Dangling Conversations

Fuck Off Blog

It seems that things tend to happen in threes: good things, bad things, weird things, annoying things.

Or maybe that’s not really true. Perhaps when something happens three times in quick succession you just start to notice a pattern of good, bad, weird or annoying.

In the last week I’ve been hugely discomfited by three incidents of increasing annoyance. Number three convinced me I had to write about this.

Incident One:

A tradesman is working at our house. He’s chatting quite amiably to me when his phone rings. He looks at the caller ID, his face darkens and his eyes roll. He stabs at the phone and barks, “What is it? I’m working!”

He dispenses with the call as quickly as possible with more eye-rolling and monosyllabic answers,  then returns to me with a smile.

“My wife,” he says with a sigh – as if that explains everything.

Poor, put upon possum. Fancy having to cope with a phone call from his wife when he is doing such important man-things like fixing my widgets. I’m supposed to understand that the only way to dismiss such an annoyance is to bark at it like a junk yard dog.

You know what? Call me thick, but I don’t understand that. Not at all.

Incident Two:

I’m in a cab. I’ve just told the driver my destination and we’re underway when his phone rings. He looks at the caller ID and without answering it, says, “Oh, fuck off will ya?”

But he answers anyway. The conversation goes in much the same manner as described in  “Incident One“.

“I can’t talk, I’m working …  No, I told you I’m working!”

He hangs up and turns to me – rolling his eyes.

“My wife!” he explains. “Sorry for the language but she just doesn’t seem to understand that I can’t talk to her while I’m working.”

As we chat he confides that he’s pretty much lost interest in sex (why do total strangers tend to tell me these things????). She still wants it, apparently, but he’s just not interested.

“And she just keeps ringing me up all the time!” he said, clearly exasperated.

“Maybe she just needs to know you still love her,” I venture. “Sounds like she loves you a lot and just wants a bit of your attention.”

He sighs and rolls his eyes again.

We reach my destination, I pay my fare and go on to lunch. But I can’t help thinking how absolutely awful it must be to have the man you love react to your phone call with rolling eyes and a wish that you’d just “fuck off”. Sure, you may not know that was his reaction, but that attitude must permeate the whole relationship like a malignant cancer.

Incident Three:

I run into an old friend at the shopping centre. We grab a coffee and I ask about how her life is going – I know she and her husband have been struggling financially.

He’s depressed, she tells me, and he won’t agree to see anyone for help.

“Every time I talk to him, he scowls and rolls his eyes,” she says. “I try not to take it personally.”

As she talks, trying to stay ‘upbeat’, I have a vision of him seeing her caller ID on his phone and breathing, “Fuck off!” before answering the phone. I have a vision of him barking at her like a junk yard dog for having the temerity to want to talk to him.

And I say, “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

“I know,” she says.

“You have to tell him it’s not OK!” I insist. “You have to tell him that you know he’s suffering, but it’s not fair that instead of getting help, he just takes his pain out on you!”

“I know,” she says. “I’m just trying to stay out of his way as much as possible.”

It makes me so sad when relationships which clearly started with romance, love, mutual attraction and respect deteriorate to the stage where one partner is seen by the other as a tedious annoyance. I’ve been treated like that by someone I love (not a partner) and I know how it makes you start to die inside. I now how it makes you wonder whether, maybe, you’re just not worthy of love and respect. After all, if someone you love treats you like that, what does that say about you?

And I know it’s not just men who display this kind of behaviour – I’ve seen women rolling their eyes and rejecting their husband’s attempts at affection, too.

I once worked with a man who really, really loved his wife. They had been married for nearly forty years and it was clear that the ‘magic’ had long since disappeared.

“She acts like she doesn’t like me any more,” he confided sadly.

“Do you show her you like her? That you love her?” I asked.

“I try,” he said, “But I really don’t know how.”

“Why don’t you try taking her home some flowers?” I suggested, somewhat lamely.

He took my advice but arrived at work the next day looking even more dejected.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I bought her some flowers, and she said, ‘What did you waste your money on those for’?”

The tragedy about all these stories is that it’s unlikely that any of these couples will break up. They will just continue on with growing animosity from one side and quiet, desperate loneliness on the other.

It reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Dangling Conversation”:

It’s a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.

And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

I don’t know what the answer is. I do know I don’t ever want to be the woman whose partner responds to her calls or emails with rolling eyes and a wish that I would just “fuck off”.  I’d rather be alone.

This isn’t a very uplifting post for this time of year, but, maybe as we think about “world peace” and “good will towards all” it’s time to think about how we treat those we love – how much peace and goodwill to we bring to those around us? As Dr Phil says, “How much fun are you to live with?”

