Pinball Machines and Pool Tables
The value of choosing your confidantes carefully. For all involved.
We all make hundreds of decisions everyday that we don’t really think about. And that is how it should be. If we really stopped to think about it, it would slow us down tremendously. But one of the circumstances in which it is useful to slow down and consider is when you feel the need to talk.
As an external processor with a high need to talk, I probably spend more time than the average bear thinking about this topic. I sometimes don’t even know what I am thinking until I verbalize it, and I can change my mind in the process of speaking about it. Being married to someone who doesn’t say something until he has thought it through thoroughly originally lead to some epic misunderstandings, but on the plus side, the fact that we were so different helped me to look more dispassionately at what I was doing. And to make more active choices about how I do it.
I became aware of the choices I was making during my time as a young mother. I started to notice that when my child had a fever, I would fluctuate between calling my sister-in-law or my friend Kim. I didn’t really think about it as being a particular choice until one morning when I couldn’t reach my sister-in-law, but I did not want to call Kim. The resistance to calling Kim took only a second of honesty for me to realize that I would always call my sister-in-law when I wanted to be told not to worry about it, and I always called Kim to be told I should take them to see the doctor. It was a choice I was making.
Because that situation had such clear parameters, it was easy to suss out that I was making a conscious choice about who to talk to for the feedback I could reliably receive. But it made me think about how my relationships might benefit by being more self-aware in my choice of who to confide in and when.
I was in a meeting the other day when a friend mentioned that she was feeling depressed. I reached out to her in a text to offer to listen if she needed to talk. And I promised not to offer any advice. She responded gratefully and shared how her sister-in-law had a tendency to bombard her with questions in the same circumstance, overwhelming her with investigation into the why of her depression. Reading her description, I had a mental image of her sister-in-law as a pinball machine; bouncing the ball from flipper to flipper, trying to hit the “answer” to my friend’s state of mind.
I also saw what I was trying to do in reaching out to my friend was to offer to be a pool table- she could shoot her ball and I would acknowledge it as it landed in the pocket. While I could take a turn sharing my own thoughts, I could also just let her run the table and keep shooting. Problem solving or active listening. Pinball machines and pool tables.
Neither option is bad- we need both in our lives. The problems come when we are stuck getting batted around when all we want to do is sink a shot. Or in the opposite, we are looking for ideas but are met with only affirmation.
Everyone can learn to play both, though we might be more inclined to one than the other. The key is learning to ask what people need when they reach out to you, and paying attention to what you are looking for when you reach out to others. Not all the time, because we don’t have the bandwidth for that- but when you are seeking that conversation to help you work something out, or you see someone you would like to help, take a moment to think about which game you need. And if someone starts hitting your pool ball with a flipper, you can disengage and find an open pool table.