Does every conversation contain within it the entire background of the relationship? Does every word then have more meaning if it is spoken between two people with a history? And if so, then how much use is it to analyze what is said and how it is said?
The basic problem between Voice and me is this. She sees me as her boyfriend and expects me to act that way. In public, I am friendly and fun, sometimes the entertainer of the group, other times the host, other times enjoying a side conversation. I like women. I don't hide it. I don't hide it even when I'm with someone, though I do respect that person and stay by her side. But I'm not with Voice, and I'm not going to bust through a phalanx of Auto and Management and whoever else to beg for her attention. I am going to, as the PUAs would say, live in my own reality and have my own fun. That means talking to women, and not just as asexual beings. Voice hates this, and gets jealous, and it consistently wrecks our private time.
One friend, not a close one, but one I flirt with some, I'll call Cell. For months, Cell and I have been pretty close. I think Cell is damned hot, but for as long as I've known her the thing with Voice has been going on. So real feelings for Voice have always held me back from making any moves on Cell. The other night I heard (from Voice, who's her friend) that Cell was seeing some dude. I wasn't upset, I didn't feel like I'd missed an opportunity. I was happy for her. The next time I talked to Cell, I asked her about the dude. That was my mistake. I didn't realize it was a secret, and I should have more discretion. So she figures it out, goes to the source, and then I get the punishment call from Voice.
"When I tell you something in private, it's private."
That was legitimate, I thought. I had miscalculated - I didn't realize it was a secret to anyone. "Okay. I'm sorry."
Then the punishment part: "Are you going to tell her about this conversation too?"
Now, maybe she was legitimately afraid I would, but I think it was a rhetorical question, one she didn't need to ask, one that was just to cause a little extra hurt. Because for the past few days - and, indeed, in much of our conversation for years - she's been talking about being stressed to her limits, busy with work, strained by her other relationships, and taxed to the bone, without the energy to fight, I then have to just absorb the attack.
"No, I won't," I said, as straight as possible.
"This is stupid. I should go do my work." Here, too, a set of implications chosen for punishment. The word "stupid". This is all beneath her (not so far beneath her that she didn't call, but beneath her when it's time to hang up - on her schedule).
"Okay" - I let irritation creep in to that. I didn't have much of a defense anyway. If there had been any doubt, I should not have said anything.
I hang up. Now I'm cold and angry, feeling like I've just been slapped around. The only things I could have done were to
* escalate, and call her out for the attack explicitly. She would have defended herself, we would have fought, and it would have ended with her reminding me that she doesn't want to fight me.
* take it completely and be apologetic. But I don't feel that and don't want to build resentment.
Was there another move? Was there a way to defend myself without escalating? To turn the conversation in a more productive direction? To reassure her that her secrets are safe with me, explain how I didn't realize this was a secret, without having to take what felt like a gratuitous hit?
Or, does it go beyond the language and the conversation to the fact that our whole relationship is fucked up to the core? I think there are ways to navigate these situations better, but I also don't want to start thinking language is magic, and forget that some situations should just be avoided.