As I look back over 2013 I can think of a few times when I haven’t exactly been a joy to life with, either. I’m going to try harder.

Perhaps Christmas is also a good time to think about how those you love treat you.

No matter who you are, you don’t deserve to be treated like an annoyance by anyone – let alone the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with.

Please, don’t stand for it!  Don’t let yourself be treated that way. Don’t let that kind of rejection destroy you and your self esteem. Because I can say, pretty confidently, even though I know only one of the three women  mentioned above, “It’s not your fault. It’s not about you. It’s about him – his problems, his insecurities, his fears, his thoughtlessness.”

And, if he (or she) won’t do something to fix those problems. If your partner’s refusal to deal with whatever is wrong with them or your relationship  means that they can’t, or won’t,  treat you with the  love, respect and kindness you deserve, then it might just be time to move on.

It’s all too, too sad.

Chrys Stevenson

14 thoughts on “Dangling Conversations

  1. Paul

    Yes so sad Chrys. But there is an upside. We have been married for 39 years, together for 44. I had 3 years of major depression/anxiety recently and my wife stood by me and did all she could to help. It was nearly as bad for her as it was for me. Having come through it we are closer than ever. We know we can’t phone each other at work (except in an emergency) so we send text messages. Still in love (not lust) after 44 years.

  2. Phil Browne

    Very sad but all too common.
    I have always believed that many Aussie men are what I call emotionally constipated. Either unwilling (often due to our silly insensitive macho culture), or unable to show emotions and openly discuss their feelings.
    This does not promote healthy relationships.

    I see many (so-called) relationships where one or both partners do not love each other. Without love, it just aint a relationship and they are kidding themselves. I’m not prepared to have a pretend relationship and prefer to remain single until love happens again.

  3. Angel

    A lovely & timely reminder of how personal maturity is our own responsibility. Losing the sense of entitlement & valuing what we already have on a day to day basis. Looking for the divine in the often mundane. What incredible challenges, if we are up to them. Thank you Chrys. Seasons Greetings all. 🙂

  4. Glenn Watson

    Thanks Chrys, as always, for a beautifully written and incisive piece. Surely there is no-one in a happy relationship who doesn’t feel sorry for these couples. All the best for Christmas.

  5. Glen Mcbride

    Like you, we are aware that many partnerships are not perfect and that the couple combine to hate each other. Sad. Divorce is now easy but untangling lives and finances is not. Partnership is not something that passes for romance up to the wedding and a bit after, Romancing is something for every day for life – sex helps but so does stroking and cuddling, sharing tasks, giving and taking with pleasure. Ho Hum! Never considered myself a marriage guidance counsellor. I’m not sure years of hate can be overcome – certainly not easily Never thunk of you as one either!! ________________________________________

  6. pat pendrey

    Showing such contempt to one’s partner to a stranger, as in the case of the two men first mentioned, strikes me as being very rude. Rude not only to their partners but also in complete disregard for the feelings of the third party. Chrys, your discomfort was perfectly natural and predictable to anyone with the most basic of social sensibilities. I wonder how it is that these people are able to go about their every day lives without anyone pointing out the disgrace they bring upon themselves by advertising their personal problems. How have we become so tolerant of such poor behaviour that it goes unchallenged? There is no longer any shame in seeking a divorce. In fact, it shows great maturity to acknowledge that a relationship has run its course and to go separate ways in a civil fashion. But to behave in this way is immature, brutish and shameful.

  7. gerowynhanson

    Gods, Chrys, I read this & I am having a panic attack, as this is how I was treated by my now ex-partner. I have been in therapy for about 15 months & have now come to realize a few things.

    1) This sort of behaviour is called ABUSE. It is not the usual kind that people think: it is not physically violent nor obviously verbally abusive. It is PSYCHOLOGICAL or EMOTIONAL abuse. It can be very, very insidious as it is not direct or obvious, so leaves the other partner in a “victim” role, wondering why they don’t feel so good & what they did to cause it.

    2) Research shows that more than 90% of psychological/emotional abuse is committed by men.

    3) It is the sort of abuse whereby what is UNSAID is often the abusive part. While my partner never, ever said, “Oh fuck off! I’m working, don’t you know I’m busy?'” to me when I called him, something in what was unsaid: the tone of voice, the curt “logical”, “business-like” reply, etc., which somehow didn’t match the situation or our relationship with each other.

    4) It is an abuse of NEGLECT. Again, it is not what is said, exactly, but the lack of affirming respect, love, interest, etc. to the “victim” which, again, sets the mind of that partner wondering, what did I say or do wrong? An example might be:the abuser not acknowledging the partner’s achievements, awards, positive points, good work, etc. When the victimized partner might be sharing something important, the abuser interupts, drawing the converstation away so it becomes focused on themselves. It can also manifest when the abuser does not engage in their partner’s conversation with the small affirming conversational techniques, such as nodding or encouraging with an “uh-huh”, or aksing questions, etc.

