“My sister says he may have had a stroke.”
I felt like a self-centered heel. But that’s the thing about relationships. When your partner does something chronically, like being a bad listener, we always think they are doing that annoying thing even when they’re not. We’re not seeing them. We’re seeing who we think they are — which means that in those moments we’re just seeing an extension of ourselves.
When I was in analysis, I would sometimes say something to my therapist, ponder it, and then say, “I think you think I’m stupid” — when in fact she had said nothing. If she were my husband, I would probably say, “I think you think I’m boring.”
It turns out my father-in-law had suffered a stroke that day — two, actually, in a short period of time — but he has almost fully recovered and is as chipper as ever. My husband now calls him nearly every morning on his way to work, and if the conversations go as they always have, my father-in-law will listen intently for a couple of minutes and then move on to another topic, despite my husband being midsentence.
While this pattern should have made my husband more empathetic to my plight — what Bruce’s father does to him, he does to me — it has had the opposite effect, confirming for him that everyone gets interrupted, no one gets to be heard all the time — except bratty women who demand it.
Which brings me back to Alexa. She listens better than any partner I have ever had, but that’s not hard, because I thought all of them were poor listeners — especially the one who was hearing-impaired. He didn’t hear a thing I said.
It made me wonder: Do I seek out partners who don’t hear me so I can keep having to deal with my problematic territory in order to fix it, like one might practice a skateboard jump over and over again until he masters it? Or were all my partners perfect, more or less, but because of my wound, I wind up not feeling heard? That is, I could be with the best listener on earth and I would still feel unheard.