Nuance and people’s lack of clear communication

“People from the northeast are so rude/straightforward/abrupt.” Or so I’ve heard.

My experience is more that if you ask a stranger for directions in those places, they’re going to give you directions and move on. No small talk about the day or why you’re going there or the weather or where you’re from.

But I’m born and raised in New Jersey and passive aggressive is my first language. English is a close second. Guilt is third.

Is that a problem specific to New Jersey or to the northeast? Based on terrible communication between people in general, I’m going to have to say no.

I have always been socially anxious, though I push through it much better than I did when I was younger. I’m also just less concerned about [some] people’s opinions [sometimes] which helps. But the anxiety occasionally makes it difficult to read cues properly.

In addition to the anxiety, my family had no problem-solving skills. There are no problems. Agitations build up and build up until someone explodes. There’s a yelling match, after which everyone retreats to their corners for a couple of hours. Then everything is “fine” and we reset to no problems. 

Repeat forever. Nothing gets resolved. No one initiates or participates in hard conversations, no one apologizes, no one takes responsibility, there’s no introspection, there’s no healing, there’s no growth.

Between those two disabilities, I had a lot of learning to do about how to interact with people in a healthy way.

I’ve done a lot of work and am much better at it than I used to be, and I still have a lot of learning to do.

One of the things I’ve learned, though, is that very few people are actually good at this, and most of them won’t acknowledge that they’re not good at this. 

For example.

If I reach out to someone, whether by phone, text, or email, and they don’t answer, I’m supposed to know that they’re not interested and not to bug them.

Also, if I reach out to someone, whether by phone, text, or email, and they don’t answer, I’m supposed to know that they’re busy.

Within that, I’m supposed to know if they’re going to answer me later or if I need to check in again.

If I ask someone a question in writing (text or email) and they don’t answer, I’m supposed to know if they’re ignoring it (“that’s not important”), avoiding it (“I don’t want to answer that”), thinking about it, forgot about it, or didn’t see it in the first place.

I am not a mind-reader, and honestly, I don’t think I should need to be.

Some examples of straightforward and simple answers, especially in writing, are:

“Give me a couple of days to think about that.”

“That activity isn’t really my thing.”

“I have to check schedules and I’ll get back to you.”

“If you don’t hear back from me by [some date], please ask me again.”

“Yes, great!”

“That sounds interesting but it’s not going to work for me.”

The extension of that is: just like answers should be offered, answers should be accepted.

We live in a time and place where no is met with another ask. When someone says no, you have to work harder for a yes. Hard sell, guilt trip, or wear them down. Or you take personally the no which also might set the stage beautifully for a guilt trip.

Of course, sometimes it is personal, and you have to figure out when that’s the case as well. And when it being personal is about you (you have some anti-social trait that perhaps you should work on) and when it being personal is just a matter of not a good fit.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve worked really hard over the years to try to get to know people who I think are interesting. I’ve extended invitations for meals and for game nights and for parties. Most of the time, people say yes. Great! This is a positive indicator.

Most of the time, people do not extend social invitations of any kind in return. Negative indicator. But they’ll say yes again. Positive indicator.

“People are busy.”

Well … yes. But I’m also a people, and I’m also busy.

Is it that people aren’t looking for a new friend so they’re not spending time cultivating new relationships but like me well enough so will accept the invitation? (Am I the only one who goes in all of these circles?)

Making friends as an adult is hard. Especially with a former job (traveling teacher) and a current job (writer, photographer, podcaster) which don’t at all lend themselves to making friends.

Because of these struggles, I wondered for a short while if I was on the autism spectrum. I eventually decided no; I’m missing several significant traits generally found in autistic people that I don’t have, but I have a lot of empathy for people—autistic and not—who are trying to figure out the secret meanings behind social interactions.

It’s hard.

What’s your experience? And do you wish it was different or are you good?

2 thoughts on “Nuance and people’s lack of clear communication”

  1. The first thing we learned in our interpersonal communications skills class at school was “you can’t not communicate”. Silence says plenty. You have a long list of hypotheses of what the silence you’re receiving might be saying, but without any other information, it’s hard to interpret. And that’s so frustrating!

    “Making friends as an adult is hard.” It sure is. It’s not you, Heat. The times we live in make it hard to do anything that falls outside our responsibilities of making a living, taking care of family, and staying on top of the dishes. I wish people reciprocated, but they don’t. I have a lot of hypotheses about why that might be, including “everybody hates me”. I don’t know which might be true, so I choose to drop the negative ones. My feelings are hurt already, I don’t need to add to the hurt with with my own guesses.


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