    5) Psychological/emotional abuse causes the victim to doubt themselves, blame themselves, lose confidence in themselves & eventually lead to anxiety & depresseion. The tragedy is that due to its insidious nature, one might not seek help because one doesn’t know exactly what is wrong.

    6) Let’s make this very clear: abuse is all about POWER OVER someone, not power with a person. The sub-text of psychological/emotional abuse by its neglect, silence, or lack of affirming behaviour, etc., is that the abuser lets the victim know that he/she is boss & that the victim is inferior.

    7) Psychological/emotional abuse comes from a place of fear, not love or respect or confidence.

    8) The victim is INNOCENT. They are blameless. The abuser’s behaviour is not their problem, it is the abuser’s problem.

    I could go on. I knew none of this, including that I had been in an abusive relationship, until I was several months into therapy. Knowledge is power & we need to be informed about these underhanded clusters of behaviour because they do not receive as much attention in the media as the physical or verbal forms of abuse.
    Knowledge IS everything because once armed, you can recognize it & you will never allow it to enter your life again.

    I am sorry your friend & the other spouses of these other abusers have had their lives clouded with doubt & lack the confidence to move on. Maybe one day they will somehow find the courage within & the support of friends & family to get out of the vicious cycle of abuse.

  8. Helen McBride

    Yes Chrys – it is so very very sad and the worst of it is to watch it just creep up on a couple. The Simon & Garfunkel song is beautiful, salutary and remember-able (if there is such a word). Thank you for having the courage to write this at this time of year which is so very “tinselly happy”.

    You have had a momentous year – dealt with in your usual manner, courageous and with grace. A wonderful example of how to live one’s life fully. We have had a superb year and really do anticipate the next with enthusiasm. We regret that we have not been able to make more of the group meetings and will try better next year (cruising program – not god – willing!!!)

    Warmest greetings to you and your lovely Mum and love from us

    Helen & Glen

  9. lastingquiet

    Thoughtful article. How easy it is to take people for granted and think we know them when all we have done is pigeonhole them into our own limited perceptions. It says more about us than the other. I have a friendship which is in the fringes of this kind of attitude and I need to think about that.

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  11. abbienoiraude

    How meaningful that your wrote this piece around the time of my 40 Wedding Anniversary. We were in Melbourne. He took me ‘out’ ( we never go nowadays) in a strange city to a bar. He was sitting sipping his ( now few and far between) beloved Guiness…I, my chardonnay. He looks me in the eye. I am surprised. He says a little speech…along the lines of; Thank you for agreeing to come out with me tonight. It means a lot to me….
    I stay very very still.
    He goes on about what I mean to him and then asks; “will you marry me”.
    I smile shyly and say; “I am sorry. I can’t. I am already married”
    He grins and says; “Right answer” and pushes across the table to me a little ring box.
    It is our Ruby Anniversary. We are ‘poor’. He has organised and saved for this since before September.
    It is delicate and sweet.
    I cry.

    This man, I met when I was 15. He ‘followed’ me around Australia with letters the size of epistles.

    He finally marries me when we are 20 ( against his mother’s wishes…which continues to this day).

    That song…Simon and Garfunkels…was one I would sing …many times over the years.

    We thought; When the children come they will feel safe knowing their parents adore each other.
    They are not close. The eldest daughter is now 34 and so so angry with me, her mother. The three are not ‘close’.

    And so we, the parents, cling to each other…through poorness, illness, near death and troubles…knowing that in the end we only have each other.

    I adore him. We keep the love ( and LUST) alive…through the ‘please, thank you, sorry and what would YOU like’ politeness of a strong atheistic relationship.

    Through aging, being fat, ill, poor and lonely, we cling to each other.

    Just so you ( and your readers ) know. It is still possible. We are proof.

  12. Cait

    Perhaps you should simply mind your own business and hug your teddy. Abandoning a marriage or a relationship that one has invested years in is not necessarily a solution, nor is it always possible. Abuse is not always one sided.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Did I suggest that people bail? No. I suggested that people who choose to be in relationships should be kind to one another, expect respect and, if things are going wrong, deal with the problems like adults. I suggested that if you’re putting someone you supposedly love down, you need to quit it and find a solution that doesn’t involve childish rolling eyes and disrespect. Divorce may be an option, but it’s not the only one.

      For a spouse who is the recipient of this kind of passive aggressive abuse, the decision about whether to stay or leave will surely depend on whether the abuser is prepared to work on the relationship.

      Inevitably, that means compromise on both parts, but putting up with abuse of any kind should never be an option.


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