Live Through This

Use Your Words

If psychic powers are the cost of admission to knowing you, you’ll be awfully lonely.

Now I can hear the rest of you saying, “This sounds like it’d be really squirmy and difficult to do,” and guess what? You’re right. It can be hard. The best relationships are filled with squirmy difficulty from time to time. Not only do you have to actually know your own emotions and what you want, you also have to be willing to be a little bit vulnerable and let the other person in on what’s happening inside you. Admitting that certain kinds of jokes upset you, or that you need comfort, can make you feel naked and exposed. But if it’s someone you’re close to, showing vulnerability can only serve to make you closer. If your sincere requests end up being fodder for jokes, or dismissed, maybe this person isn’t someone you should have a close relationship with. Good thing you found out now!

But how do you do it? How do you break this “unreasonable expectation → inevitable disappointment” pattern that’s created when you expect people to read your mind? Even though I strive for transparency and fairness in all my relationships, I still have to work on it too, as you’ve seen. Here’s what “working on it” looks like for me:

1. See what’s happening from the outside.
During interactions that feel too full of emotion for me, I imagine that I am watching what’s happening between my husband/mom/friend and me on television. (What a boring reality show this would be.) This is a great technique any time you find yourself reading between the lines of an actual conversation too much. If someone were watching your interaction on television, would they be like, “Oh smack, he’s totally ignoring her!” or would they be like, “Here are two people discussing what they want to eat”? If the viewers at home can’t tell how you’re feeling from your words and body language, maybe your crush/dad/BFF can’t either. Bringing this level of objectivity to your interactions, now what do you do? Glad you asked:

2. Now go inside: figure out what you’re feeling and why.
When you feel disappointed by what a loved one said or did or didn’t say/do, what is going on inside you, where no one else can see? Do you expect that on your birthday, the whole day should be devoted to celebrating? Other people may not know that. Did you get a haircut, and then get irritated when no one mentioned it? You may love your haircut and want your friend to gush about it; hate it and think that your friend’s silence means she hates it too; or you may feel neutral about it and are waiting for your friend’s judgment to help you figure out how you feel about it. Any of these things could be true, but from the outside, you just look like a girl sitting there quietly with a fresh new haircut. If you can articulate why you’re disappointed, you might be able to spot the point where you were expecting telepathy from other people, and then go back and communicate what you need. And no fair saying “I’m just mad!” Anger always comes from somewhere, and it’s often just a mask for fear or sadness. What are you actually feeling? Be honest with yourself. You might have to keep digging for a while, asking yourself harder questions until an answer comes up that rings true.

3. Figure out what you want, how the other person can help, and whether it’s a reasonable request.
Now that you know how you’re feeling, you can start to focus on what you want. How can the other person help you feel better? What would make you feel cared for; what would give you the little morale boost you need? Examples of perfectly reasonable desires and requests: extra attention, a latte, to be left alone, for someone to clean up after themselves, to be not teased. These, on the other hand, are examples of unreasonable requests: “Stop being stupid.” “Just understand me.” “Take care of everything.” Reasonable requests are specific and (somewhat) easily done; unreasonable ones force the other person to translate what something like “understanding you” means. If you don’t know concretely what you want, neither will the other person.

3. Communicate your request.
This is where all that fun vulnerability we discussed earlier comes into play. Take a deep breath, look the other person in the eye, and use this setup: “I am feeling ____, and would like you to ____. Do you think that’ll work?” Always keep things in terms of what you are feeling and what you are requesting (not ordering) from the other person, rather than how they “messed up” and how much it hurt you. The key here is “I statements.” Instead of saying, “You are really bad about knowing when I’ve had a bad day,” say, “I’ve had a bad day and would love it if you could give me a neck massage.” It just frames things more positively. Now, if the situation involves extra onions on your sandwich, you might feel like expressing how you’re feeling is a bit much—in that case you can skip straight to the request. The most important thing is that you communicate your desires clearly, rather than using sneaky backdoor methods to get what you want. Sneaky backdoor methods, by the way, include things like crying when you’re not that upset in order to be comforted, picking a fight with someone about something random when you’re irritated that they’re not reading your mind, and guilting someone into doing things for you.

None of this is going to come easily for you right away, especially if this is a pattern you established a long time ago and have been perfecting for years. But if there are things you want in this life—and I hope there are—you are going to have to make your desire for those things known, no matter how risky that feels. The alternative is that you never get what you want, and you simmer with resentment about it for the rest of your time on earth. There is no third possibility wherein everything you’ve ever dreamed of just magically falls into your lap, however much I wish there were.

