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Realizing I Do Not Completely Understand

“It’s so crazy that things impact you like that,” my roommate says as I explain that the reason I’m bouncing off the walls at 11:00 PM on a Wednesday is because I had a really big dinner four hours ago and I couldn’t possibly lie down or feel tired after that.

I’m still thinking about it an hour later when I’m brushing my teeth and listening to the gentle hum of my roommate’s noise machine. I think about how grateful I am to be a (usually) deep and easy sleeper and how we’ve often talked about the fact that he isn’t.

I think about how my partner can drink a cup of coffee and immediately fall asleep but if I drink a matcha tea at 1:00 PM, I will be wired and raring to go on a 12 mile run at 3:00 AM and how every 5 – 6 months or so, I want to just test the theory and drink a fun afternoon coffee shop beverage only to immediately be reminded that very night of how I absolutely cannot hang.

Caffeine impacts my partner differently than it does me. My roommate and I have different relationships with sleep. Things (gesturing vaguely) impact people in very different ways.

For a bit now, I’ve been editing out the phrase “I completely understand” from my repertoire. What at one point felt like a supportive sign of empathy and listening, now feels a little presumptuous. When someone texts me that they are really overwhelmed with work, my first thought might be to say I completely understand because who among us hasn’t had that feeling at work. But do I?

Do I completely understand what that means for them in this moment? Are their concerns the same as mine when I feel overwhelmed by work? How busy is busy? How stressed is stressed? I don’t understand. But I can still show them I support them. I can still show I care. I can still listen and ask questions and keep the unsolicited advice to myself.

At this point in my life, I don’t understand what it means to be a light sleeper. As someone who favors overnight bus travel and can sleep through the loudest of thunderstorms, I simply cannot relate to that. And if I can’t relate to something as simple as someone being woken up by a slammed closet door, what else am I not relating to or understanding? How foolish must we be to think we understand everything just because we read it once in an article or had one friend explain their experience.

It’s a humbling realization to truly recognize and grasp how much we don’t know. Acknowledging this is the first step to becoming better listeners, more caring partners, and kinder humans all around. Today, when someone is venting or telling a story about their experience. Listen. Just listen. That’ll be enough.


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