They can come at different times. Sometimes it’s the announcement that this new relationship is not going to fly. One of you wants it but one of you doesn’t.
Sometimes it’s after a substantial trial period. Again, one of you wants to keep on trucking but one of you is ready to take the next off-ramp.
It could come years later after a relationship or a marriage has been pursued. It runs out of gas or one of you loses control and drives off the road.
So you have the break-up conversation. Sometimes it comes as a relief that a decision is being made to cut the losses and change course. Sometimes it is the talk from hell where accusations and torrents of anger fly like stinging yellow jackets.
And yet I am curious: how true and intimate are those conversations? How much inner truth do we offer at the end, and is it better or worse than what we offered at the beginning? Or do we instead work on damage control and political expediency and say something phony? Or do we retreat and plot revenge and punishment?
DEATH AND DYING
Another conversational abyss for many people is the topic of death and dying.
I have been around so many people, including my parents, who did not want to share their views about the end of life. They did not openly philosophize about what happens after they flatline. Is there still juice at the end or are we completely dried out and crumbly?
When people keep their feelings and opinions locked up tight inside themselves, it creates some real issues during the end-game. For one thing, it makes it hard for the caregivers and survivors to know exactly how to please those who are dying. If you gave no special requests, you get what you ask for.
For the people dying it means that they suddenly have to confront their fears or beliefs unassisted. Maybe they can no longer communicate. If it was too scary to discuss during the healthy days, when things were normal and death was not imminent, imagine it now.
People are afraid to talk about death, as if openly discussing it might bring it on faster or freak the dying person out.
When there are conversations with a dying person, how truthful are they? Is there any reality to it or is it fluff and show? I know that if I was on my deathbed, I would want to discuss my future and not pretend that I was going to get well soon. I’d like to talk about the death that will happen when my ride from heaven comes.
Death is a taboo topic. Hospice chaplain and author Terri Daniel called it the new sex. “Launching a public dialog about death in today’s world is similar to how my generation — the Baby Boomers — broke through the taboo about discussing sex prior to the sexual revolution in the 1960s.”
And so yeah, then there is sex.
A lot of people are under the illusion that we’ve outgrown our culture of secrets, shame, and lies about sex. I don’t think so. I think a lot of conversations that could be intimate aren’t because they never occur.
Sex has often become things we do to each other, not so much things we feel. We often make love to people’s bodies, overlooking making love to their minds. We jump into erotic habits and rituals because we have been conditioned to do it that way, but it’s often taken for granted or conducted on auto-pilot.
Often people do not share their feelings about what they like and don’t like sexually, much less converse about their deepest feelings of what this dance means to them. Yet as someone who has written about sexual relationships, both in fiction and nonfiction, I am frequently aware of hidden motives, conflicts, and passions that are not communicated to partners for a variety of reasons.
Can you communicate that you feel alone during a sexual experience? Do you share with your spouse or primary partner the fantasies, hopes, or desires that are most meaningful or exciting to you? Can you share your erotic personality without censoring or playing it safe?
As a creative writer, I have often written scenes about how relationships form and sometimes how they end. I’ve written about death (and afterlife) and I have written about sex.
Fiction may be pretend, but fiction also allows authors to explore deep insights. You don’t have to worry about libel or slander or credibility of your sources. So as I mastermind scenes in creative writing, I bear witness to each character, their motivations, their aspirations, their fears. I sometimes know them better than they know themselves.
I watch characters lie. I watch them dodge from expressing their true selves. I watch them invent cover stories to hide and protect their most vulnerable parts. I watch them injure people and in turn I watch them get injured.
In the meantime, I have my own well of experience to draw from. I have real-life exit scenes, some horrible, some amicable. I have my own relationship with death and dying and sex, which are frequently not held as sacred by the mainstream.
Through it all what fascinates me the most is all the stuff that people do not communicate. It’s what we don’t say. And, yes, I am guilty of it, too.
JUST LIKE GOVERNMENT
We learn from so many of our government and social institutions that people inform us of decisions, developments, and policies without telling us the real truth. They focus instead on their politically correct, organization-sanctioned stories.
When government or corporations announce anything, they have been overwritten by PR professionals and often lawyer-vetted.
The logic often gets all convoluted. They announce a price increase and claim it is a benefit for us “so we may serve you better.” They don’t say, “We’re just greedy bastards.”
And just think of how various companies handle disasters like plane and train crashes and industrial explosions and recalls and financial collapses.
And we learn through countless repetitions of this process that fudging is how the game is played. We learn to lie. We also learn that being secretive is somehow better for us than frolicking in an orgy of truth-telling.
Government often explains and excuses manipulation of data and the truth as being in the public interest. They are protecting us, they say. Aren’t they great?
If we all believed we were in Earth School — that there was a purpose to life on Earth and that it was to continually learn lessons about love — we might realize that speaking our unvarnished, unapologetic truth leads to personal growth and social improvements. I wonder what people would say to each other under those circumstances.
How could we make breaking up, dying, and sharing sexually more intimate and meaningful? How could we make them more profound learning experiences through open and honest communication? How could we heal each other even when facing difficult challenges and decisions?
Maybe, someday, we can figure this out. I am working on my own solution for me.