The Sport of Paradoxing

If the Olympics wanted to add a new sport, they would find many qualified players around the world for Paradoxing.  It’s my family’s favourite sport that has been handed down for generations.

Paradoxing: A solo sport where one player’s objective is to deal out as many paradoxes within one attempt for a specified time.  The opponent is then asked to respond identifying the paradoxes of the other while dealing out a new set of his/her own paradoxes.  Ultimately, the only objective is to derail the opponent while gaining nothing for oneself.

My aunt (youngest sister of my mother) would, no doubt, qualify for Team India.  I reached my limit with her two weeks ago when it was my birthday.  She sent me a birthday e-mail:

Aunt: happy birthday..a belated wish with tons of sunshine and love aunt and uncle

Me: Thank you for the birthday wishes; it is not belated as my birthday is today. 🙂  I hope all is well.

Aunt: hope you had a great time…

There is nothing seemingly abnormal about this interaction except this was the icing on the cake for me because our interactions over the past year and half have left me feeling awful.  This aunt met me when I was seven years old and she lives in India and about a year and half ago connected with me on Facebook.  I was weary, at first, but I didn’t want to assume that she had similar personality traits as my mother and the legacy translated to her (we have gotten out, why can’t she?).  My mother is the oldest of seven and this aunt is the youngest.

During our Facebook chats and e-mails, she has never asked one single thing about me.  I would ask her questions and I learned a lot about her – for example, she likes to trek and this is one activity we have in common, so when she shared her experiences in Nepal I shared my enthusiam for the activity.  I started to stop sharing as there was no real exchange and waited to see if she would ask anything about me and what I liked to do.

It never happened and I thought it would get better when we met face to face in a café in Amsterdam (this past March) as she was traveling to Europe for a conference on dentistry (as her husband owns a dentistry practice).  During our meeting, she again never asked and I decided to try and share and see if I could get the ball rolling.  It got worse, whenever I would begin a story she would interrupt and one up me by saying she does this but better or faster or longer.  I got sick of it.  After this meeting, I didn’t engage in chats on Facebook and when she tried I answered back with the bare minimum.

What set me off, was the fact she wished me a Happy Birthday and never asked me how it was or what I did for it?  This is a normal question and I don’t expect it but with her other behaviours and patterns I got a reminder of what really was happening.  That evening, I got really angry and went to bed angry.  I woke up with the same anger.  Two days after my birthday I decided to say something:

Dear Aunt,

What has been the purpose of our conversations?

TR

I realised I had written this with anger and she hadn’t responded so I followed up exactly one week later with this:

Dear Aunt,

Based on the lack of response, I would like to better understand our past dialogues and our meeting in March. It was nice to get to know you and hear your stories. Yet, I am hurt and disappointed by our past interactions over the year because there has not been a true dialogue or exchange by the lack of your interest in who I am and my stories. I would like to have healthier relationships with friends and family and want to better understand what has been the purpose of you keeping in contact with me?

Kind regards, 

TR

Her response:

..i am neat and straight..yes i wanted to maintain a relationship..you are my neice..honestly i like you. i still remeber the days in chicago when you were so little..and the lovely moments we shared with you during our stay..way back in 1983…and there was no way i could connect with you earlier…lucky to have found you on FB…. and i am keeping in contact..i dont think we have had meaningless dialogues. i dont want to invade your privacy..i respect it. ur gen is so diff from us, and especially kidz brought up abroad. its not that i am not interested in who you are and your stories.you need to open up and talk..when we ask questions you may consider it inquistiveness. i was not able to reply earlier as i had a severe TMJ problem.

warm wishes aunt

My response:

Aunt,

The first time we met I was 7 years old and don’t remember it well. Thirty years later we have connected on Facebook as strangers where we started to build a relationship. My question is: Why do you want to build a relationship with me, what is your purpose/goal/point in doing so?

Our dialogues are not meaningless, again, I felt hurt and disappointed when there was a consistent pattern in your actions of not wanting to get to know who I am or hear my stories.

As I am now an adult, I will tell you if you are invading my privacy or if I consider you to be inquisitive. Please ask me what I am thinking, please don’t assume.

When you write “ur gen is so diff from us, and especially kidz brought up abroad.”, what differences do you mean?

When we met in March and we had face-to-face conversation, I shared some of my stories, what stories did you learn from the exchange?

