There are so many words that we can all say to each other that don’t even make it out of our mouths. The words come so close to the springboard but are instead swallowed, tumbling down our necks and into the pit of the stomach to float around in disappointment. “How are you?” my boyfriend asks, my dad asks, my sister asks, my friend asks. I search for what I am—tired, mad, elated, restless, fucking depressed—but all that comes out is, “Fine.” I understand that this is a reaction that I have spent 29 years building, a reflex of admitted okayness, yet it stunts any real communication. The honesty has been stripped from the conversation. I am left clawing a couch disappointed in myself for not saying how I actually feel.
“How are you?” I get in a text. A detailed sketch of my state begins, which I will send: “Things are great! I just finished working on this show at the beach which was a pain to do but we somehow made it work. I’m excited to be done with that bullshit. No idea what’s next though, which can be fairly overwhelming. Still: living the dream! I wish you could see it. I miss you, too! What about you? How are things? Tell me everything!”
That only happens in text. I get very textual. We all do. Some more than others but there is a safety in writing, in the screen. It’s much easier to release our problems when our mouths do none of the work. The end of a relationship or a lack of connection with anyone is smothered in person thanks to an unbearable lack of conversation skills and missing courage from all around. In text, you have strength. You aren’t saying it aloud. You can whisper everything and scream it at the same time. We could never talk to each other like this, in person. Only by text.
I assume this is from being very guarded or embarrassed to be human. We don’t want to talk in person because we cannot: we’ve trained ourselves to be polite and to not hurt each other. We’re all wimps. We cannot deal with confrontation so we mask it under words like “fine.” This may be a family thing. I’ve realized that, save for my mother, no one in my family is capable of communicate. It’s weird. It’s been a point of contention in my own relationships. Not everything can just be “fine.”
When we get together, we don’t really speak. There is laughing and fun and experiences to be had—but it is all on the surface. We stare at things on a table and we push things around on our plate. We pet dogs. No issues are talked about. There is some laughing but the talking is relatively little, all the excitement, pleasure, pain, etc. vacuumed up by frustrating niceties. Everything is swirls back into the mind, prevented from jumping out of our mouths. We don’t talk to each other.
We communicate but we don’t speak words. We send “notes.” We can craft long texts about how we feel and, sometimes, we can talk about it on the phone. Words like “love” are tossed at turned backs, in the hopes that it is heard but ignored. In messages, there are exclamation points. Sometimes there are more than one!! It doesn’t make any sense.
It’s funny how this bleeds into our real lives, too. It’s funny how your communication skills can play with your attempts at being a normal person.
When I was a teenager, I was discovering my sexuality online and sending messages to older men in chat rooms, message boards, and other very elementary mail tools. You could be dirty here. You could say what you never said in person. The things you wrote online were never actually verbalized or articulated with your mouth: only your hands.
I once met up with an older man and had a thrilling, extremely memorable sexual experience. I didn’t talk, though. I was a 19 year old piece of cardboard. The man undressed me and I, excited and scared, said nothing. I just nodded at his questions.
“You aren’t underage, are you?” he asked. I nodded that I was of age.
“Are you excited?”
I nodded. He got onto his knees.
“Is this cock for me?” he asked. He grabbed it.
I kind of nodded but mostly just looked at a mirror where I could only see my hand and one of his shoulders near my waist.
He smiled. We engage in some touching and awkward masturbation. I don’t say anything. He gives me some direction. I end up ejaculating onto his belly and he tells me that I “come like a thief in the night.” I close my eyes very tightly embarrassed and annoyed by his ridiculous biblical reference and that I have no words to articulate any of these excited, confused, sexual emotions that I have. How weird is that? How could you say that?
I leave and I send the man a long text about how much fun we had. I want to do it again. I want to be aggressive and mean and dirty and make him scream. I write him an email about how I will fuck him. The next time we meet up, I go mute. He play bullies me about how I’m having “straight moments,” where I don’t want to associate myself with him in person yet he knows I really want it. He tells me that I can be so wild in my writing.
A few months later, this happens with another older guy. I meet this guy online, too. He’s somewhere in between the twenty year age gap between the first guy and myself. I was in college and he agreed to pick me up to hook-up at 5AM, after driving his roommate to the airport. We would have a pre-workday fling. We did. I stay silent in the car. He admires me. I admire him wordlessly. There are looks. I might have touched his hand. He asked me after we had sex if I wanted him to drive me home. I shrugged. He drove himself to work and I sat in the passenger seat, quiet the entire time as I had no idea where in the city he worked. I hugged him before he entered his office building and then got on a bus and went to school.
I texted him that I wanted to do it again. I even apologized for being so quiet. He said it was cute. We didn’t meet up again. I saw him on the train a few months after and we exchanged smiles and hellos. He asked me how I was and I gave him formal responses, nothing that actually conveyed the sexual excitement of seeing an adult play thing out of the context of his play / bedroom. He got off the train and I continued on my ride. Once I made it to street, I sent a series of excited messages hoping that this would spark something. It didn’t.
“You talk a lot—but not in person,” he wrote.
“I don’t get it,” I respond.
“Why didn’t you tell me this to my face? It would have been nice to hear.”
I don’t think I replied.
We were communicating, though! We sent each other messages—and that should be enough, right? We always send each other messages. Just like I do with everyone in my life. We speak, in writing, in mini love letters and private posts about our wants and needs. That doesn’t happen in person and I know that isn’t right. All these emotions are always wrapped up, in some other medium outside of ourselves. It’s too difficult to breakdown formalities to just be you.
I am a shy person, though. I’ve always been a shy person. I assume I am from shy people, too. We look good on paper. I once was able to get an audition to be Rachel Zoe’s on-air assistant because of a stellar cover letter and resume. I didn’t deliver on camera. All the questions they asked got little answers. I just can’t get out all the excitement, all the energy, all that want of me that I can get out in writing. My communicators only work in silence.
And yet. We try to talk to each other. We try to communicate. We do it in our own way. We frustrate each other by confessing everything in writing and maybe even on phone calls. We go silent when we are together. Hours can pass in the same room without a peep being said. It’s not that normal. Is it? Is this an abnormal new normal to add to a list of contemporary fears? Or could we never actually talk to each other?