Belfast Telegraph

It may feel like a snub, but sometimes the truth doesn't hurt

By Nuala McKeever

You know that feeling when you put on a jacket you haven't worn for months and you find £20 in the pocket? Or you open a drawer in the spare room and discover trousers or summer clothes you'd forgotten you even owned? Well, there's a new version of that, and I've just discovered it.

On Facebook, you can send and receive private messages. Mostly they come and go in the Inbox folder. But beside that little icon there's another icon called ‘Other’. I'd never really noticed it, never looked at it. Then someone told me they'd just found a message from me in their ‘Other’ folder. I checked mine. There were DOZENS of messages going back to 2009! Some were condolences around the time of M's death, but there were also comments on my plays, offers of work and the odd random, “Hi there, I'm looking at your photo, you look nice” type.

It was the weirdest sensation, suddenly knowing that all these potential conversations had just been sitting there all this time. Of course, I replied and apologised to those whose messages were sincere and not weird. The weird ones I just ignored. I'm well brought-up that way...

I still haven't worked out why some messages ended up in the ‘Other’ folder — there doesn't seem to be much rhyme nor reason to it. But it cleared up a few nagging wonderings about why certain people hadn't been in touch. They had. I just hadn't realised. And they in turn, had probably wondered on and off why I'd never bothered to reply to them.

It's just one more, hi-tech, way to misinterpret reality. It's the virtual equivalent of “Well, I said hello and she totally blanked me, so she's a cow and I'm just going to lie in bed at night and mull it over and over, alternately blaming her for being horrible and then blaming myself for some failing I must have that I don't know about.”

It's a cyber stick.

How readily we are programmed to interpret others' actions or words or looks to fit our version of reality. Making it all about us. “She blanked me”. It's something out there doing something to me at a personal level. It must mean something about me. It must.

No, it mustn't.

There are myriad possible explanations for her not returning your hello. Yes, it might be that she doesn't like you. Is afraid of you. Thinks you're horrible. Is totally over-awed by you. Feels inferior. Feels superior. Or it might just as easily be that she was thinking about something else. Had just received bad news. Needs glasses.

The reason we lie awake mulling is because we rarely ever check with the person at the other end of our wondering. We talk to other people, friends, spouses, anyone who'll listen. We air our worries over and over on an exhausting loop. But we hardly ever go to the source.

We conjecture rather than check. We speculate rather than speak up. We assume rather than ask.

But the fact is that almost always, the answer is benign. She just didn't see you. And the relief of discovering that all those worries were groundless, is enormous!

It's worth the price of occasionally having to experience discomfort by asking and getting an answer that hurts. Sometimes someone may not like me or agree with me. That's their issue. I can do nothing about it. But to prevent myself having great communication and freedom with people simply for fear of sometimes getting hurt — that's such a waste.

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