First things first, this is funny! It’s funny because there’s truth in it, and based on how widely it was shared, it must be truth a lot of us can recognise!
I can’t read this without vivid memories of past arguments with girlfriends. While I was trying to figure out what was wrong and what I could do about it, she was this confusing, upsetting ball of emotions. I would get overwhelmed and frustrated (and eventually angry) because I didn’t really have any emotional tools to engage with her in a way which got me what I wanted (to understand what was wrong and what needed to be done about it).
Even now after too many relationships, a career as a manager, a whole lot of yoga and plenty of time to reflect and practice; Tink can generate emotion faster than I can process it. She can go from happy, to upset, to angry, to crying and back to calm before I’ve even started to respond to the first upset. By the time she’s calm again, I’m still figuring out what made her angry, what she needs, how I feel about that, what I need and how to talk about it.
As long as we both remember this, it mostly works out. I hold her hand while she’s doing her thing, then she holds mine as I’m doing my thing, and then we work together to figure it out. For “extra credit”, sometimes we repeat this cycle a few times in the process of figuring it out.
Over longer periods this pattern can be more complicated. Early in our relationship, we (but especially Tink) went through a really tough patch. Because Tink could process emotion so much faster than me, by the time she needed to talk again, I was still only part way through processing our previous conversation. After a few months, my emotional queue was constantly full and I started to get frustrated, and then angry when she tried to talk to me. I didn’t have room for any new emotion until I’d had a chance to process what was already in the queue. Interestingly it was my anger which provided the clues I needed to figure it out.
Anger has been one of the big learnings in my life. The most important thing I have learned about my anger comes from Karla McLaren (summarised and interpreted by me, read the link if you want her version!):
Once I realised I was angry and had a chance to consider why I was feeling unsafe, I understood that my bucket was full and I needed a break to emotionally catch up. The hardest part was that I had to talk to Tink about this. At a time when she needed the most support, I had to tell her that actually, I couldn’t be there for everything. I felt like a failure and that I was betraying her trust. I had to ask anyway,“I understand that you need to talk and I want to be here to support you, but right now I’m really overwhelmed and need a break. Could you sometimes talk to a friend instead of me?”
None of this was as easy, as simple or as obvious as it sounds now. In fact, it was pretty messy, but we had the conversations and found a way that worked well enough for both of us. We got through the hard time.
Which in a roundabout way brings me back to where I started. Calming down.
In retrospect I understand that all those times when I was asking people to calm down, what I was trying to say was “please slow down, I can’t keep up”.
Learning to ask people important to me to calm down, in a way which is useful for both of us, has been a forty-two-year adventure.