A woman recently told me that she always seems to end up with oblivious men. We both laughed and I responded that oblivion may be a general feature of the gender.
Except I wasn’t really kidding. I have both been accused of being oblivious and have confessed to it, so I have given a lot of thought to the subject.
Google tells me that oblivion is “the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening.” I admit to using this as a comfortable excuse for my own relational mistakes and messes. It’s easier to admit to being clueless instead of selfish or evil.
Of course the dictionary doesn’t give us the “why” behind someone’s oblivion. Maybe it stems from ignorance, which sounds innocent until you consider willful ignorance. In other words, I am oblivious because I don’t care about you so leave me alone. The oblivious person may be a selfish, narcissistic bastard that is trying to hurt you. Oblivion can be a smokescreen for all kinds of dangerous things. Officer, I didn't see the speed limit sign.
But I also know that it can be as simple as the dictionary makes it: a state of unawareness or unconsciousness. I didn’t know, I was careless, I wasn’t listening, and yes, it was likely a result of being selfish and self-absorbed. But it wasn't necessarily from malicious intent.
We don’t know what we don’t know so the most helpful thing is to tell the oblivious person how you feel. Make them aware of their unawareness.
When someone is standing on your foot you may wonder why they don’t feel that foreign object under their own foot. I mean, are they that stupid and clueless? What are they thinking? Are they oblivious to how inappropriate it is to stand on someone’s foot? Can’t they see the grimace on my face? Don’t they know they are hurting me?
It is probably best to save the whys for later and say out loud, “Sir, please get off my foot!”
When another person is oblivious, it can lead to all kinds of incorrect conclusions. They don’t care about me. They want to hurt me. It’s all about them. They are cold, cruel, and heartless. They just don’t get it.
The worse things are the conclusions that we may draw about ourselves. There must be something wrong with me. They don’t care because I am not worth caring for. I am not worthy of love. Partners of addicts may be particularly susceptible to these kinds of conclusions.
Or maybe they are just oblivious in the simplest sense of the word. Find out by telling them how you feel. Don’t assume. Communicate. Something may not be on their radar until we put it there.
I had to tell a friend that the way she talked to me about a particular subject made me feel disrespected. I hesitated to tell her because I was pretty sure that she wasn’t trying to disrespect me. But I couldn’t ignore my feelings so I told her directly (and kindly). Her response? No surprise, she was oblivious to it and didn’t feel any disrespect toward me at all. But she was glad to be made aware of it and how I perceived things. The result? A deepening of our level of communication and our relationship in general.
The worst response to oblivion in my opinion is the “you should know” and “I shouldn’t have to tell you” attitude. In other words, If I have to tell you what makes me feel loved, and you do it because I told you, then it is not true love. It doesn’t count. “If you really loved me, you would know and you would just do it.”
Not always true. Not at all. I didn’t care much for classical music until you told me you liked it. It wasn’t on my radar; I was oblivious to it. But you told me that it means something to you so I plan an evening at the theater, buy tickets, and we go. Why? Because it makes you happy and I love you. Sure, I might like to be at the hockey game a few blocks over, but it makes me happy to be with you. And besides, I am really opening up to the beauty of this music.
There is no sense in belaboring the point. If the other person in a relationship is oblivious, figure out what it means. Make sure it is not a cover for sin, serious character defects, or malicious intent. But don’t assume that it is either. Maybe you have told them a million times, but are they changing and showing a desire to grow? Are they seeing the need to break out of their old patterns? If so, tell them again.
Clarify. Communicate. Be open. Go ahead, tell me I am clueless. Tell me if I answer with defensiveness. I don’t want to stay that way. I want to learn. I want to be aware. I want to love.
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