Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life Is Not a Soap Opera, So Why All the Shouting and Over(re)acting?

"Don't get defensive!"

Those must be three of the most frustrating words in the English language, especially because they often seem to be directed at someone's reaction to a personal observation about himself, or herself, made by another person who was aiming to strike a nerve. It's passive-aggressive at its most annoying, or thereabouts.

Don't get me wrong. I love a good challenge. But if you are going to challenge me, you have to accept the manner in which I respond. I might shrug it off (fat chance), but I'll more likely battle back, especially if the subject is something that I feel strongly about. I can whisper with the best of them, but land on something that really moves me -- music, movies, gay marriage, racism or, well, me -- then listen and prepare your comeback, or cover your ears and run.

I'll probably raise my voice. Some people misinterpret it as anger. Sometimes it is, but usually, it's not. I call it the inflections of a real life conversation with somebody who isn't monotone. When I'm truly angry, you'll know it, and not because I'm raising my voice. Anger doesn't necessarily involve volume, as anyone who has seen Roger Howarth as Todd Manning on General Hospital knows. I also call it passion. I thought that everybody loves passion -- but maybe that's just in bed.

Personally, I don't care for screaming in bed, though I don't mind it in conversation. Well, maybe not screaming, but a raised voice never hurt anyone. It's how I know someone is really listening, really thinking, really participating. In love and war (the kind that requires words, not weapons), I'm a sucker for a man who feels, who gets excited, who even raises his voice from time to time, whether it's directed at me, or directed at what we're talking about. There's a difference.

Furthermore, what's so bad about getting defensive? If somebody walks up to you and slugs you, are you not going to defend yourself and slug him, or her, back? I would. So why wouldn't the same tit for tat be perfectly acceptable in conversation? As long as you aren't responding to what somebody says by hitting them, and as long as you aren't always reacting to everything, even a comment as simple as "It looks like rain today." (Remember: "Don't react. Observe" -- which, as a Facebook friend recently pointed out, is a lot easier said than done.)

I've tried to go the dispassionate route -- low-energy, low-volume -- but it never feels true to who I am. I'm a Helligar. I come from a long line of preachers. OUR VOICES CARRY, DAMMIT! It doesn't mean we're arguing. We're just excited and excitable. But even if we are arguing, so what? People argue. Deal with it.

I've tried going the strong and mostly silent route in dating, too. Unfortunately, I picked a guy who was so calm because he was usually stoned out of his mind.
Nothing against pot heads. Some of them are incredible people. I just can't imagine dating one ever again.

He said he was stressed out by nature, so although his job working as a receptionist at a small record label was not exactly high stress, he still felt the need to spend all evening sucking on a bong to recover. It helped him relax, he said. And most of the time he did seem to be relaxed. Too relaxed. I often felt like I was dating a robot.

But it wasn't just his lack of enthusiasm, his seeming indifference to everything, that made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I think I'd love to date a guy who is that chill by nature, though I'm pretty sure it would never last long because, as Barbra Streisand sang in her 1984 single, "I need the emotion."

I'd love to be a guy who is chill by nature. But if you can only reach that point of tranquility by self-medicating, if your non-demanding day requires a recovery period that involves copious amounts of pills, booze or marijuana, then your true nature is probably to the other extreme. You're likely a high-strung mess.

I found this out the hard, loud way, when he didn't have a bong to use as a buffer between his mind and reality. I can't even remember what instigated his incredibly over-the-top outburst because it was such a little thing. But the difference it made was great.

I felt like I was sitting across from a scenery-chewing soap diva. I didn't say, "Don't get defensive," because, well, I hate it when people say that. I didn't slap him, which would have been so Erica Kane of me. I simply got up, walked out the door and closed it, without looking back. Too bad there were no cameras rolling. It was a melodramatic exit worthy of a Daytime Emmy.

Even Erica Kane would have loved it!

'Til Tuesday "Voices Carry" I know exactly how she feels.

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