My family and other black holes

I have a relative who’s known as a communications black hole. She doesn’t answer phone calls, listen to voicemails, reply to texts, or acknowledge anything sent through the post. Over the years, she’s gone from “crap at keeping in touch” to “total communications black hole”. It’s kind of a family joke, although it has had serious consequences a few times – for example, when another family member tried to contact her for help in a medical emergency.

In person, she’s mostly chatty and charming, but if you want to see her at all you’ll need to do all the heavy lifting of reaching out to her in the first place, suggesting the date and location, trying again and again to make sure she’s happy with it and clear about what the plans are. And even then she will be late, or she’ll flake out completely, or she’ll go to the wrong place, or a combination of those things. All this is part and parcel of her naturally disorganised, avoidant coping style. And as someone with a similarly disorganised, avoidant approach to life, I sympathise even while I’m annoyed.

For the past few years, she’s also been very depressed, and that’s made her worse even by her standards. To my shame, I completely gave up on her (although others didn’t). But she recently managed to solve a huge, life-limiting problem and since then, it’s as if she’s been coming out from under a cloud. I was surprised and delighted to get a bunch of flowers from her the other day, partly to say congratulations on my house move (which happened in the autumn) and partly to say sorry for dropping out of contact for so long. Other family members got gifts too; her way of saying “hey, I’m back.”

As a super-avoidant person myself, I’m really impressed she reached out. She’s probably cringing about missing so many birthdays and big life events. Cringing about ignoring so many different well-meaning attempts to get in touch. In her position I would be tempted just to give up completely on the idea of trying to re-establish myself in the lives of the people I’d black-holed, and I would have a ball of cringe in my stomach every time I thought about it. So this was a brave thing for her to do.

Last night my dad texted me to ask if I’d thanked Avoidant Annie. I said no, I was planning to send her a card. Because what is the point of texting or ringing someone when they’ll never answer a phone call or reply to a text? How can I tell I’ve even got the right numbers for her when all I can ever expect is silence? (It never occurred to me that her new lease of life would be dramatic enough to result in her suddenly responding to non-urgent attempts at communication.)

Unfortunately, the members of my family who can communicate tend to overcompensate by trying to manage other people’s communications. So my dad got all worried that Avoidant Annie would think I hadn’t got the flowers, or that I was ungrateful. He really wanted me to text her immediately as well as sending her a card in a day or two. OK, fine, I said. But I don’t have her number any more. Can you forward it to me?

16 hours later, no response. Once my dad had done his job of convincing me to text the black hole, he had become a text black hole himself. So I was left with instructions to contact Avoidant Annie, but no means to actually carry out these instructions. This is such a classic “my family” move I just want to laugh out loud. I can’t help but feel we’d all get on better if people just handled their own relationships and didn’t try to manage other people’s.

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