People are terrifying, and relationships are hard, but people are also the best, and relationships make us human and everything else more bearable. The millions of ways we interact with all of the people in our lives will always (I hope!) be a forest we’re all stumbling through together. But it’s nice to have a couple of signposts to guide us along the way. ♦


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  • tangratoe March 4th, 2013 11:26 PM

    This article came at the perfect time for me, I just had a problem like this a few days ago and this has definitely helped give me some perspective.

    Thank you :)

  • n March 4th, 2013 11:35 PM

    thank you for this.

  • takebackyourpower March 4th, 2013 11:57 PM

    love this. but where is the option for ‘you asked for what you wanted in ‘I” language, clearly and your loved one just didn’t give it to you?’

    • M. Kitka March 5th, 2013 4:18 AM

      Here it is! :-)

      “If your sincere requests end up being fodder for jokes, or dismissed, maybe this person isn’t someone you should have a close relationship with. Good thing you found out now!”

  • cherrycola27 March 5th, 2013 12:59 AM

    This article is so perfect, and almost perfect timing! I wish I would have read this yesterday, so that I wouldn’t have gotten into a dumb fight with my boyfriend because he didn’t want to dress up fancy and throw Great Gastby party with me.
    I have such a hard time telling people what I’m feeling and what I need, but it extra sucks because I can’t hide my emotions at all so I usually just end up looking like I’m about to/wanting to cry because I’m afraid to say how I’ll feel. I bookmarked this before I even finished reading it. I’m definitely going to try and stop this pattern.

    • clairedh March 5th, 2013 7:01 AM

      I am right there with you in the ‘I’m about to/want to cry” except that I actually bust out in tears so much so that I can’t talk. But once they’re gone I can usually say what I need to say 100x clearer than I would if I had held back the tears. I’m bookmarking this too and writing the steps in a place where I will see it often so I can practice.
      Thank you for this article. Rookie is the best :)

  • OH NO March 5th, 2013 1:09 AM

    So this is unrelated, but what, exactly, is Rookie’s relationship to Say Media? Just noticed the red ” at the bottom of the screen, and their “About Us” is filled with all the imprecise, creepy, corporate-y language that I really distrust, and mentions “purchasing patterns.”

    • Anaheed March 5th, 2013 7:05 AM

      They sell advertising for us.

      • pinnedtothepage March 5th, 2013 11:31 PM

        Anaheed, I always like your style. For realll.

  • sloththefifth March 5th, 2013 2:14 AM

    These words were just what I needed. Thank you!

  • Audrey Horne March 5th, 2013 2:14 AM

    I’ve struggled with opening up to people my whole life. Currently I’m in a relationship with a fella I completely adore, but he’s a little closed-off too. I feel like unless we change our approach, things between us won’t last as long as they could. So far I’ve been pretty successful at not letting this sabotage our relationship with the old “ignore it until it goes away” technique. But there have been some close calls.

    I actually couldn’t sleep earlier because I was busy having a hypothetical conversation with my him in my head about this topic. I would really love to be in a relationship where I can communicate freely with my s/o. So far the only thing stoping that from happening is myself. I really need to work on this, because I feel like in a way I’m taking the relationship for granted and missing out on the full experience, since I don’t share my feelings.

    It’s difficult but hopefully I can work up the courage to change this, and find out what happens when I tell someone whats on my mind instead of holding it in and waiting for them to figure it out.

  • María Inés Gul March 5th, 2013 3:06 AM


  • Jasmine March 5th, 2013 3:08 AM

    How do you just open up to people and communicate with them about your feelings?
    I have a hard time just sharing personal feelings with anyone (friends, family, etc.) and it usually leads to some sort of conflict which could’ve been avoided if I had just been open about what I was feeling/needed.
    I just really don’t know how to take that “talking about it” step..

  • enchantedviolin March 5th, 2013 4:29 AM

    Great article! And very important for maintaining close and happy relationships.

    I learnt to express my feelings the hard way!

    I always assumed it was the ‘girl’s prerogative’ to be understood without having to say what I wanted or what was bugging me…my ex also felt the same way. Whenever we fought or I had accidentally upset her she would never tell me straight out how she was feeling or what I had done. It became so frustrating. I told her if she didn’t tell me I wouldn’t know how to change and whereas I made the effort to improve my communication she stayed the same. The relationship stopped being fun because I felt I always had to walk on egg shells around her. It was definitely one of the reasons why we ended up parting ways.

