Saturday, 7 February 2015

Off Topic: Unrequited Love and Clear Communication



I was on the bus earlier this week, a little weary, and perhaps, a little bored, as I travelled home from a popular precinct. Seated almost directly in front of me were a guy and a girl, probably in their late teens. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the pair and I was not very interested in them, just as they were probably not very interested in me. Anyway, the pair probably would have escaped my attention completely, had the girl not suddenly pressed the next stop button, sprang up from her chair, and performed what all of us have learned at some point or another through bitter experience is a dud move.

"Thank you so much!" The girl squealed, her voice high and excited. "Thank you so much for coming out with me today!"

With about as much enthusiasm as your average lump of wood, the guy nodded and muttered a brief, "Yeah." It was at this point that I started to feel for the poor girl. Poor thing, I decided. She's going to be feeling a bit sore and a bit disappointed for the rest of the evening. 

I could not help but watch as the girl persisted. "I'm so glad you found the movie you wanted," she told the guy, whilst nodding at a small, plastic shopping bag.

She got a grunt for her efforts. Back off, I thought. Give him what he wants and save yourself a lot of heartache. 

The bus slowed down for the girl's stop. She stares at her companion. "Text me when you get home," she says. "Let me know you got there safely."

"Nah," the guy says. By now it should have been blindingly obvious that he was not interested. The girl continues to persist. Stop it, I thought. You're gorgeous and obviously a kind, caring person. You deserve a partner who will appreciate that. This guy isn't right for you, and you're not right for him. 

"Then I'll text you," she says.

The guy shrugs. "Don't be upset if I don't reply."

"I won't!" 

By now, the bus has stopped. Giggling the girl climbed off the bus and waved good-bye to her companion, still seemingly oblivious to his total disinterest. I wonder how she would have felt if she had known that for the rest of the journey, the guy spent a remarkable amount of time checking out a number of women who climbed on and off the bus. The whole thing got me thinking about communication. Despite the fact that this guy was trying to brush her off, the girl just did not seem to be able to interpret his signals or if she did, she did not know what to do about it. Or maybe she thought that if she persisted long enough, she might change his mind. The other side of the coin is that her companion's communication skills really weren't that great either. Why was it that he was willing to demonstrate disinterest in every possible way short of (gasp!) actually coming out and saying so? All right, the girl should have picked up on the hint and the way that she was bugging him is a little creepy. But it is also equally creepy, in my opinion, to not give someone an honest and direct answer when it was clear that all previous messages were not getting through. Sometimes people just need the obvious to be spelled out to them. 

Of course, it could be argued that his indifference was an honest and direct answer, that he does not owe her any more than that. That argument is perfectly valid. Yes, she was being creepy. Yes, she should have taken the hint. Yes, she should leave him alone. No, he was not giving her any signs of encouragement. And no, he owes her nothing more than respecting her as a human being. But you know something? None of that makes the guy involved any less of a coward. This was not a situation where there was an imbalance of power, no one's physical safety was at risk and she had nowhere near enough of a hold over the guy to cause him emotional harm. I would classify her behaviour as annoying, not intentional harassment. He skirted around the issue because he was either too cowardly to say some variation of "Let's just be friends," or, more likely, because he didn't know how. In any case, this is not the first case of unrequited love that the world has ever seen and I sincerely doubt that it will be the last. 

Communication between the sexes can sometimes be weird. There are some guys and girls out there who can read the opposite sex perfectly and understand their message. There are plenty of others who cannot. I have never understood why we do not put more emphasis on teaching high school students about clear communication--about how to recognise and respect boundaries, and how to effectively make ones own boundaries clear. Then again, some things can only be learned through experience and there is much that I know only through the gift of hindsight. I just wish that, sometimes, there was a way that I could pass on all that I have learned to the next generation.