TR

Her response back:

i connected on FB to getting to know you…..i cant figure out when u say there is a consistent pattern in my actions of not wanting to get to know you or hear ur stories….i get to see u on chat ocassionally..erlier i used to play scrabble at noon..u would be on lunch break..and sharp 3pm i would leave for work. if i remember right many a time we have xchanged a line or two during ur lunch break. i am the type who can connect with anyone..infact most of my buddies ..are in the 30…35..age group.. when i say ur gen is diff….we were brought up in a close knit family.. we never built relationships..they came naturally.. and we never had a purpose or a goal in building a realationship….it was just simple trust btw one another. i dont imply that we are one BIG happy family..every one has their differences..we just take it in our stride. if someone does not want to talk..its fine.i just leave it at that..i dont carry tales.. yes when ur parents were here ..yes i did tell you. Your mother came after so many years. and i had not really been in touch with her…still we connected she needed some help.. and i did it for her. when we met we spoke about ur job situation etc,company A, etc etc…my memory is going downhill..can remember things that happened in the sixties..but not the movie i saw yesterday.. No doubt u have a right to ask those questions..its nice that you are open. what makes you think that i dont want to hear ur stories?

My response:

Dear Aunt,

I, like you, wanted to get to know you and is why I connected with you on Facebook – in the hopes of building an authentic relationship. It has been a pleasure to learn of your son’s involvement in the family business and his marriage last year. It was wonderful to hear of your trekking adventures and your enthusiasm for Scrabble and your love of dogs.

I believe that there is a purpose to having relationships because why do we have partners, marriages and friends. They serve a purpose in life – it gives meaning to life. Without this, we cannot survive. The purpose of all my relationships is to have connection. By this, I mean there is a mutual exchange of our stories from which each person feels seen, heard and valued. This type of connection is not something I can have with anyone; it is not commonplace and is something that is special when it happens.

I do not feel this way after the past year and half from our chats and our meeting this past March. You ask, ‘what makes you think that I don’t want to hear ur stories?’

In your last e-mail, the only thing that you mention about me is my job situation. I am hurt that the one and only thing you know about me is my job situation and the name of the company. This is an example of not knowing anything about me, who I am. After trying to share my stories with you in March and you interrupting me when I spoke, I felt unheard. The lack of questions during our chats is another example of this.

When I build new connections, I’m not looking for someone to know every detail of my stories, I’m hoping that someone hears them and understands its relevance in my life and for them to want that from me in return.

Kind regards, 

TR

I think this will be my last e-mail depending on if she decides to respond and how she responds.  The number of paradoxes in her e-mails almost derailed me.  The point was she didn’t want to get to know me – from her pattern of her behaviours – she wasn’t interested in that at all – and why should I bother to come back for more.

xxoo TR

Here is an update on the e-mails with my aunt (21 nov 2013):

28 october 2013 my aunt wrote:

TR dear, even i want to know about you and your life..there are many questions i want to ask..iknow u like hiking etc… Judging a person by what she remembers and what she does not, is not right.. look first thing is i do have memory lapses..u will have to take that in ur stride..i dont remember interupting you..when we met..moreover we were meeting your DH for the first time….and there is definitely a marked diff btw the indian way of chatting..and people of other cultures..RIGHT? we just go blah blah…. and many people do not like that.Actually to tell u the truth i was bit nervous..and uncle still rags me.. It does take time to warm up to people.. and understand them.i spent time in berlin with uncle’s neices. I never really knew her..must have just met at a wedding or two..when she was here in india.i hardly remember the names of places she took us to.. or our convesations. she visited us and had a meal with us with her hubby and kidz..there was the connection. we do keep in touch on Fb..its just once in away. This has brought her mother closer to my hubby..they r 1st cousins. during one of our fb conversations u asked how ur dad looked and how he was doing..when i came to know he was unwell i informed you..because i felt u needed to know. when ever i asked your mom about you she gave very vague answers..so i never probed and always wondered y..and kept quite. only now we seem to be having some kind of a meaningful conversation.. TR our earlier conversations were just oneliners. it was out of the blue that i remebered ur birthday..i always thought it was on xxth oct..i dunno why. hoping to have more of these conversations..to understand u better love aunt..i glad u call me aunt…becoz the others call me baby aunty..or worse still baby ajji..grandma.

30 october 2013 I responded:

Aunt,

In response to your statement ” Judging a person by what she remembers and what she does not, is not right”

I repeat for the third time: I was hurt and disappointed by your consistent patterns in the following behaviours that demonstrate you are not interested in hearing my stories or in who I am:

#1. The past one and half year we have had chats on Facebook where you did not ask questions about me consistently.

#2. During the March visit in Amsterdam, you interrupted me three times when I tried to share with you my stories.

#3. This recent e-mail exchange is an added example of you not trying to hear what I am saying.

These behaviours have nothing to do with what you can and cannot remember.

When we met in March, you and I spoke. We are talking about communication between you and me. This has nothing to do with uncle and my DH. Please leave the both of them out of this.

In response to your statement: “hoping to have more of these conversations..to understand u better”. You have a choice to take the feedback I have provided and do something with it. I do not want to talk about this subject anymore. It is enough.

