I have always loved kids. My mom will tell you that I have just been obsessed with babies since I was young and I played with dolls for an embarrassingly long time. So, you can just imagine how elated I am that I now have seven nieces and nephews, ages five and under. They are equal parts squish and squeal and, of course, they're THE cutest ever because they're mine. All my baby dreams come true, you guys!
The thing about having little kids around is they allow you to see the world in a fresh way - things adults take for granted are brand new to these curious little eyes and you remember, again, what it’s like to be filled with wonder over the seemingly small and ordinary. But, my very favorite part about little kiddos is when they start to find their voice. At first it’s baby giggles and cooing, little sounds, and then s l o w l y one word, two words, small sentences. Language acquisition has always been so interesting to me. I took a couple of linguistics classes in college that left me wanting to learn more about language and dialects and how our tongue, our teeth, and our lips all work to make these sounds that make words that make up communication. One of my nephews, Sam, just turned two and over the last six months he has picked up so many more words. Like suddenly overnight he was telling us colors and calling people by name, although in his stage of development the name Jude (his brother) sounds like Jooba, and the word orange actually sounds like jornge. It's hilarious.
Before he could speak in words, Sam, like all tiny ones, could only speak with his emotions. Crying, laughing, a tantrum, excitedly pointing. Even as kids begin to use words, they sometimes revert back to these emotional charades to get what they want. When we can’t figure out what they want from a wild display of emotion, a phrase a lot of moms tell their kids is, “Use your words.” Tell us what you want, buddy. We can’t figure it out from what sounds like a hyena and throwing yourself on the floor. Use your words.
A couple of years ago I was kind of talking to this guy in the weird way we do now where everything is a guess as to what’s actually going on. We had been talking for a while, hung out a couple of times, texts, Snapchat, you know the drill. It came in waves and lulls on both of our parts but there was a lot of wondering involved, at least on my end. Am I bothering him? Does he like me or is he just bored or am I just an option? He likes me, right? He wouldn’t have done ____ if he didn’t. Am I crazy? These are the mental gymnastics that surround meeting someone and possibly dating them. This post on Instagram that my friend sent me just yesterday actually sums it up. It’s exhausting.
So at some point we have to get exhausted enough to quit. At least I did. One night when I was done with the games and the guessing I ticked out a text message that said something along the lines of, “Hey, I like you and I kind of thought you might like me too. If you don’t, that’s okay, but now you can’t say you didn’t know.” Or something like that. We had a short conversation that didn’t end in my favor, but that’s okay. At least then I had the freedom to move on instead of sit in the halls of uncertainty.
We tell little kids, “Use your words,” but it’s time to start saying that to grown-ups too and maybe with more urgency. So often I have conversations with people and we're trying to guess what someone else might be thinking or feeling and, instead of asking, we fill in the blanks for that other person. We come up with a response for them instead of let them be responsible for their reaction and it stops us from moving forward or moving on in the relationship. I read one time that we don't see people as they are, we see them as we are. We assume what they must think/feel/believe and let that dictate our actions. This is true in relationships and friendships and basically everything involving humans.
I think what holds us back from using our words is mostly fear. What will they think? What will they say? We all know what we hope the other person will say. We’ve come up with the script and we’ve seen the movie play out in our heads a million times. The problem is we never get on the stage. We just rehearse it over and over again, letting it drag on, letting the questioning and the wondering keep happening until we’ve driven ourselves nearly crazy. Well, I don’t want them to think ______. I don’t want them to feel _______. We torment ourselves with these kinds of worries.
Not only is it a fear thing, it’s a control thing. If we keep the script and the emotions to ourselves, there’s no way they can hurt us with their words or respond differently than we plan. The script in our heads is working out just fine where they apologize to us/fall in love with us/make the choice we want them to make, thank you very much. Of course that’s easier. I was talking to my cousin the other day about relationships and how they require such vulnerability and she said, “I just hate having my feelings attached to something I can’t control at all.” We laughed about it, but isn’t it true? Like we’re so afraid to feel something so it’s best to just stay in limbo. Instead of the possibility of feeling something uncomfortable or unpleasant, we make ourselves busy, push things under the rug, divert, distract, avoid. And then we wonder why we’re all so hungry for real connection and relationship.
I’m still bad at this, but I’d like to think I’m getting better. I’d rather you know how I feel and think I’m crazy for it than just pretend I don’t feel it at all and hope it goes away or magically resolves on its own. Clue: it never resolves on its own. It festers and spills over into other arenas, comes out in other ways. It makes us bitter and passive aggressive and behave in ways we might not otherwise behave.
I think a lot could be solved if we all learned to use our words. It’s going to get sticky – relationships are that way. But rather than assume what someone is going to think or say or feel, let them be responsible for their response. My mom used to always tell us, “Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Worry about what you’re doing.” That’s all you can really do – your part. But at least say something. Put the words out there. Set aside your self-preservation for three seconds and say what you need to say. That’s a John Mayer song I used to listen to on repeat hoping this one boy would say something to me – I love you would have been preferable, but you know, we don’t always get what we want.
The other side of this is that our words matter. We’ve all heard, Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Well, I heard a new version recently that resonates so much more: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can crush my soul. We all have defining moments in our lives which involve the words someone else said to us. Words that stuck. Words that pierced deep or words that healed. Words we can replay in our heads, conjuring up the specific memory - the exact sights and sounds of that particular moment. Words that brought joy and words that brought devastation. Words matter. And they might stick with someone so much longer than you think they will. So use them carefully. Use them wisely. But use them.
All that to say, I’m tired of the guessing and the wondering. If you ask me what to do in a certain situation, I’ll be the first to say, call them. Talk to them. Get them in front of your face and spill your guts. Stop filling in the blanks for them. Do your part.
It’s time to drop the script. Use your words.