Amanda and I have been planning this roommate thing for a while. Our original intent was to move forward with it last year, but several obstacles came up in quick succession and when Amanda finally voiced, “I think we should wait until next year” I could feel the knot of anxiety loosen up within my chest. Good thing, bad timing, and all of that.
This time around there was no anxiety, no big concerns, no real uncertainty except for one little prickling thought:
I’m not going to be good at this.
The last time I shared a house with anyone it was with my family and, while we were all adults with really healthy boundaries, there are not four other souls on this earth that know me as well as my family does, all of the unspoken and understood things – I could simply rest in the fact that they knew me. Well rested and relaxed and, yeah, totally out-of-practice with certain aspects of interpersonal communication.
Several years ago I was at a get-together, a gathering for folks who had gotten to know each other online, when a friend looked over at me and said, with a knowing smile on her face, “You’re so quiet.” That startled a laugh out of me. I’m not really, I thought, just ask my family.
And if you picked up on the fact that I thought this instead of saying it out loud, then you might have realized something about my own self-awareness in that moment.
I am far from taciturn, as my own family could attest. Rambling dinner table and fireside conversations have always been a staple in our household…as has silence. Long hours of beautifully companionable silence. To this day, my sister and I will wrap up our weekly phone calls with up to an hour of time in quiet together, each reading or working or doing whatever she wants as we simply share that softly humming space over the phone line. For my online friends, I know I’ve given some mixed perceptions: I tend to be far more effusive and animated when I write than when I speak; writing is safe and slow, allowing me to mull over and consider the right words before I commit to them, the correct phrasing before I lay it all down in order. That last sentence? I worked it over in my head a dozen times before I wrote it down, and even then tweaked it a few times more. It’s not so much about being cautious or careful – though that is part of it – but because anything less feels like someone is reaching inside my brain and scrambling with my thoughts.
I want to know the things that I am going to say before I say them. This is why my favorite conversations are the ones with comfortable but meaningful pauses, like a deep breathe before diving. Rest stops on the conversational road. Since 90% of my weekly conversations are not like this, and because I do genuinely love and enjoy being with people, I am mostly content to let conversations flow over and past me, and to deflect the rapidly moving topics back to the speaker. I’ll jump in when I’m ready, I think. Quiet is a far more comfortable thing than dragging half-formed thoughts into the light.
The truth? I’m a great listener, but I can be a crap communicator.
Here is a blessing: having a roommate who’s good at it.
Planning to live together has meant a lot of communication – whole heaps of it, in fact. Sorting through schedules and working through ‘what ifs’; we talked cleaning and cooking and caretaking of clutter, generally covering all of the stupid little things that could cause minor conflict in a home. We brought our little dreamer hearts down to the level of the nitty-gritty because damn if we were going to let a few dirty dishes spoil things, and in that sense, things in the household arena really have run smoothly. Any friend willing to take a crash course in “how to respond when the cat starts horking” is a friend you should definitely keep.
Reality gives the theoretical a good shake-up, of course. The hardest part of sharing space is not figuring out who takes out the recycling, it’s making the time and drawing up the energy to be open when it’s so much easier to be left alone. “I don’t want to talk about it” or “I do want to talk about it” or “I can’t talk right now” and “My day was rough” and “I just need space” and “I’ll talk when I’m ready” but “I think we should catch up.” You know, just…LIFE. With another person.
I’m not going to be good at this, I think. I’m going to be too unpredictable in my energy, too inconsistent in my interest, too unfamiliar with informing the uninitiated, with getting to know someone this closely.
But it’s so worth it, I realize, in those moments when we do catch up. When we come in for a hug, pour another glass of wine, and encourage each other. We can do this. You can make it through this month at work. You can make it through this one last task. We can do this. What can I do for you? What can I pray for? How can I help? And what fun plans are we going to promise ourselves when [insert stressful situation here] has passed? Because I’ve got a few ideas…