TR

No response since.

Ça va? Ça va.

The past few weeks I have been taking intensive language lessons.  One of the modules was a 2 week oral communication course with six students.  I only knew one of the students but the rest I met the first day of class.

During the first day I noticed one of the students didn’t look me in the eye.  She seemed not to notice I was there or when I spoke in class she seemed to not listen to what I had to say.  The lack of recognition of being was a repressed emotion that had recently surfaced for me and I was a tune to it and more sensitive to feeling it.  The week continued and each day for 4 hours she did not seem to acknowledge my existence in any verbal or non-verbal way.  This was more apparent as others did not behave this way towards me.

It bothered me and I wanted to easily say to myself – she has N tendencies.  I know better – stay away.  I couldn’t help it.  I had to learn more (but actually I believe this was my natural attraction).  And in a way, I was relieved about making the decision to find out more for myself.  There could be a million and one reasons and she could actually be someone who does not have these tendencies.

By the last day of the intense module we all decided to go out for coffee.  A way of celebrating the fact that our brains did not explode from speaking a foreign language for 4 hours straight for 5 days.

During the class (before we went out for coffee), Alba (woman who did not acknowledge me) had to give her presentation that day on a topic of her choosing.  She chose Hugo Chavez.  She presented on him and then turned the discussion to us.  She didn’t ask any questions and so I stated my opinion on him and his presidency.  A few responded and a few declined commenting because they did not have enough information to share any opinions on it.

During the coffee outing, Alba states ‘I wanted to raise the level of discussion in our class by choosing this topic and no one could participate because they didn’t know international issues.’  This I found insulting and attackful.  I noticed that all of us let her comment go.  I don’t know why but I gathered she was feeling shameful about her ability to speak (she struggles orally in comparison).  Plus, I heard her fishing for compliments during our class breaks.  Our discussion continued to Americans and language in general.  Alba (who is Irish btw) brought up the point that Americans ask ‘how are you?’ but don’t wait for a response.  She pointed out that this behaviour is superficial and that Americans don’t really care how the other person is.

Since I have been living in Europe for 7 years I have heard this, I don’t know, about 1 million times.  It gets old.  When people started saying this to me I ignored it.  Thinking, well each person has their own opinion.  However, even this has changed for me.  I now address it. My response now:

It is not out of superficiality that Americans say ‘How are you?’ and don’t expect a response; it is an evolution of the language in the country; when I say ‘How are you?’ to a fellow American I don’t expect a response, it is a way of saying Hello for me.  We use ‘how are ya?’ as Hello.  When I want to find out the state or feeling of a person I either ask again or in a different way.  As we are learning in French, there is the standard use of the language and the way people actually use the language.

The Austrian in the group responded to this ‘Exactly’.  It was nice to hear because I felt this was putting myself and how I feel out there.  It was an insult to me and my fellow Americans to equate a characteristic of superficiality with one phrase that has evolved over the years. Whether deemed insignificant or not, her behaviour was an act of cruelty.

She continued to say things about Americans and other nationalities that I was not happy with it.  I walked away knowing I will not spend any more time on her.  She behaves narcissistically and I know my answer.  Don’t go there.

And guess what, she continued the module that I am taking this week.  At the beginning of the module the professor said to me after I spoke a bit that she has seen a good level of improvement from me orally in the language.  Since, ya know, I’m in recovery I forced myself to just take the compliment and enjoy it. 🙂

And you guessed it, Alba and I were waiting for the elevator together at the end of class.  She managed in the 1 minute we were waiting to bring up the compliment and make me feel bad about it (‘well look at you, you don’t have problems with the language, the prof said you speak well).  But, here’s the thing, I changed how I behaved.  I said to her, ‘we all have struggles in the language – for some that is orally and others it is grammar; for me, I struggle with writing the language and each person struggles in their own way.’  She responds, ‘well, I’m great at writing.’

That moment was a breakthrough.  If I hadn’t gotten to know her and decide for myself that getting to know her was something I wasn’t going to spend time on I would not have been able to be empathetic.  It would have been impossible for me to see her shame in not speaking the language well.  If I had allowed her to take advantage of me – emotionally – by not speaking my mind to her – there is no way I could see her shame.  I would be sitting in the swampland trying to dig myself out.

It was weird because I don’t have this strong urge of anger when she behaves narcissistically.  I addressed her remarks and will try to continue to do so when she shames me or others.  It is weird to walk away without the level of hate I have accumulated with regard to my narcissistic friends.  I often wonder if I had done this with them at the get go of our acquaintance would it have led to friendship?  Let me tell ya – Alba is not seeking friendship with me nor am I with her.  That is a point we both can agree on.

xxoo T