On interpersonal communications

I woke in a panic at 3 a.m., and not just because the congested toddler next to me gets violent when he’s fighting a cold.

No, really. V.i.o.l.e.n.t. Kicking, hair pulling, pinching. In his sleep. Good times.

My 3 a.m. cold sweat arose because I realized in my semi-conscious state that I had misheard someone twelve hours earlier. She had said, it was now perfectly clear in the dark of night, “Did you have a fun Thanksgiving?”

But I heard, “Did you have fun playing?” So I had turned to my son who had just finished playing kick ball and asked him if he had. He mumbled something and I smiled at her. And considered the conversation over.

But that was all wrong, I suddenly saw in my darkened and mostly quiet bedroom. Socially horrific. I was supposed to beam and say, “Yes! Thanksgiving was great! How about you?”

I botched the answer. Not just because Thanksgiving was seriously top-notch great and I should have asserted that clearly but without bragging. No, I should have answered the actual question asked because those are the rules. You don’t defer to your kid on adult questions. And you definitely don’t leave someone without a reciprocal, “And how was your Thanksgiving?”

I screwed up an adult exchange. I hate that. I still have PTSD about failing in my conversational duties once in 1994. And another time in ’08.

So I did what any other rational adult would do…I weighed pros and cons on how to handle the gaffe. From 3 a.m. until 4 a.m I debated my options for righting this egregious wrong.

What would I do? Pretend it never happened? Confess the next day that I misheard? How? By saying, “I was replaying my day in my head searching for excuses to beat myself up for gross incompetence, and came upon our conversation…”

Of course not. If I addressed it at all I would be casual and adorable.

Ha ha. Got you. Of course I went with the creepiest, most apologetic and unbalanced approach. I hurried over to her on the playground as soon as I saw her and confessed my deepest darkest socially incompetent moment. Of the day. Including the 3 a.m. part. Because nobody who has ever met me has accused me of being anything but the poster child for neurotic.

All I want for Christmas is grace. The kind where I can let mishearing an acquaintance go, and get some sleep once I elbow the hair-pulling kung fu master next to me. That kind of grace. Wait, is that grace? Or am I thinking of peace? Or kickboxing-yoga fusion?

Anyway, this woman, to whom I’ve spoken three times in my life, got the whole story this morning. “I woke up in a sweat at 3 a.m. because I misheard you. I’m terrible at interpersonal communications. I couldn’t sleep after that. I’m a dork. Help me.” (Paraphrasing. Because there were a lot of melodramatic “Oh My Gawd”s in there, too. And perhaps an invitation for her to join me at a therapist’s office. of her choice. Because I’m not domineering.)

But at least I got in my, “So what I would have said if I weren’t a spazz, is ‘Our Thanksgiving was wonderful; how was yours?'”

I’m not exactly sure how she answered because I was so proud of myself for getting an “A” in grownup interpersonal communications. But I’m sure she had an answer. And probably felt all special because I noted and remedied my craptacular end of the conversation.

And that’s what communications are about, right? Making other people feel special and totally not 3 a.m.-panicky?

So why didn’t she do the same for me yesterday? Boy, she has some nerve…

32 thoughts on “On interpersonal communications

  1. Oh, sweet thing: you’re tired. I have done the very same thing, and still: with or without sleep, if I had heard the question, I would have deferred to my children; because they are the little adults in my life.


    • Of course deferring to one’s children is not the problem. Especially if she had asked if we’d had a nice Thanksgiving while looking at both of us. But she was clearly trying to talk with me to get to know me. Or to be polite.

      Well, she sure got to know me. Deer-in-the-social-headlights Me.

      Tired? How would you ever guess I was tired? ;-)

  2. Fantastic post! I have found myself in the exact same conundrum many times. I realize I didn’t reciprocate someone’s interest and I feel awful or I misheard and feel foolish about my answer. I try now to tell myself that they probably didnt notice or that they have forgotten all about it. Sometimes I actually believe this and don’t further my embarrassment by calling them to explain. Sometimes.

    • You had me at sometimes.

      Of course they forget. We must surround ourselves with people who just have conversations and don’t memorize every word and replay them incessantly in their heads. Those are the friends I want.

  3. You crack me up. And I’m not laughing at you, but with you. I’ve been there. Done that. Too many times to count. Chalk it up to exhaustion.

    • Oh, I’m actually quite kind to myself. It’s my inner critics (all 324 of them) who wreak havoc on my nighttime self kindness.

      I figure if I see the humor in my goofiness, I’d better articulate that. Else the voices will return…

      Grace is the answer to everything. I want a bracelet that says, “What Would Grace Kelly Do?” Except I might forget what I meant and think, “What Would Gene Kelly Do?” and get a completely different answer. Not all bad, but not quite my style.

  4. Yesterday, I said “pass me the kleenex” to someone. They heard “spray me with windex”. The look on their face was classic. I am so fucken glad I didn’t get doused in windex trying to blow my nose! And I laughed hysterically for about 5 mins straight, I had tears running down my face and really did use up the kleenex. And now, I’m hoping to all hell that she wasn’t up all night thinking about what a social goober she was. I certainly wasn’t up all night thinking about my mumble mouth!

    • Oh, unicorn, I’ve missed you. Hope all goings on are going on.

      I love that mishearing. She must have just seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Or she must think you have a particularly housekeeping smell about you to need more Windex sprayed on you.

      I doubt she was up all night for mishearing something you said. Only serious wackjobs are up all night about something silly like that.

      Hey, wait a minute…

  5. We are twins separated at birth, you know. But these things happen much more frequently to me. And she should have responded with “oh my gosh! How funny! I didn’t give it a second thought. None of us can hear clearly with children running around! But I feel relieved to know I’m not the only one who worries about such things!” That would have been A+ communication. She is socially awkward. And I should know.

  6. Oh my goodness! The post and the comments have made me feel so much better about the neurotic noises in my head that constantly replay everything I say. You are much braver than I, though, as I probably would have tried to just smile and nod politely and refrain from opening my mouth again. Sometimes I don’t even wait until the conversation is over before I begin replaying it. It starts while I am still having the conversation. The worst is when I am teaching in a classroom and I have an out of body experience watching myself and critiquing the whole thing while I am in the middle of teaching. But, I now consider myself in good company with this neurosis.

    • Oh, Rita, I was a mess when I taught. I was generally pretty awesome in the classroom, but those times I went in ill prepared or didn’t get an expected reaction, I had that out-of-body critic watching me, too. Like a tenure committee sitting grimacing in the ceiling, scribbling my failures into my Permanent File.


  7. Oh the 3am meltdown – except that mine come at about 4:45am. But why can’t I just let it go. Guaranteed that no one else in the universe would think that my issue is even worth the time of day. And yet I lose precious sleep. Oh I feel your pain.

    • Terrible waste of sleep, isn’t it? And yours are timed so you’re guaranteed not to go back to sleep, but if you do that you’ll be rudely awakened just as you settle. Kudos on some fiercely awful inner voices! ;-)

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