She has told me several stories half a dozen times, about how bad her ex was, the horrible things he said and did, her perception of how he’s not the best dad, how she now feels sympathy for his first wife, how horrible it was for her after her divorce, and many more like that.

It took me a while to get beyond the concern for my own self when listening to her stories. “Why is she slamming on her ex so much? Is she still looping around him? Are they real stories, or exaggerations? Will she slam on me this way if we get together and then split?” and so on.

But once I remembered to:

  • Listen to understand the person, not just the story

    • Not just “Wow, what happened next?” but “What did you feel when he did that?”
  • Listen to understand the person, not to fix them
    • Not “You should…” but “You seem sad.”
  • Listen to understand the person, not to judge them against my own needs
    • Not “Will she treat me the same way?” “Why is she so mean to him, is she a bitch?” “Can’t she see she’s being ridiculous?” but “It sounds like you felt taken advantage of.” or “After such betrayal, do you find it hard to move away from your anger?”
  • Listen to understand the person today, not just at the time of the story
    • Not just “What did you feel then?” (which is a good question) but “Was it hard to tell me that?” (which is an even better question because it pulls her into the present with me, now)
  • Just listen to understand the person:
    • She seems afraid as she tells me this
    • Hmm, her hand keeps going to her face
    • She laughs awkwardly when she talks about me
    • She’s playing with her hair
    • <she keeps telling me the same old stories, what’s underneath that? What does she get from it? What does she want from me?>

… it became easier to listen. And that’s when I was able to filter through all the repeated stories to observe how badly she needs to be “the good one”. To have others know that she’s sane, not a crazy man-hating bitch.

But why does she need that?

  • Because she’s not centered enough in herself to let the stories just be the stories and let people think what they want.
  • Because she’s looking for validation from others.
  • Because she doesn’t talk to be known, she talks to be validated.

She doesn’t just observe peoples’ reactions to her stories so she can learn about her listeners, she tries to manage her listener’s opinions of her by convincing them that her stories are true. And in an odd twist, it’s actually the former that would lend more credence to the truth of her stories and allow a listener to see she’s stable. As with writing, show, don’t tell.

<sometimes I do it too, though, hypocrite that I am…>

She’s insecure, vulnerable, unsure of herself, and needs validation from others. (Aren’t we all that way sometimes?)

And so she’s a target for me, knight in shining armor, who can make her feel good about herself.

But that insecurity, that other-validation, is one reason why I don’t want a long term romantic relationship with her.

But she’s only human; she has many good qualities. And her attractiveness and neediness would make me feel good emotionally, physically, socially.

But moving forward wouldn’t be healthy, it would be short-sighted, and it wouldn’t help her.

But she’s pretty, and needy, and vulnerable, and I could…

But <infinite loop>