Here’s a story about the first time I was ever disappointed by a Guy Who Doesn’t Get It: My father didn’t come to see my elementary school play, in which I had a fairly minor role. He was on a business trip, or maybe he was coming back from one and his flight was delayed. I was in the fifth grade. My mother and I were standing by the playground and it was spring, and she put him on the phone with me and he apologized, and I said it was okay because I knew that was the adult thing to say, but I was surprised by how deeply I felt unimportant, not abstractly but intensely. In retrospect, it seems like such a tediously predictable resentment, so textbook as to be trite, this relatively minor incident where my father was not there, when there were, of course, countless moments when he was.
But I remember it because it was obvious that I could not explain to him why I was hurt, because my feelings were not altogether credible; he had a job, after all, and these were circumstances beyond his control, and in some way I must have understood that, because I wasn’t angry with him, just sad that I was sad and sad that he didn’t recognize that I was sad and that I couldn’t make him recognize it without also making him feel even worse that he did, and this was maddening, the desire to have my hurt acknowledged but also insulate others from the pain that would be created by my pain as it radiated guilt and shame, that first glimmer of understanding that my pain could be radioactive.
My father was, and remains, the first Guy Who Doesn’t Get It, but he was far from the last, and no doubt he laid the groundwork for the countless who have trailed his influence in my adult life and will continue to do so, maybe. The problem, of course, with the Guy Who Doesn’t Get It is that he is always sincerely convinced that he does, in fact, get it, and often masquerades as someone with an extraordinarily sophisticated degree of emotional sensitivity and intelligence. The first boy I ever loved was like that, and he said all the right things and I felt safe with him for awhile, until I didn’t anymore, and then the intensity of my feelings made me look crazy (I hadn’t yet learned how to manage them, although I’ll probably look back in years and say that same thing about my current self), and he said things like “You’re crazy,” and he was right! But to the Guy Who Doesn’t Get It, crazy isn’t too far off. Surely crazy is not saying how I’m feeling and then expecting the other person to figure it out, to console me because of my feelings that I haven’t bothered to share because I know that they are burdensome and problematic and never have much to do with anything that actually happened, and more to do with the stomach-turningly dull time that my father didn’t come to my school play, so I don’t share them and then I’m angry that I didn’t share them and that I’m not understood adequately. And I wonder, can’t you see that I am dying inside? Of course they can’t! Of course they can’t.
Tonight I waited for a Guy Who Doesn’t Get It to get it, sending out smoke signals and veiled messages mostly in the form of brutal silence, thinking that maybe I would be understood deeply enough that all that absent data would assume some kind of meaning. He didn’t; they never do. The first boy I ever loved is on TV now, and everybody loves him, because they can tell that he is kind and empathic. The first time he came over to my house, when we were just kids, he kissed me on the cheek, and I felt that lurching, anxious feeling in my stomach. “You get me,” he said.