Rusty Processing Tools
Last year, I had a fairly significant conflict with a friend of mine (who is also queer) and we proceeded to “talk about it” for what became a torturous couple of months. We’re good friends, so we wanted to make sure the other was understood and that all aspects were discussed. Through in-person conversations and emails and phone calls, we discussed the issue at great length until it was positively…. pulpy.
Pulpy with processing.
Sometimes I think you can discuss something too much. Is it possible to talk about something until it has no life in it anymore? Until it’s crumbling in your hands? Turning to dust?
By the end of those two months, I had to ask my friend to formally stop processing the issue. She agreed and was gracious, although I worried if she had had a chance to say everything she needed to say about it. Even so, I was exhausted. I know if I had continued to process with her, I would have become a much worse friend.
Guiltily, I wondered if I hadn’t dulled my processing tools. After five years of being with a man, had they been left behind in a Canadian toolbox and gotten rusty? After all, all stereotypes are founded on truth, and while there are exceptions of course, I think it’s safe to say that lesbians (or queer women like me) do a lot of processing. I was good at it at one time. I didn’t think of it as extreme because I was well practiced. I spoke about things until they were fully talked about. No matter how long it took.
Maybe I’m just out of shape?
Could “processing” be like a brain or heart muscle that can lose its edge if unused?
Now, with Guo Jian, not only am I dealing with a man, but I’m also dealing with a language difference. My Mandarin is good, but I don’t need to speak about something from every possibly angle anymore, especially in a language that isn’t my native one. And, he doesn’t want to discuss issues from every possible angle either, even though it is his native language.
In fact, talking about things that are “wrong” (or should I say, “feeling wrong,” because right and wrong are often subjective) is something that is new for him. He has learned that it’s important for me to do that, but, according to him, talking things through, especially when they have struck an emotional chord, is most definitely a Western habit. He said that Chinese people just don’t do that; they wake up the next day and pretend that nothing happened. “It’s about living in the moment and moving past the negative,” he said.
It makes sense.
But it still doesn’t work for me.
Recently, we had a rough week. I was frustrated with our family dynamic, which has been a common theme since our baby was born in January, which brought the presence of my mother-in-law on a regular basis. We deal with many issues on that front—possibly the topic of a whole other blog—but mostly they’re issues related to having private time to spend together or with our daughter, equitable schedules, division of tasks in the household, who has the authority on what issue, etc. We had been butting heads on all of these fronts and I was struggling for peace—not just with him, but also in my own heart.
He got home one evening and took me aside into a private room with a door (also something I need as a Westerner: privacy) after instructing his mother to give us a half an hour without the baby. Then, he said, “Lay it all out now. What’s wrong? What’s the problem. Let’s talk it through.”
Having thought through the issues all week, I was fairly clear on what they were and could concisely discuss them. He responded to each. We found compromises. And then we were left with just one:
“I just don’t see evidence that you care about me, Guo Jian!” I said, frustrated. “When was the last time you did something sweet?”
He looked surprised. It’s true that he had had a busy week and was really absorbed in his own projects, but just the look on his face confirmed his care and I regretted the accusation as soon as I said it.
What really struck me, though, was his immediate response:
“Ember, I know it’s important for you to talk about things. Do you think I would have this bullshit conversation if I didn’t care about you?”
And then it all made sense. He’s not one to talk about things—either because of his gender or for cultural reasons—but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t value the result, which is happier partner. He simply doesn’t value the process.
I have to say that I’m happy to leave the hyper processing to the queer community and enjoy this particular advantage to being with Guo Jian. Even if I have to clean off and sharpen the tools on occasion, I’d rather leave them tucked away in the toolbox for now.
Because, a quick thirty minutes later, we were laughing and cuddling. Things were fine. That’s all the time I needed.