Consolation Crossroad: Emotional Right of Way

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Consolation Crossroad: Emotional Right of WayI don't know what the driving situation is where you're all from, but here we have a lot of four-way stops. Some of them are all stop signs, some of them have a blinking light, but the idea is the same. The point is that everybody has to stop, and either the person who got there first or the person to your right has the right of way.

But what happens when everyone gets there at the same time? That's the wild west of suburban transportation. There's always someone who rolls the stop and breezes through, fuck all y'all. Someone always lets everyone else go first, either out of nerves or an overdeveloped sense of consideration. There are those annoying fucks who start and stop ten times while urging the other to go first…

It reminds me a little bit of how we handle our emotional needs in relationships.

Ideally, there's a give and take in relationships. Sometimes I'm going to need love and support. Sometimes I'm going to be scared or angry or in the middle of a depressive flare-up (or god help you all of the above) and I'm going to need to be talked off a ledge and reassured for the millionth time even though you're sick of it. And that's ok, because sometimes that's going to be you.

That's just how it works. I lean on you, you lean on me, we're strong for each other when we need each other to be, and everyone sleeps at night.

But what happens when you both need each other at once? Who has the emotional right of way?

We've all dated the person who blows through the intersection no matter what. The person who puts their needs in front of yours every time. Hopefully you didn't date them for as long as I did. That shit's not cute. Just because you're having a feel doesn't mean that it needs to be addressed and dissected this very moment. Sometimes it isn't the right moment because your partner is having feels of their own and just can't pick you up off the floor this second. That has to be ok.

On the other side of the spectrum (where you're far more likely to find me, though I'm working on it) is the minimizing partner. The one who tells you everything is fine when it isn't, who always wants to process your feelings even if they're having some too. The one too quick to say, “We don't have to talk about this one.” The problem with this is that it really stifles communication and is like a goddamn incubator for anxiety and nervous attachment.

To be fair, it usually comes from a place of conflict avoidance, or the emotional preservation of their partner. If I know that my feelings will hurt or upset you, I'll try really hard not to let them show. If something you've done (or are doing) hurts me even though I know you're actively trying not to, then yeah, I'll feel weird bringing that to the table. I don't want you to feel like you're failing. I don't want you to wonder if your best is good enough. I don't want you to wonder what the point of it all is.

On top of that, I don't want to be The Bitch Who Cried Feels. Nobody likes that bitch. I don't want to waste all this time talking about and processing something that isn't a huge deal, because what if a huge deal thing comes up later? I don't want you feeling like you have to walk on eggshells, or like you're sick of dealing with my (myriad of) feelings. I don't want to become an obligation to you.

But, you know… that's just me.

It's tough when more than one person in the relationship needs that kind of support at once, especially if it's about the same thing. While there's something to be said for external supports, sometimes it really is just something that needs to be worked out in-house. So what then?

Do we take turns? I don't like that one. It's fair to a point of absurdity. Do we take the triage approach? Whichever one of us is more likely to collapse if we don't get the bleeding under control? That's typically what I see happen in my relationships and my friends' relationships. Whoever needs it more. Squeaky wheel and all that. And that's fine, as long as it isn't always the same person, and as long as you come back to the other later.

Ultimately it comes down to making sure everyone feels heard and respected and safe in whatever their feels were about, whatever the road rules of your relationship are.

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