to the person I listened to

an ear for you, and for me

Eric ZhangMarch 3, 2024

I became a listener because I wished other people would listen to me.

I missed that emotional sensitivity, a feeling of guidance and care from someone close. So I learned ways to provide that for others. When my roommate goes through a breakup, I listen and ask questions and reaffirm his choices. When a friend is having difficulties on the job, or with a tough life decision, I talk to them and listen. If you can’t write an essay, I sit down with you and read it, ask questions, and listen to you talk about your work. If you want someone to play a weird game with, I’ll join you. If you want to catch up, I make time.

Little did I know, the people I lend an ear to need and value that a lot less than I do, since they already have family and close friends. So when I give support, it doesn’t matter as much — and they’re also worse at reciprocating. Being sensitive to others makes me painfully aware of how rarely I receive a listening ear.

(This is related to why I avoid people who only talk to me when it’s convenient, for the sake of networking. My sense of give-and-take in personal relationships is already pretty out of whack, so for networking I just end up getting taken advantage of. Other people are incredible at networking, and it’s not a bad thing — they make connections that matter! But I just can’t.)

I listen to you. I try to help you when things aren’t going well, and when you want to talk to me. But when I need you, you’re really awful at listening. Look, I can’t blame you for being a bad listener. You’re still a wonderful, beautiful human, as good as anyone can ever hope to be, with limitless potential, kindness, and internal strength. I don’t think it’s bad that you’re a pain in the ass. That’s just how people are. I’m a pain in the ass too.

I also don’t see life in terms of surrounding myself with “high-quality” people and avoiding the “low-quality” people. That’s a categorization as ridiculous as good versus evil. It’s not that simple! Everyone is human, and everyone is good because their perspectives matter. My viewpoint is more like: I think you’re wonderful, and I just wish I could be happier and get to spend more time with you. And I wish I felt more understood. I wish my experiences weren’t so off-the-beaten-path that I have to write to figure out my thoughts.

For now, in the moments that I am able to connect with someone, I’m at least glad to validate that a sensitive touch is worth having.