When I was still taking coursework, one of the requirements was a linguistics class. We read an article about a researcher who studied the language people use when speaking to close friends, relatives, or significant others versus the language that people use when speaking to strangers or people they don’t know as well. The study found that when speaking to people we know well, we have a tendency to use far more pronouns (as opposed to nouns) and other vague referents (for example, using a “code word” that refers to a mutually experienced event or story that both people know). On the other hand, when speaking to people we don’t know well, we have a tendency to use far more nouns (which are more specific) and to tell stories in their entirety.
This plays out in interesting ways when you start dating someone, because once you get past the very initial stages (let’s say about three months, which is my “shit or get off the pot” moment in dating) you have a tendency to start thinking that the other person knows you better than they do…and then you start getting vaguer and vaguer without realizing it. This can lead to misunderstandings if you’re not careful.
As Lance has said in other posts, it’s tacky to start bringing up your ex right away (and can be a sign that you’re not over the other person). However, as EMK mentions on his blog here, eventually you do have to dish the dirt. Those experiences are a huge part of what makes you, you–both in general, but particularly who you are in relationships. So eventually, all the dirty details have to come out. Now, my BF was in a four-year relationship before me, so the majority of his stories are about her. During those same four years, I was essentially single (dating, but nothing earth-shatteringly serious going on). So my stories tended to be about a variety of people that I’d “hooked up with” on Match.
Now, according to the slang that I was familiar with from college, “hooking up” with someone meant making out with someone. Unfortunately, according to his slang it meant sleeping with someone. Now, my BF’s relationship history involved far more long-term monogamous relationships than mine, and he told me in the first four or five months that we dated that he was jealous that I’d dated casually more than he ever would (should things continue to go well with us). When he and his ex broke up, he was looking forward to casual dating but said that he recognized what a once in a lifetime opportunity I was. Therefore, he didn’t regret at all passing up on a few flings (which honestly, I doubt he would have done anyway, he’s far too cautious both emotionally and physically/disease-wise).
However, I was inadvertently giving him the impression that he was missing out on way more than he actually was, and he was way more jealous of my past than he would have otherwise been. Whenever I talked about a Match guy that I’d hooked up with, I was saying that I’d kissed the dude in question, and the BF thought that I was sleeping with everyone in sight! Not only that, but because he’d formed that particular vision of me, he’d consistently been misinterpreting jokes that my friends made–i.e., assuming that they were referring to specific stories about me when they were just perverted jokes because my friends are, well, perverts. Now, on the one hand it’s easy to argue that it’s silly and counter-productive to be jealous of someone’s past, because all that matters is the person they are now, with you. While that’s certainly true, it’s easier said than done for a lot of people. And regardless of whether you’re adhering to that ideal, in any conversation it’s best to know what you’re each actually referring to rather than filling in the blanks.
“Kicking it in the Head”
On Sunday we were trying to decide how to spend our day. We needed to go to the grocery store and to the gym, but didn’t really want to do either. We thought we might go and see The Ruins. The BF suggested that we “kick the supermarket and gym in the head” and go see the movie. We went back and forth and I eventually agreed, and ran off to the shower. Turns out that to “kick something in the head” means to decide not to do it at all. I thought he was suggesting we get our chores done as quickly as possible so that we’d still have time to go to the movie afterwards. Hm.
Bottom line, don’t ever underestimate how long it takes to truly get to know someone–while you can develop your own inside language pretty quickly, there’s bound to be all sorts of misunderstandings as you start incorporating your own friends/family/ex language into your new relationship. Some, like “kicking it in the head,” are funny and easily resolved. Others, however, like “hooking up,” are potential relationship enders. Of course, the key is to talk to the other person. In the case of hooking up, he didn’t want to seem jealous, so he didn’t say anything but was jealous, and eventually acted weird enough that I asked the right question and the whole thing came to light. It’s a simple lesson, but one that we’ve learned over the course of our two years. Don’t assume. Ask. And build your language together.