I’ve always felt like I have a keen sense for picking up on people’s emotions. I could give you a long list of boyfriends and friends that would say I annoyed them beyond reason by continually trying to pry how they felt out of them.
And whether or not I had this superpower of picking up on someone’s secret resentment isn’t the issue here. The issue was this: I assumed responsibility for getting people to tell me how they felt.
The other day I was an hour late to dinner with my boyfriend. This is a huge deal; I despise being late. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves with people.
This occurrence took place because I was at work and unsure of what time I’d get off. It looked something like:
“S***.. 7:01. I need to leave soon.”
*Checks phone once more*
*texts bf that I won’t make it to our reservation*
My boyfriend pushed our 7:45 reservation back to 8:30. Since he hadn’t eaten all day and I had over an hour to wait for me, he grabbed some nuggets at McDonald’s.
All I could imagine was him parked in the Micky D’s parking lot, dunking his nuggets into a packet of saucy resentment. Each crispy bite filled with betrayal and hurt as he waited for my very late arrival.
When I finally got home and hopped into my boyfriend’s car, I pleaded, “I’m sorry, you hate me, don’t you?”
He retorted, “No, it’s fine. It’s not your fault.”
But I kept insisting he must be mad. Maybe it was because I would be mad if I were in his shoes, or perhaps it’s because I’ve had boyfriends that got mad over the littlest of things and this would be included.
At that moment, I saw clearly a pattern of mine in relationships: I assume people’s emotions and do everything I can to uncover them. Like a detective, I pick at every tonal change in their voice and slight eye drop that would indicate their annoyance with me.
I sat there in the car, pondering. My insecurity got the best of me. Hell, my insecurities have gotten the best of me my whole professional dating career.
And while I highly doubt, looking back, that my boyfriend was actually upset as he devoured his nuggets, that’s not the point here. The point is that it’s not my responsibility to get my boyfriend to speak up about what he's feeling.
A relationship is a two-way street. If my partner chooses to bottle up their resentment, then that’s theirs to live with.
The same goes for all kinds of relationships. It’s not my job to unearth the truth behind my friend’s passive-aggressive tactics. Nor is it my duty to figure out why my mom’s words are laden with guilt.
This experience finally helped me realize how I was causing myself more trouble than good. And that I’m probably not the only person that does this.
And if that’s the case, we could all stand to stop doing a few things in our relationships that are causing more trouble than good.
Stop Trying to Be a Mind-Reader
No matter how sure you are that you’ve mastered the spotting of subtleties in people’s demeanor, leave that shit at home. Unless the signs are painstakingly obvious, it’s not going to do you or the other person any good if you assume their emotional state.
Sometimes, people don’t want to talk about things, and they’re perfectly entitled not to do so. Other times, they don’t even understand how they feel; they need time to process and come back to you in a more stable state.
And most of the time, you’ll be straight-up wrong about someone feels.
So do yourself a favour, and I will too: don’t assume other people’s emotions. Give them the space to come to you.
Speak Up About Your Feelings
If you’re on the other side of this dance where you’re stepping on each other’s feet, then you need to speak up when you feel wronged by someone.
You can’t assume that by giving someone the silent treatment, they’ll know you’re mad they said the sweater you’re wearing is just “Okay.” Giving someone one-word answers isn’t how you relay to them you’re hurt they didn’t call when they said they would.
Communication in relationships, platonic or romantic, is vital. Everyone is entitled to time for processing and feeling their emotions before bringing them up to someone else. Just don’t take advantage of your right to silence and try to get the other person to decipher your petty actions in the meantime.
Realize your well-being is your own.
When it comes down to it, your well-being is your responsibility; it’s not your partner’s or your friend’s or your parent’s. You’re a full-grown adult.
As my friend once said, “only number one is going to do number one.”
You need to prioritize yourself first and care for your emotional well-being.
That can look like staying in your own lane and not getting worried over fabricated emotions that you made up in your mind for someone else. On the flip side, it also looks like letting someone know you’ve been hurt by them.
If you follow this practice, you’re going to feel a lot more stable and happy. You can realize what you actually have control over — the caring and expression of your emotions — and what you don’t — how others are feeling and when they choose to let you know.
The take away is this: stop assuming the role of someone who can read people’s minds.
You’re not Professor X, nor do you want to be.
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