Recently I was on a date, and I was trying to address a topic within the relationship I thought needed addressing. The content is irrelevant, honestly I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but through stops and starts, and jumbled thoughts, he stopped me and asked; “Are you always this bad at saying what you want to say? Just say what you’re thinking.”
And I paused. Because, he was right. I hate confrontation. But it also made me wonder, because I’m a confident person, a good public speaker. I thought I was speaking pretty clearly. I understood my delivery needed some work, could’ve used some better bullet points, but I didn’t think I was missing the mark completely. Was he being condescending? I wanted to blame him for not hearing me, but maybe my thoughts were more jumbled than I was willing to admit.
A part of me knew he was right. Certain things I wanted to say were getting lost, I was glazing over them, words were disappearing above my head, and I could see him missing them as they floated aimlessly in circles. My emotions flared up, and I was already anticipating his reactions, and it was impacting the speech.
I was confused. I’m great at expressing myself on paper. How can I write a story or express my feelings so clearly on a page, but then stutter in person? Was I afraid of saying what I was thinking?
My writing process has been the same for as long as I can remember. And if you know me, it probably won’t surprise you that I never make an outline when I write. Ever. I’m not organized enough for that. Instead, I’ll write an entire story, a whole essay, a 25 page thesis and then I’ll look at it and say, “does this make sense?” The first draft is always the outline for me.
So what does that say about how my thoughts work? About how my brain processes things? About how grand speeches and in person emotional conversations play out? You don’t get first drafts in person. And sure, I filter as I speak, and think before entering a conversation, but it’s hard if I haven’t gotten to the end. I’m still drafting the rough draft. I don’t have bullet points I want to get through, because sometimes I don’t know exactly where my thoughts are going.
And I’ve noticed that in writing that’s ok, because there’s time for edits. But in person, it doesn’t work as well. Which is hard to come to terms with when you pride yourself on self expression. On knowing how to put pen to paper, on how to convey emotions and feelings clearly and concisely.
How do I reconcile this strange dichotomy?
Do I want my whole life to be scripted? Of course not! Life is about living on the fly. But I’ve come to realize that sometimes larger conversations call for small mental prep. Sometimes, it’s good to know what you’re end goal is before you head into a huge talk, because otherwise you get confused.
So why do I sometimes struggle in person? Maybe I just haven’t fully fleshed out what I’m thinking yet, and I need to do a little more work. Or maybe, I have, and maybe being face to face makes me scared of asserting my own thesis. Maybe I know full well what I want to say, but I like having the fallback of knowing I can avoid it. Confrontation sucks. But if you’re scared of your own thesis you end up going in circles. But that’s not how you move forward with people. How you push relationships and friendships and conversations in the right direction.
And so I’m working on it. Despite the fact that every ounce of my being wants to protest against the bullet points, fight back against the thesis, I’m trying to get my thoughts in order just slightly more before big conversations, because it’s not that I don’t know how to get to the point, I think that sometimes, I’m just scared to address it. Good writing doesn’t allow you to miss the main point, but sometimes in person, you can beat around the bush, conversations allow you to scramble in circles and deflect. You can end up at point c when you should’ve gone to point 2 because maybe your partner will call you out on it, but maybe they won’t.
In writing you can’t get away with that. Because the story, the essay, it won’t make sense. No flirtation, or deflection, or change of topic will move the needle on the fact that you completely missed the mark.
So am I bad at saying what I want to say? No. Am I afraid to share my feelings? Not necessarily. I just think it’s important to recognize that different situations require different kinds of preparation. Sharing feelings on a page might be easy for me, but maybe when it comes to in person conversations I need to work on my delivery. Or maybe I just need to start walking around with some pens and paper everywhere I go. Sounds like that might be easier.