line" and hoping that the other person will take the bait, and a compliment will be caught.  Well, I'm not above doing that.  However, I don't only do it where compliments are concerned, I'm known to "fish" for pretty much everything.

I've gotten a little better about it over the past year or so.  Now, I actually have occasionally told someone, most often my wife, my desire or need plainly.  For example, I might say "Tell me that I'm not stupid because I did X, that it's something understandable that anyone could easily do," instead of "I'm stupid for doing X; who would ever do that, besides a moron?"  And what about if I need some sort of affection?  I've been more willing to tell spouse and friends alike that I would like a hug from them, although when it comes to friends I'm generally (and ironically) only comfortable enough to ask for such a thing from friends who happen to live too far away to provide it more than virtually (and this really is coincidence; I genuinely sense no subconscious avoidance on my part).  Still, it's progress.

Excuse me sir, but I might sort of kind of maybe like a hug.
(Who am I kidding, if I was this adorable I'd get hugs without asking!)

But why am I so afraid, as a general rule, to ask for what I need or desire outright?  I can think of a few answers to that question.

First of all, there's the fear of rejection.  If I avoid asking a question directly, I can't be directly rejected.  Let's take the "fishing for compliments" scenario.  If I ask "Do you think my face looks dry and too old for my age?" then I risk the person saying "Yes," whether bluntly or gently in a doomed attempt to soften the blow.  If, on the other hand, I say "I think my face looks dry and too old for my age," then it's more likely, if the person thinks my complaint is true, that they just won't say anything. In theory, that should sting less than having them dash my confidence outright.

The problem with this line of thinking is probably obvious:  Try to remember a time you fished for a compliment this way, and the person said nothing.  Did you really manage to avoid taking that as anything other than a confirmation of whatever answer you didn't want?  Yeah, neither did I.  If I complain that "I'm afraid I'm too short," and Friend A just sips at his beer and stares at the ground in silence, or otherwise avoids directly confirming or denying my fear, he may as well have said "Yeah, man, it's true."  I'm gonna end up thinking "Well, he had nothing nice to say, so he's saying nothing at all."  Which defeats the whole "protecting my own feelings" purpose of not having just asked the question outright in the first place.  At least, if I asked the question directly, I might have had a chance to talk it out with him about how that makes me feel, maybe coming to some resolution that makes me feel a little better in spite of the ugly truth.  And who knows, maybe his answer would have been something positive, and his lack of comment when I only hinted at my question was because he hadn't gotten the hint, meaning I will have tortured myself for no reason if I let myself assume his silence was an answer to itself.

Over-thinking; it's what I do.

Another thing that causes me to be so indirect is a fear of putting someone else in an awkward position.  This is both for their sake and mine.  It's for their sake because I know what it's like to be asked for something I'm uncomfortable giving, and I don't want to risk putting someone else in that position.  It's for mine because, naturally, they may eventually want to avoid me if I become that guy who asks too many uncomfortable favors.  Maybe I'm asking for a hug and the person doesn't like giving hugs.  They have to face the dilemma of not wanting to hurt my feelings but not wanting to hug me either.  Maybe they'll feel too guilty to say no.  

But I realize that this thinking is formed by my own encounters with people who didn't know how to take no for an answer.  When someone can't take no for an answer, his request is no longer a request, but a demand only disguised as a question.  He will punish the "wrong" answer by fuming, sulking, or otherwise emotionally blackmailing you.  The solution to the fear of putting people "on the spot" isn't to disguise my needs and wants in clever--but not-so-clever as to fail at getting the hint across--laments and games, it's rather to make it clear that I am willing to take no for an answer.  I'm not going to unleash my wrath, whether direct or passive aggressive, on the poor soul who denies my request.  Just because I've faced the experience, far too often, of having things demanded from me in the guise of requests doesn't mean that asking directly for something is inherently bad or "too forward."  

The worst thing, however, with only hinting around at my needs, whether for affirmation, affection, or whatever else, is that it leaves love to chance.  I'm fishing, you see, for more than just compliments or favors; in a sense I'm fishing for concrete expressions of love.  But the thing about fishing is that sometimes you don't get any bites.  How many friends and loved ones might be only all too eager to show me expressions of love, but I don't ask!  Even Jesus said "Ask and you shall receive," not "Hint around and you shall receive."  I can only imagine all the affirmation, the affection, the quality time, the utter outpouring of love I might have experienced if I'd only had the courage to be direct!  Instead, I've cast a net that may or may not come up empty, and I'll find that all my "fishing" was just a vain grasping at the wind.

MY wind!!!  You no can have!

There's also the fact that my fears point to a deeper insecurity; namely, that if others express love in a different way than I would receive it--and thus say "no" to some request of mine, because that's just not how they express love--then this means they don't love me, or at the very least that they love me less than I love them.  

I won't say that a person should not be willing to express love in ways he normally wouldn't, for someone who receives love in those foreign ways; in fact, I think that we should try to love people the way they need to be loved, the way they experience love, because when it comes to giving love it would be ironically self-centered to insist that you'll only give it on terms you find comfortable.  That said, though, when I am the one receiving love, I have no control over whether the giver will make that proper effort to love me the way that is natural to me.  I can only control whether I adapt and receive love in the ways he or she is willing to give it.  So yeah, while it may not be very loving for the giver to tell the receiver "This is how I give love, so you'll just have to take what I give you," it's also not going to accomplish anything, assuming the giver is that inflexible, for the receiver to be just as stubborn and refuse to feel loved unless it's on his terms.  Ideally, both should be willing to speak (and hear) the "language" of the other.  If both parties are doing their part, no one has any reason to complain or feel unloved.

So if I can learn to not take it personally when someone just can't manage to "speak my language" when it comes to love, then perhaps I'll finally be a lot less afraid of having some request of mine politely refused.  Maybe then I won't see it as a rejection of me, but just as a declining of that particular expression of love for me.  Maybe then I can ask for what I need more clearly and confidently.  I'm certainly not there yet, but by the Grace of God maybe one day I'll be closer.

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