Sunday, March 14, 2021

Obliviousness

When I was still working at the hospital, four months and a lifetime ago I had a lunchtime conversation with a lesbian friend of mine expressing frustration at a conversation she had recently had with someone from another agency.  That someone also knew here wife, who shares her last name, and asked how the two of them were related.  "She's my wife."  "Oh, I know, I heard that, but I wondered how the two of you are related, since you have the same name."  This apparently went back-and-forth like a vaudeville routine for a bit, Who's On First? My exasperated friend said to me "It's not like it's 1950! She's my wife!"  I offered that she was unlikely to be disapproving (I knew the woman in question - quite liberal) and was likely just oblivious, and that only temporarily.  When her error occurred to her she was likely to be mortified. 

She was not fully mollified by this, which surprised me, as she is a pretty easygoing person.  As I have had moments of serious obliviousness myself I thought the sin a small one, and my friebnd being unusually harsh.

Since that time I have reconsidered, thinking that she might be right.  Obliviousness is not always innocent.  I say this because I remember instances when it was not innocent in me, when the inattentiveness was part of an uncaring attitude, a mild declaration that the other person was just not important enough for me to think hard about it.  My friend should have been more generous and regarded it as a simple mistake, sure. But not knowing the whole story, including previous interactions she had had with this person - or with a hundred other oblivious persons - I think I can see my way to understanding the irritation.

Obliviousness can be contempt, or a disguise.  Once I saw that, I thought of immediate examples of people treating me that way, and not liking it. This means there are probably folks out there I have hurt in this way that I have long forgotten.  I think I will bring that up in morning prayers tomorrow.

10 comments:

Aggie said...

Passive aggression. Those that are truly gifted at it can really make it look like an innocent mistake, over and over again. But eventually one day the penny drops and one sees everything in a completely different light. It's one of the uglier unfortunate personality traits.

Texan99 said...

"Good heavens, you don't mean to say that in addition to being homosexual, your relationship is incestuous?"

Grim said...

There’s got to be a limiting principle here somewhere. Are we really obligated to strive to remember whether a transman is a man who’s striving to live as a woman, or a biological woman who is striving to live as a man? I think it’s the latter, but how much of our attention to these details is morally obligatory? There are ever-new details, as many as humanity’s sexual imagination can produce, such as the distinction between bisexual and pansexual. The right to remain oblivious to these things is not always merely contempt; it can be a just defense against intrusion by those who demand an attention they have no right to demand.

The right to mind one’s business is worthy of a careful defense.

Unknown said...

I don't know why reading this again this morning reminds me of an experience I had many years ago checking in for pre-reserved cabins at a (US) campground along with 2 married couples from Quebec.

In spite of the reservation, the owner was attempting to shoo us away with the excuse that "We don't let non-married couples share a cabin". Both had the foresight to have brought along copies of their marriage certificates, but even with such documentary proof it was difficult for the woman to take in that people could be married yet not share a surname. (Provincial law in Quebec since 1976 forbids a woman from taking her husband's surname after marriage, so it is not even a choice thing there.)

So I'm wondering if the incomprehension of your friend's friend was more fixation on the "Emancipated women don't take their spouse's name, so there must be some other relation" sort of thought.

I have grandparents who had the same surname before marriage, and even with the advances in computer search and online archives, we've been unable to find any link at all between the families even though they were in the same county for decades in the 19th century.

And in my childhood my family attended 2 different churches where there were others of the same surname who were unrelated, but people asked how we were related all the time. (Later a distant cousin-by-marriage of our family married a distant cousin of theirs, so the story changed. I got used to saying "My mother is third-cousin once-removed to Mary's uncle", which confused people even more when they were fixated on the common surname.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ T99 - heh.

As for Grim's comment, I would agree for something going forward, that people have forgotten that she is married, which might just be that it's statistically unusual. I think she was miffed because the woman wasn't getting it while she was explaining it. She was frustrated, but also laughing going "What the heck do I say? She's my wife. she took my name. we didn't have the same name before." Yet there may be a more subtle accuracy to Grim's thought, in that things like this had happened to her before and she resented it and had grown oversensitive about it. A good reason not to live forever, as things build up and we don't improve.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Unknown - I hadn't thought of that angle. Social workers have a lower percentage in changing their name at marriage up here, and many of the rest hyphenate. Still, it seems unlikely. My bet is on it was a temporary tic, as when we all get some false idea stuck in our head because of jumping to a conclusion and the whole situation has to be unwound to explain it to us. "Oh, I thought you were talking about buying a dog like that." "No, I never said anything about buying a dog, we were just taking care of it." "Well, sometimes people like to borrow a dog to see if they like that type." "Maybe, but not this time."

Texan99 said...

I admit that my thought upon realizing what the confusion was about amounted to, "Wait, one of you took the other's father's name?" and "How did you work out the death-match power struggle over whose name got to take precedence?" In a real conversation, though, I hope I'd have chosen politely bland obliviousness over raising these questions.

Not that I'd have dreamed of asking for an explanation of how they had the same last name in the first place. I'm not crazy.

Texan99 said...

Why does Captcha think a motorcycle is a bicycle?

GraniteDad said...

Anything with two wheels is a bicycle if you squint hard enough, apparently!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ T99 - No discussion about who is the husband and who the wife in this particular pair. The one I was referring to is happily masculine, wore a black suit for the wedding while the wife is very frilly and feminine - makeup, jewelry, red dresses. I like them both, but the former is a knowledgeable football fan who I had many conversations with.