Could Sally Rooney please take a step out of my life? Seriously, why can she eloquently play out the scenes of reality in a fictional sense? Not an overdramatized way that glosses over the reality of relationships in your early twenties as messy and full of miscommunication. As I read Normal People and Conversations with Friends, I found myself reflected in the pages. The moments where characters just missed the reality of a situation as they failed to account for the other’s side. The unwinding of bonds, all due to a few words that would remain forever unsaid.
Communication seems so simple. All that it requires is being aware of your own feelings and letting others know. I spent countless hours searching for answers when it could all be found in my asking a single question. Relationships, friendships, it’s all the same. My teenage years can be epitomized with this notion of miscommunication. Moments and relationships all lost to this lack of communication. Looking back, I see what went wrong. Especially when I would reconnect with someone and share our own truths. There was never a blatant attempt to wrong someone; the moment was just another victim of miscommunication.
Illuminating my lack of communication skills were the all too familiar storylines brought to life by Sally Rooney. Her stories are perhaps the gold standard for communication issues. There aren’t many instances of strife between her characters that cannot be traced back to a conversation left half-finished or entirely unsaid. For example, Normal People’s Connell and Marianne would seemingly mutually break up because one was moving home for the summer. Neither of them wished to separate, but they assumed that ending the relationship was what the other wanted, without question.
In Conversations with Friends, Frances would isolate herself from everyone in her life while navigating a life-changing chronic pain diagnosis. Rather than letting in those closest to her, she shut down and shut them out. Unfortunately, the decision to do so would lead to a domino effect of relationships falling to pieces and those same people choosing to walk away from Frances altogether.
There was no greater frustration for me than watching these lives fall apart, all for a failure to communicate. Yet, the solution to all their problems lay right in front of them, so why did they not take it? From the outside in, I saw the missed steps and lost messages. I saw the ease with which everything could be made right. Still, it was also here that I saw how as much as I hate to admit it, I do the exact same thing.
When things in my life get hard, I cut myself out of society. I isolate and go M.I.A for a while. I am hard to reach, as answering messages just becomes too much to bear. I am hard to be with, as I am just stressing out over every last detail of my life. I lose friends, memories, time. It’s not until I get out of these tunnels of self-despair that I have to do the apology tour. I have to re-enter society and put myself back into the narrative of life. I am very much like Frances in this way. I don’t like vulnerability. I don’t like asking for help. For some unexplained reason, I’d rather the loneliness of living alone than the comfort of others.
When it comes to relationships, I will always assume the best in others’ intentions. I am not one to go against years of friendship for the sake of one conflict. However, I am also quick to overthink and overanalyze. I choose to see the relationship solely from my own thoughts, not always linking the imaginative components with the reality of the situation. Once more, witnessing this failure to live outside one’s own mind in Rooney’s works, I see the harm caused by doing so. If I can so easily acknowledge these terrible patterns of miscommunication in others, why can I never seem to recognize them in my own life?
It’s as if I am standing on the precipice of some interpersonal greatness. I just can’t seem to shake my own mind enough to see the other side. Like many of Rooney’s characters, I am confined to my own perspective, my own perception. I cannot see past this version of the world that I have created.
When you are so cemented in your own ways, there is no possibility of understanding the differences in our daily living. No matter how much I feel like I know you, there will be some version that I have yet to meet. It is the many versions of ourselves that come together to create the mastery of our own perspectives. Even still, we still seek to know why we act the way we do, all from the one version of a person we know.
The magic of Sally Rooney’s works is that they see right through the facades we like to put up. I would never admit to my terrible communication skills, yet I have no issue growing frustrated watching these fictional worlds come crashing down because of my exact mistakes. There is no hiding behind self-awareness, as this hyper-focused sense of self is often rooted in our lack of perspective. At this point in my life, viewpoints are singular. Everything I have known is grounded in my sense of knowing, not necessarily reality. Resulting in an ebb and flow of unknowns, a miscellaneous collection of unsaid words and unresolved issues.
The perspectives we bear become the lens we understand our lives. Not knowing the context in which another person is coming from means we take it upon ourselves to speculate. We dig around, we imagine the possibilities, and worst of all, we assume. This lack of communication seems to be a common thread looping together many in their early twenties. Confined to our own views, we remain to see the world one-dimensionally.
Through my love of Sally Rooney’s books, I have become undeniably aware of my contribution to a culture of miscommunication. I have seen the frustration of the disconnected nature of the relationships defining my early adulthood. Rooney novels were my great awakening to an issue I never believed I had. Of course, no one wants to admit to weakness in communication, but this recognition may just be the source of growth that has long been sought after.
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