    I call it the ‘mind reading game’ because that’s essentially why we do it. We play silent because we want the attention of someone fawning over us. But it really isn’t fun for the other person. They just feel confused and hurt that you won’t tell them up straight.

    I try to always be up front about this sort of stuff with friends and family now (though sometimes I do still find myself playing the game). I hope for much happier future relationships because of this choice :-)

  • LeavesThatAreGreen March 5th, 2013 4:32 AM

    Thanks, this was very useful! :) I suppose I’ll have to start telling people how I feel…

  • Naomi Morris March 5th, 2013 4:59 AM

    this is one of THE best articles i’ve read and is so relevant to my life

  • Lascelles March 5th, 2013 7:21 AM

    Am I the only disappointed this article wasn’t about ACTUAL physic powers :D

  • Emma S. March 5th, 2013 7:25 AM

    Emily, this is vital information. Thank you. xoxo

  • MaddieMae March 5th, 2013 8:12 AM

    Thanks so much for this article, Emily!
    I find that I have a really hard time communicating with people, and end up shutting them out or getting angry (which I’m also not very good at dealing with). It’s weird to me because I love helping other people feel better about their bad days, but whenever I’ve had a bad day I feel like I don’t need anyone else’s help, which leads to me shutting people out.

  • flapperhatgirl March 5th, 2013 9:04 AM

    Actually, I was just thinking about how I really need to “improve my communication skills.”

    I mean, I’m the sort of person who uses phrases like “improve my communication skills,” so it’s pretty obvious I need help : P

    I’m very close to my mom, but it’s hard.

  • alisatimi March 5th, 2013 9:14 AM

    This is so great and so relevant. I went from sharing EVERY feeling I had and overloading people with my problems to not sharing anything at all once I realized I was being selfish. In the end though, both extremes are selfish – either way I was constantly demanding something from others or blaming them for not giving me what I wanted. I’m trying to find some sort of balance now…

  • Abby March 5th, 2013 10:00 AM


  • wallflower152 March 5th, 2013 10:04 AM

    Great article. I’m a pretty easygoing person and I don’t get upset easy but when I do I don’t let people know. I’ve just started to realize how un-feminist that is because in romantic relationships, for example, I’m known to be “low maintenance” so even if something upsets me I don’t mention it for the benefit of the other person. I’m just starting to realize how stupid this is and trying to stop. And in friendships too, friends have learned to think they can pretty much treat me however they want/say whatever they want and it won’t bother me and I’ll be there the next time they need me. Sad day.

  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild March 5th, 2013 10:40 AM

    Such a great article. I know so many fights in past relationships have started because I’ve assumed my partner knew exactly what I’m thinking…I’m trying a more open line of communication in the relationship I’m in now, and this article certainly helps.

    <3 Melissa

  • Becka Louise March 5th, 2013 11:28 AM

    I have a hard time opening up to people and asking for help, I usually just stay quiet when I’m upset and try my best not to let on to any of my friends, yet all I want is for them to just know! I’m always helping my friends out and I would realise if anything was wrong with them, so why can’t they be the same with me? But I know it’s unfair to ask that of them. I’m trying to find the medium between wanting my friends to be psychic, and telling them too much for that extra bit of comfort, and I think I can do it now :) This article was amazing, thank you so much <3

  • Tangerine March 5th, 2013 1:08 PM

    I am such a player of this horrible game, and have been playing it my whole life. I’ve even played it with therapists, quitting after a few sessions because we didn’t “mesh.” Opening up to people is scary, even to my sister or mom. And don’t get me started on strangers (people I’ve known less than three months.) So not acting this way is hella hard for me, and I appreciate how comprehensive and sage this article is. <3

    My favorite piece on Rookie so far, hands down.

  • Maddie Hardy March 5th, 2013 3:48 PM

    Amazing article!!! I’ve been guilty of doing this to my friends and family for years– good to know that I’m not alone and it can improve~

  • billie March 5th, 2013 4:57 PM

    I often feel like I’m stuck between wanting people to automatically know what I’m thinking/feeling, and wanting to keep things to myself. It just leads to me shutting people out and somehow resenting them for it even though it’s /my/ fault.

    This is such a great article. Thanks, Rookie!

  • spudzine March 5th, 2013 7:40 PM

    Wow, I think it’s truly amazing how Rookie always-ALWAYS-seems to have in just the right articles at just the right times. I have this problem too, and it wasn’t until yesterday did I decide to do something about it. And now I know how!

