I had a dream a few nights ago that my partner and I were walking through a residential neighborhood. It had the same sort of feel as the nicer side of the city where we first met and used to drive around to look at all of the beautiful old houses, but it didn’t match up exactly with any real landmarks… it just had that feel that dreams sometimes do where everything is perfectly familiar, even though it isn’t.
In the dream, I was singing the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On” loudly and out of tune, and dancing down the sidewalk equally badly, but I was feeling energetic and happy and didn’t care that I can neither sing nor dance. (Note: this is not something I would normally do in public, but I have been known to do it when I am alone at home or in my car) My partner was embarrassed and annoyed, and she kept shushing me.
As we came up to a part of the neighborhood where two roads converged, she grabbed my arm, again said that I needed to stop the singing and dancing and be quiet, and gestured back to a large house that was on the wedge-shaped corner where the two roads met. “Huntsmen live there,” she warned, “don’t you know what they are?”
“Uh, really large and cool spiders from Australia?” I replied. Apparently even in my dreams, I’m still me. 😂🕷️
She explained something about an organization of some sort that I didn’t want to attract the attention of, sort of like the KKK but I remember having the sense it was more like a fraternity full of bullies. That part is hazy because I was waking up at that point. I am not sure what I would have done in the dream if I hadn’t woken up; I could have played it safe and suppressed my behavior to avoid danger, or just kept being myself and taken the consequences for it… Which pretty much sums up my entire life.
I don’t remember my dreams a lot of the time. This one managed to stick with me when I woke up. I think it’s because my subconscious is probably trying to process some events that are going on in my waking life. My personal life has been kind of… turbulent… lately, and I’m not really sure why.
Making a relationship work is hard under the best of circumstances, I imagine, and when both parties bring a lot of childhood trauma to the table, one of them was an undiagnosed autistic for more than three quarters of that relationship, and is also dealing with chronic health problems and other issues, that magnifies the challenges. I can be oblivious to the effects of what comes out of my mouth, I know, but my partner can also be hypersensitive and moody. I think she suffers from anxiety and depression but she’s resistant to opening up about it so I am not sure how to help. Neither one of us are great at difficult communication.
Growing up in a household with a mother who had frequent extreme depressive episodes and a bad temper made me develop an instinctive tendency to retreat and try to avoid incurring her wrath. I did not always succeed, and the consequences of getting on her bad side when she was in one of those moods could be pretty damned unpleasant. I think that’s why, in my adult life, I fall right back into that survival behavior and withdraw into myself at the first whiff of suspicion that someone in my life is in a bad mood.
This has put me into some bad situations in the past, where I allowed myself to be controlled and manipulated with very little effort on the part of the other person, and it’s also led to communication difficulties in my current relationship, especially when paired with my aforementioned obliviousness. (Is ‘obliviousness’ a word? 🤔 If not, it is now 😃)
A typical scenario goes like this: I inadvertently do or say something that either hurts my partner’s feelings or pisses her off, and she reacts by getting quiet. I pick up on the mood change, but not what caused it, so I scuttle behind my defensive wall and get quiet as well. Sometimes, she wasn’t even mad at me personally to begin with, but since she now thinks that I am either mad at her, or being extra insensitive, she gets angrier and quieter, and in turn, I retreat further. This becomes a downward spiraling feedback loop.
In the past, we’d eventually manage to break down and talk it out, usually over a few beers in a neutral setting, but that happens less and less nowadays, maybe because I don’t drink hardly at all any more (and never to the point of inebriation on the rare occasions that I do) and without that social lubricant, it’s very hard for me to let down the wall. Or maybe it’s just the buildup of really big things that have gotten shoved away that we haven’t dealt with, I don’t know. We’re dealing with over twenty years of… stuff… at this point. Nowadays, it’s more likely that it will just continue until some distraction breaks the tension and we move on, not acknowledging the episode.
Anyway, this isn’t one of my rambling tangents, it is actually related to the dream. A couple of weeks back, one of these ‘silent treatment’ episodes lasted a really long time, like, three days. I really don’t know what caused it; I did put my foot in my mouth and say something insensitive right before it started, but I recognized it at the time, immediately backpedaled and clarified my statement. It wasn’t anything that I would think someone would be pissed off about for three days, but what do I know, I’m fucking autistic.
By the end of the second day, I was frustrated and pissed off, myself, but still unable to confront the situation, so I just made myself scarce, wandering off to busy myself around the house away from my partner. Which I am sure made it worse, but I was mad: I am fifty years old and it’s ridiculous that I am still tiptoeing around my own house, trying not to make someone angry at me.
Some time during the third day, she just started talking to me again, normally, and this would have been the time to do what a friend had advised and say something to the effect that I could tell she had been upset, and I was trying to give her space, but if she wanted to talk about it, I was there. I could not bring myself to do that and instead, took the cowardly approach of just pretending it never happened. In my defense, I was relieved that the very toxic atmosphere in my house had cleared, and I didn’t want to set it off a repeat of it so soon.
On some level, I understand that this is a bad way to handle conflict. But I do not have any other way to deal, it’s the only way I know how. I tried to unpack some of this with my therapist, and in the course of that out of my mouth tumbled a whole mess of anxieties and grievances. Some of it is pretty personal and I don’t feel comfortable elaborating, at least not now… but I feel like I have sacrificed a lot for this relationship, modified so much of my own behavior. Not just me, I know my partner has, too. Is there a tipping point where it becomes too much? She’s my very best friend in the whole world, and I cherish that. But have we grown apart too much? Does she feel trapped, or does the person she has evolved into maybe regret being stuck with the person I have evolved into?
I think that’s what the dream was about, my trying to balance my need to express myself while trying to be sensitive to her. How much of what is going on inside my brain can I let out, without driving her away?
The part of the dream about the danger of the ‘huntsmen’ in that house coming after me for being too… ‘me’ is what growing up was like – and that was when I was just picked on for being the nerdy bug-loving kid, before I even realized I was queer, and autistic, and other things I am only now just beginning to understand. I learned that the price of being fully myself was sometimes high, but worth it. It’s a lesson I keep forgetting and having to relearn over and over, because while getting the shit beat out of me by the class bully is no longer a risk, the price is still high.
Strange how I can be highly introverted while simultaneously doing things that inevitably make me stick out like a sore thumb; for instance, I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream and dyed some of my hair deep indigo, but when people compliment it, I want to pull my head in like a turtle and usually mumble something awkward, then slink away.
I think the song I was singing in the dream was significant, too, besides just being because I love The Supremes; I think it represented the churning ball of fear and confusion about the strain between my partner and I that that I keep tucked way down out of conscious though. Does she want to be set free? Do I? Can we still manage to walk the same road when we seem to be on separate journeys?
On a related note, when I decided to play that song the next day in my car on my drive to work, I realized there’s an annoying tapping sound in parts of it that sets off my sound-sensitivity, and now that I’ve noticed it, it’s all I can focus on. It’s like nails on a chalkboard and it kind of ruined the song for me. 🙄😒
Featured Image: Spring sky in between storms. Vivid filter and soft-edged black border applied.