When I was young I got the silent treatment from my mother. It felt like I'd be in solitary confinement for the rest of my life. But her silence rarely lasted more than a day or so. When she'd finally speak to me again I'd feel redeemed. I'd swear to myself I'd be so good it would never happen again, that silence. But, of course, it happened again. Many times. For years I thought the problem was me.
I didn't realize that all over the world, millions of other mothers were doing the same thing to their children.
I've realized that this kind of silence is "incoming". Other people's silence affects me. I take it personally. Even now, in my seventh decade of life, when someone is silent I assume I've done something wrong.
Here are some examples:
- I communicate with my adult children mostly by text. If I don't hear from them within a day or so, I think they don't want to talk to me because I am a bad mother.
- My husband is a morning person and likes to spend a couple of hours in the first part of the day eating breakfast, reading the paper and working the crossword puzzle. If I start a conversation he sometimes gets annoyed. I think he cares more about the Seattle Times than he does about me.
- I send a Facebook message to a bereaved friend. She doesn't respond for two days. I think it's because she thinks I am a nuisance.
If I were reading this in someone else's blog I would probably laugh. It's obvious even to me that people are just living their lives. They're not being silent to punish me. The adult me knows that. The little kid me doesn't.
Here are some legitimate reasons why other people might be silent:
- They are busy doing things besides texting. Like reading or sleeping or camping.
- They are spending time alone, in quiet.
- They are grieving.
- They feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed or afraid.
"Outgoing" silence is a different matter. I do this a lot. I'm a talker, but not always.
Here are some reasons why I might be silent:
- I am writing. This blogging business takes time and care, and so does the other writing I do. I am within myself and there is no room for anyone else in there.
- I am having a conversation. I rarely answer my phone when I'm sitting face to face with someone else. I want my complete attention to be on what's going on between us.
- I am keeping a confidence. In the vault of my heart I carry the secrets of my family and friends. Not the "elephant in the living room" kind, where we keep the conversation light and just don't talk about important stuff, but the secrets that keep people awake in the night until they find someone safe they can tell who will hear them without judging. Listening to someone else, and carrying their confidences, is just about the most important gift I can give them.
I am a grownup now, and I know the silence of others is not about me. It is about them.