  • Mayabett March 5th, 2013 8:32 PM

    I learned this method of dealing with problems recently and it helps so much! I’m so skilled at solving issues with other people now. I feel like by using this, I’ve also helped my friends and family get better at it too, which they’re really happy about!

  • Rutabagas March 5th, 2013 8:53 PM

    Nice. I have a close friend who calls me every night. Whenever I have a bad day, she senses it immediately and asks me what’s wrong. Unfortunately, as said in this article, not everyone has this super power.

  • lankafish March 5th, 2013 9:09 PM

    wonderful and practical

  • hiraari March 5th, 2013 9:46 PM

    this is really helpful!
    thank you so much

  • Rocio Perez March 5th, 2013 10:47 PM

    Expecting other people to just know how I feel is exactly what led me to break up with my ex-boyfriend. It was really painful because I truly cared for him, and had wanted to be with him for a long time, but at the moment I didn’t see that I was wrong, and it took quite a while for me to realize that.
    Now I’m in a new relationship, and even though I’ve become a little more vocal about my feelings and needs, I’m still scared that I’ll do the same thing. And that has been on my mind quite a lot lately, so this came just at the right time.
    Great article, Emily, thanks for sharing this!

  • mulberry March 6th, 2013 1:37 PM

    This is fantastic, and the ending especially reminds me of Nonviolent Communication! I feel super duper corny saying it but when I first started reading about NVC (the four basic steps are making objective observations, identifying your feelings, identifying your needs, and making a request–much like the four things Emily suggested!), it was a HUMONGOUSLY powerful tool for me to use in my personal road to chilling the eff out in life. I had been in a definite funk for a lot of years wherein most of my relationship-y interactions were painfully swollen up with a pretty powerful inner emotional dialogue that no one knew about but me. I totally blew things out of proportion a lot of the time, and felt really truly awful about things that probably meant nothing to anybody but me. Okay, I still do this sometimes. But I do find that when I challenge myself to go through the process of separating things out like, “What specifically is happening in this situation? I put my ukulele down, he picked his guitar up and started playing. How did that make me feel? Well, I feel kind of worried, disappointed maybe, and a little hurt. Perhaps I’m craving recognition or reassurance right now.” A lot of times, I end up feeling a lot calmer and closer to the truth of things than if I just went with the old, “OH MY GOD HE DOESN’T THINK I’M A SPECIAL AND AMAZING LITTLE FLOWER ANYMORE HE’S NOT AMAZED BY MY HIDDEN TALENT HE DOESN’T LOVE ME HE’S GOING TO BECOME CHARMED BY SOMEONE ELSE WOOOOOE IS MEEEEE” routine. I also feel a lot more well-prepared to actually communicate if I decide I want to.

  • mulberry March 6th, 2013 1:44 PM

    Also, can I just say that I am constantly amazed by the awesomeness of the whole Rookie community? Every time I read something here I end up being just as inspired by the comments as I am by the (very well-written and inspiring) pieces themselves. I get such a strong sense of respect, authenticity, and growth from sososo much of what I read here. Thanks for being so rad, people!!!

  • booksaremyonlyfriends March 9th, 2013 9:01 PM

    I’ve never had a problem with casual sex; I love to feel good and I don’t like commitment. It worked for me. Then I met him! And I fell in love. It was a very scary thing, and I tried to run away from it. I was scared of having expectations, and for the right reason. One night I was having a terrible night and throwing one of my crazy-girl fits. I ran out of the house and he followed me. I wanted him to; he got that right.

    But he wasn’t saying the right things. He was either saying way too much or WAY too little. It just made everything worse. I knew exactly what I wanted him to say and it hurt me so deeply that he wasn’t able to say it.

    So, on an impulse, I looked at him and yelled “Dude! I just need you to tell me that I’m smart and you value who I am!” He said it. And he meant it, too. I could tell. Problem solved.

    Opening up to him that way not only took me into a world of emotions I never thought possible, it also made the sex the best I’ve ever had.


  • Maradoll Mynx March 17th, 2013 9:59 PM

    All of that said, there is a particular brand of friend who will read your signals easily and always seems to say the right things and ask the right questions. It is an especially sensitive brand of friend. These sensitive types are the types I prefer. I always hold out for them. They are around. If you like someone who is emotionally attentive, you don’t need to label yourself “high maintenance” or “seeking psychic friends.” It’s simply a personal preference. You are not somehow wrong for wanting it. Set your standards high for other people, ladies. Sensitive people are out there for those of us who are selective enough to wait for that type of friend.

  • Emilie June 21st, 2013 6:07 PM