50 Shades of Black and White

There’s a term in psychology called “cognitive complexity”. It’s an idea used to describe how complicated the mental models are that we use to describe and interpret the world around us. In layman’s terms, I see the world and people and philosophy and everything else in many shades of gray, while Beth tends a bit more towards seeing things in black or white. High cognitive complexity does not predict high intelligence, mind you. Saying I have high cognitive complexity does not mean I am smarter than Beth. It just means that I am more likely to apply far-reaching logic to a problem rather than simple common sense.

Most of the time we work harmoniously together. When Beth is troubled by conflicting black and white ideas, I’m there to introduce a third idea that helps reconcile the previously incompatible thoughts. In the other direction, Beth saves me from myself on a daily basis with a judicious application of a simple, common sense answer that has completely escaped by far-reaching logic approach.

One time I was unable to take a drink of my soda because I had a sandwich in one hand and a box of fries in the other, and she said “Sweetie, if you put your fries down, you’d have a hand free to pick up your drink.” I’m not saying I’m dumb, I’m just saying common sense isn’t that common. Also, in this particular case, yes I was that dumb.

The real fun begins when one of is us tired and can’t use our mental superpowers to help the other person. Here’s an actual conversation we recently had in which Beth’s black-or-white logic made communication impossible:

Me: “Does the garbage need to go out?”

Beth: “It’s Friday.”

Me: “…”

Beth: “…”

Me: “Sweetie, I didn’t ask you what day of the week it was. I asked you if the garbage needed to go out.”

Beth: “And I told you! It’s Friday!”

Me: “…”

Beth: “Garbage needs to go out on Thursdays, but Monday was a holiday, and the garbage trucks will skip a day…”

Me: (To myself) “Yes or no, that’s all I want, just one word, yes or no…”

Beth: (continuing) “…but it was a state holiday, not federal, so the garbage trucks did run on Monday so garbage needed to go out yesterday.”

In Beth’s mind, all of these facts are simple, straightforward, and above all, obvious. And since each one connects directly to the next with no room for misinterpretation, the statement “It’s Friday” actually means “No, the garbage obviously does not need to go out.” The hilarious part about this is that out of remembering the regular schedule, the rule for shifting the schedule on holidays, and whether or not a given holiday is state or federal and whether or not that affects the garbage schedule, she assumed that the only piece of the puzzle I was missing was what day was today.

In fairness, I’ve missed that before.

It also runs in the other direction. I have too many T-shirts, and several weeks ago Beth boxed up all the shirts that are a size too small for comfort. I know I need to lose some weight, but until I do, I really should throw away about 20 or 30 shirts to make room in the dresser. Beth was rearranging some things in the bedroom earlier today near that box, so this is the conversation that happened:

Me: “Do you need me to take care of that box?”

Beth: “Well, it’s been a couple months now…”

Me: “Do you mean it’s been a couple months now so a few more days won’t matter, or it’s been a couple months now so it’s really getting overdue and I’d better hop to it?”

Beth blinked at me and then laughed. “Oh, I see what you mean. No, I mean a few more days won’t matter.”

It’s interesting to me when our communication styles work together so well they’re almost a telepathic superpower, and then later on our exact same superpower turns out to be each other’s kryptonite. I’m not really sure how specific this is to D/s, but then again the more D/s suffuses every aspect of our life the harder it is to pinpoint D/s things that aren’t also general principles for living.

The fact is we have to communicate our wants and desires. We worry about asking for something new that might turn out to be beyond the other person’s limits. Or we might have to deal with the disappointment of asking for something and having our partner flatly refuse. The deeper we’ve gone into D/s the more we’ve been able to trust that just voicing an idea isn’t going to break either one of us, but there were some tough conversations very early on in our relationship. And just because they’re easier doesn’t mean they’ve all gotten easy.

Especially on days when I’m too dumb to put down the fries to pick up my drink.

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