The Pedant just called me, I think to check up on me since I told him I’d had a rough day. He didn’t exactly say that. I picked up the phone and he said “what’s up?” and I thought dude you called ME… and then I realized he was probably inviting me to vent about my day, in his own inscrutable way.
He mentioned that he and one of his other partners had a falling out because he triggered PTSD symptoms in her (via text, I guess) and when she requested that he come over and snuggle her to help them go away, he felt uncomfortable and wouldn’t do it.
It’s really hard for me to grasp his issue there because I think he doesn’t really grasp it, himself. I mean I asked him what the deal was and he said something like “I’m not good at snuggling people to make them feel better.” Which, um…he’d just spent a day and two nights recharging my batteries through snuggling. He clearly knows how to shut up and snuggle a person. But maybe he didn’t realize I had emotional reasons behind needing the snuggles?
I asked him why he finds it so difficult to cuddle a person who needs cuddling and he kept saying he felt like he would screw it up. And I kept saying “But if someone tells you exactly what they need and you do it, what’s the problem?” And finally he said the issue is he doesn’t understand the need for snuggles; he doesn’t know why someone would want such a thing or how it soothes unpleasant emotions. And again I said: “But if someone tells you exactly what they need and you do it, what’s the problem?” He said again that he doesn’t understand the process at all; he doesn’t understand how what he’s doing is supposed to help. “So it’s a fear of failure thing? You worry that there are nuances you’re not getting so you won’t actually give the person what they need?” He said no, that’s not it, he just needs to understand how it all works and he doesn’t.
“But you don’t have to understand, as long as someone gives clear instructions,” I argued. “If someone says ‘I need you to go stand on that red square until I tell you to stand on the blue square,’ and you do it, you have done the thing they needed. You don’t need to know what the red or blue squares do in order to stand on them .It might be nice to know the mechanics of it all, but it’s not necessary.”
The Pedant said – not for the first time – that previous partners found it really alienating that he didn’t understand them, and they’d get mad at him for it. It’s not clear to me, then, whether his thing of “needing to understand” is that he won’t do a thing unless he can see the logic behind it, or that he feels like he “needs to understand” because if he doesn’t then the other person will get mad at him. I think maybe the latter, since he’s certainly done plenty of comforting things for me without apparently understanding why they comfort me.
I think at this point he even asked me something like “wouldn’t it bother you to know that I’d just comforted you without really having any idea what you were going through or why you felt comforted?” – or maybe not, but somehow the idea came up (again, not for the first time; this is all old territory for us) that it’s more important to me that someone gives me what I need simply because I told them to. I don’t necessarily care if they understand my reasons. It’s not really relevant. The relevant thing is that they want me to be happy so when I said “this is the thing that will make me happy,” they did it. There was a long pause and The Pedant said something like “You seem better adjusted to that side of me than most people are.” That made me feel pretty good.
But the conversation made me have an epiphany about love in general. Or at least, it helped me to articulate some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for a long time.
I’ve had partners who refused to do a thing for me unless they understood it. It’s like, “Well I don’t have any problems being in crowded spaces, so it’s stupid that you do and I won’t accommodate you in any way.”
So for a long time, I looked for partners who would understand my issues so I wouldn’t run into that sort of self-centred stubbornness again. But really, if someone only does certain things for me because it’s what he would want for himself, that’s still essentially self-centred.*
It strikes me that a person who does the things I want and need because I said I want and need them, without even understanding why I want and need them, is acting the most purely out of love. The gestures they make are to make me happy, not to satisfy their idea of justice or logic. It’s an acceptance of who I am, and an acknowledgement that I might not work the same as they do but my needs and feelings are valid anyway.
So as long as The Pedant does the things I want, I wouldn’t trade him for someone who “understands” my anxiety and depression on whatever gut level he seems to think he should. Also, his lack of empathy (yet willingness to help) means that he stays calm when I’m panicking. This is infinitely more useful to me than someone channeling my panic along with me.
He’s not without his problems but still…I think I’ll keep him.
*I do realize that a person can do a thing both because they empathize and because they want to make me happy. But it might be difficult to parse which thing motivates them more…