There have to be people in one’s life that a person can have easier conversations with. I don’t understand why many relationships have to be comprised mainly of intense and confrontational conversations. Always the big ‘life’ conversations! It’s not just a pet peeve for me; it’s a physiological issue as well. Whenever I feel myself getting into a potentially contentious interaction my stomach seizes up, I feel light headed, hot and my heart starts to beat a million miles a minute. I seem to have developed, in my adult life, a serious case of ostrich syndrome – a constant need to bury my head in the sand when it comes to certain people in my life.
Let me explain.
By any standards, 28 is not such a bad age to still be finding yourself and the things that define you as a person. However, it is not a good age to be single and a woman in African culture. It’s not a good time to be attending family weddings because every second person in attendance asks you, “When is your turn?” It’s bad enough if you attend these family events alone. But even if you attend with the same person every time, you are still the person they ask this same question. Never mind that when it comes to proposals, the woman has little to no control over when or if that happens. More often than not the conversation steers to murkier territory. They start to explore the reasons why you are not yet married. They even talk about you like you are not standing right there. They say you are too focused on your career and your independence and that probably scares men away. This is the height of irony. You can’t be too independent for fear of scaring of men but men don’t want women who need them for everything. You now have to fit this balancing act into an already saturated work/life schedule. There is simply no winning. So there you are; a painful smile stuck to your face, while yet another knocked up 22 year old cousin of yours has a wedding. Enduring hard conversation after hard conversation and kicking yourself for making your family think you don’t drink.
Another thing that our society cannot abide is even a hint of a shift in focus. I wanted to be a journalist from as early as I can remember. When all the other kids in my class wanted to be pilots, doctors and engineers – I wanted to be a journalist. I would watch CNN and stare at the crawl from the first days that my family could afford satellite television. I read three grades above my level in a bid to perfect my command of the English Language in preparation for that moment when I would finally get the chance to pursue my dream. I was enamoured by it all. The idea of telling people’s stories and being in the thick of the action. But, when I finished high school my parents told me that while they supported the fact that I had dreams, they were only willing to pay for an education that would lead to a ‘stable’ career and guaranteed job prospects.
So, given that the sight of blood makes me faint to this day and that I have no patience for equations, physics or the law, I did the only thing that remained: I became an Accountant. Five years, one internship and one degree into it I found myself at a crossroads – unsure of which avenue to take next in my career. So I decided to take the year to figure out how I want to proceed. There are so many avenues, none that I am at all keen to pursue, so I needed the year to decide which one is the least objectionable alternative. This news was not met with any degree of understanding. I had to sit through yet another hard conversation about how I have lost focus and how I cannot allow myself to be content to just have this one thing done and how I must aspire to an advanced degree and other greater things in life.
My internship was what is termed a ‘learnership’. Essentially, you require a combination of academic progress and work experience progress to stay within the programme. This had been the bane of my existence for four years. See, I needed the academic progress to stay in the job; I needed the job to fund the academic progress; but the nature of the job was such that it left no time for studying and this put me in a position where I sometimes struggled to achieve academic progress. This vicious cycle was my mountain to climb and I am no quitter. In the end I finished my degree which entitled me to get a year rebate off my internship and after years of what my boss called ‘ voluntary slavery ‘ it was finally over. I learned a lot about myself those four years. I mostly learned about all the things I don’t like. Unfortunately that list was long and the list of things I do like was short and comprised of things that are generally not financially viable. After the internship, the difference was I no longer had to report to a training officer – gone was the academic progress rule and the bi-annual hard conversation about my grades. I thought, “Wow, one less hard conversation I need to have in my life.”
To say I was wrong would be the understatement of the millennium. My boss got it into her head that I was the stuff strong business women are made of and that my decision to take a year off studying was lazy, inconsiderate (because all things about my life are not about me) and I was not even trying to be her success story. Not only had I been mistaken in thinking that my time of hard conversation at work was behind me, I had never even considered the possibility that it could be worse after the internship. I was now subject to daily higher level hard conversations about my future.
We all have ‘that’ friend. The one you only speak to a handful of times a year. That friend who you haven’t seen in years even though you live only an hour apart. Unconsciously, you have both made the decision to be ‘those’ friends. Two phone calls a year, sporadic communication on instant messaging and the occasional ‘like’ on Facebook. Knowing this about your friendship, she texts you to tell you she’s pregnant and then proceeds to demand of you a baby shower. Never mind, you don’t know any of each other’s other friends – who would you even invite? Never mind that you don’t even know who she was dating and asking who the father of the baby is probably isn’t the right course of action. Never mind that in all your years of friendship, she has never come to any of the important moments you have invited her to.
This is the same friend who then plans her own baby shower and then once again texts you an invite which, to be honest, felt like an afterthought invitation. You know you aren’t going but because you are wary of another hard conversation, you simply do not reply. Then she texts again a week later asking if she should be reading something from your silence and if you even want to be friends anymore. Sigh. Another hard conversation from a person who for all intents and purposes, has no emotional claim to the level of investment it would take to have this hard conversation. So finally you delete and block because this feels like one hard conversation you don’t need to have.
And then there is the guy you’ve sort of been seeing. It was all sunshine and roses the first time you met. Then the doubts started to creep in. It was always little things. How his phone is off whenever you are with him. How he gets messages from people saved as ‘baby’ on his phone. How he hates to hear about you having been sick and not having told him but doesn’t bother to come see you when do tell him you are sick. How he’s only ‘keen to see you’ when there is the possibility of getting some. Until such a time when you are finally honest with yourself and you admit that he appears to have a whole other life that you are not a part of. A life that you will never be a part of. Meanwhile, you are investing emotionally and to lesser extent financially into this person. With your luck in men he’s probably married. Having all these reservations about him and your whole situation together, do you really need to sit down and ask about where things are going and what you are? Is this hard conversation really worth it?
When people rope you into a hard conversation they generally think they are coming off as they mean – full of good intentions. It never quite translates that way though, the road to hell and all that. Friends, family, potential lovers and colleagues. Not a single person that one can just call and talk about general things with. To discuss the reviews of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. To mourn the loss of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show with. A multitude of people who claim to love you and not a single person who would spare you the one thing you detest the most. Not a single person to have an easy conversation with.