Tell me when to speak. Please. Otherwise I’ll never know. Said myself never.
I used to play dice games in a virtual world with an older man and some other people. The older man was in what seemed to be a perpetual bad mood. He complained a lot if anyone ever did anything that didn’t follow his script. Everyone had to use voice because he didn’t like to read or type. No one could use gestures because they annoyed him. We played what he wanted when he wanted for as long as he wanted.
I did this for ages. At first, I thought, he’s not so bad, he’s just kinda crabby. People would IM me to complain about him. I made uncomfortable jokes and tried to change the subject because it has been my experience that people who IM to complain about mutual friends tend to IM to complain about all mutual friends with all mutual friends, including myself. Do unto others…and all of that.
At any rate, I found myself walking on eggshells more often than not. I eventually became a nervous wreck dancing around, doing whatever it took to not step on any temperamental landmines and set him off. When I did well, I congratulated myself. Soon enough, I always did well, I played by his rules and only his rules so well that I outlasted everyone else. They gave up or became disgusted and bailed, but I was still standing, hopping around on one foot, one eye closed, one arm behind my back, fingers crossed, breath baited, sweating like a stuffed sow.
I don’t know what put an end to my suffering. Actually, yes I do. It went something like this.
Sir Crotchety: Come and play.
Myself: Okay. 🙂
Sir Crotchety: Are you speaking? Can you speak? I can’t read text. I hate reading text.
Myself: (tiny voice) Yes. I’m here.
–We played. I kept up awkward small talk while he commented minimally until I just plain didn’t want to talk anymore.—
Sir Crotchety: Why aren’t you talking? Come on. It’s nice to hear another voice. I hate reading your text. Stop texting and talk.
Myself: *opens her mouth and scrapes the bottom of her brain’s barrel for something, anything*
Sir Crotchety: Hello? Talk! Speak! (testier, sharper tone now)
Sir Crotchety: HELLO?
Myself: *sweating, anxious, frustrated* (now typing) I know you don’t like to read or type, but I dearly hate talking. If you don’t stop griping at me, I’m going to leave.
Sir Crotchety: Alrighty then…
And that was it. He kept playing. We went through two more games in silence. He announced we’d play another one and then he’d take his leave. I excused myself, thanked him and wished him a warm day….and left on my own terms. Honestly, silly as this is, IT FELT AMAZING.
I don’t know what leads people like Sir Crotchety to believe that other humans are only here for their entertainment, but it did occur to me, maybe I was a big part of the problem. I was catering to him and gladly. The meaner and bossier he became, the more I found myself eager to please the little tyrant. The more I seemed to please him, the better I felt about things. Before I knew it, I was miserable and all in the name of keeping some pixel stranger happy for a couple of hours out of the day, except he wasn’t really happy, was he?! Poor guy, maybe he’s never been. I can’t fix that, though. And for the record, I am happy–even when I’m sad. 😉
The good news is, this situation brought me to the surface in a couple of rather big ways. First of all, I found my voice when I really, really needed to use it. Secondly, (and perhaps more importantly) it made me look at myself and the way I speak to people in my own life, especially someone like my husband who is very gentle and patient with me.
I swear, I could hear myself barking at him about what I considered his shortcomings. You’re messy. You’re chaotic. Why are you never on time? I heard myself barking at him the way the cartoon man barked at me, rattling my walls and actually triggering my anxiety from time to time…and I didn’t like it. In fact I hated it. So I suppose, you might say, I suffered so that now, hopefully, my husband will suffer less.
If that’s a lesson, I’ve learned it—mostly. And I’m thankful.