Monday, February 20, 2006

Emotional Icebergs

Sometimes I dream about having the sort of talkative, boisterous family that can have enjoyable meals and parties together. With discussion, laughter, maybe a bit of argument. But with noise and with life.

In my family though, eating, even eating in a restaurant, becomes a silent affair. The art of conversation just seems to have passed us by. I try to get them talking, but a question about their recent holiday is met by a short answer and doesn't go anywhere. It's stilted and strained. Instead we just focus on the food, pushing it round the plate to kill time, keeping our mouths full so that we have an excuse not to talk, nibbling on bread long after the hunger has gone just because it's something to do, something to distract us from the fact that we're just not communicating. Watching the hands on the clock spin slowly round as we count down the time until the silent torture is over. No long lingering coffee at the end, savouring the experience. Fuel and move on, with barely a word spoken between us.

It's always been like that. Not so much when we eat with my grandparents, but with my parents even the nicest meal out can become something to endure rather than something to enjoy. Something to get through. And of course it's not just meals. It's sitting in the house with them, travelling by car with them. I try to find a seed to spark a conversation, and usually I fail. At their house the tv fills the gap. It's on no matter whether there's anything worth watching or not. Sitting in the corner of the room, filling the house with noise to take away the emptiness. Whereas I only turn the television on if there's something I actually want to watch, which draws attention to the lack of conversation even more.

I end up going to bed far earlier when I'm with my parents (either at their house or mine), because it rescues me from sitting in a room with nothing to say. I go to bed and I dream of being part of a less emotionally cold family, of being able to entertain ourselves rather than relying on television or food or drink. I dream of another life when I'm chatty and vivacious because I've been brought up in an environment that encouraged me to be like that.

It's no wonder I rarely feel lonely. My experience of being surrounded by people makes me feel far more lonely and isolated than actually being on my own does. On my own I can have wonderful conversations with myself, but with other people, with family, I feel like I should be giving them attention, doing something with them, when there seems to be little that they want to do. We got in yesterday afternoon and my mother went to bed feeling ill, while my father sat down at the computer to edit his photos from their holiday in Egypt.

Over time food became a filler. Food is something that helps to take away the boredom. Food is the only thing tenuously holding us together, no matter how painful it looks while we sit there and silently eat it. Without that, even the limited conversation we have would wither away and die. We eat because we don't talk, because we can still have some semblance of a relationship.

I'm sure there are seeds there for my relationship with food and indeed my relationships with other people, but I'm not going to attempt to psychoanalyise myself to the nth degree. I'm not interested in reasons and recriminations. All I want is to work out how to bring some conversation and communication back into our relationship.


Blogger kathrynoh said...

Wow, it's so strange to read this because my family is the exact opposite - we are all loud and volatile and never shut up. It's no fun being on the end of the spectrum either and it still can be really isolating.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Haloranch said...

I'm sorry to hear that it's so difficult to spark a conversation between yourself and your parents. No doubt they are baffled by you right now. You have morphed into a beautiful woman 100 pounds thinner than she was a year ago, and you've done by yourself. What an amazing feat this is! I'm guessing they just don't know how to relate to you now. In a sense, you're a bit of a stranger to them because they probably didn't know the depth of your inner strength.

By trying to pull you off the healthy food path and back into their orbit of junk eating, I'm guessing they're trying to put things back on an even keel. This would give them the upper hand like it was when you were a child living at home.

I have no doubt that in their hearts they are extremely proud of what you have done. They just don't know how to express it to you and that's very sad. And that just becomes another nail in the conversational coffin you're living right now.

So, as an adult who has accomplished something amazing, allow them to join you in your lifestyle when they visit, and make no apologies. Serve the salads and healthy foods. If they grouse, they have a car and can hie themselves off to MacDonalds for a grease fix.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Fatslayer said...

Heh, I understand your frustration, YP, but be careful what you wish for!

My family is the loud, boisterous, riotous type that you long for, and because as children we all had to shout loudly over the din to make ourselves heard, I and all my siblings have grown into right trappy old loudmouths!

When we visit my family, Kim cracks after around half an hour and has to go and lie down in a darkened room with his headphones on to give him a break from ten people all talking at the same time in 5 separate conversations all at a decibel level that would make a pneumatic drill seem quiet and relaxing.

Silence is golden...

4:47 PM  

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