Tara: Do you love him? It’s okay if you do… He’s done a lot of good, and he does love you… and Buffy, it’s okay if you don’t. You’re going through a hard time, and you’re…
Buffy: What? Using him? What’s okay about that?
Tara: It’s not that simple.
ugh these two. these two for life.
I watched BtVS from middle into high school and I acutely remember watching this episode and feeling highly confused by this scene. Because for most of my young adult life, I was modeled how to listen, not how to hear.
It involved a lot of nodding, eye contact, and echoing back what I’ve just been told. Then usually spitting back whatever experience / anecdote I have that feels somewhat analogous and trying to match that up with the other person’s story.
Which, this isn’t bad. It’s a great communication tactic in the workplace. Or anywhere you’re trying to be polite without being too personal.
But like…no one really showed me how to hear someone. And for a 14 year old, who, in this situation would’ve probably gone the Xander route and lambasted Buffy and internalize that I would never do something so stupid; this scene was significant. For a 14 year old to see what it looks like to hear someone, to take someone in for who they are, not through a filter of my own experiences and projections, this was meaningful.
From the outset, Tara never seeks to decenter the conversation at hand. It is always about Buffy. About how she feels. Her experience. And when Tara offers input, it is to validate Buffy. Even in her body language, Tara’s heart breaks for Buffy. And it’s never about Tara trying to relate to her or rationalize her. That’s not the heartbreak of someone who’s thinking, “Oh, I can totally imagine that, I know exactly what you’re going through, that sucks!” That’s the heartbreak of someone who understands that they can’t quite know what her friend is going through, doesn’t quite understand her pain, but wishes she could bear that pain with & for her anyway. That’s the heartbreak of someone who is trying desperately to remind her friend that she’s still a good person, who just so happens to be in a terrible place.
That’s a really good point, because I recall there was an exchange that got cut from this scene, where Buffy says something about how you can’t imagine what it’s like to have to hide who you’re sleeping with and Tara’s like of course I know what that’s like. So the show could have gone the more conventional route of the listener making it about themselves, and they made a deliberate choice not to. (The thing about BtVS, too, was that it trusted its audience to know the characters; we know that Tara’s gay and from a conservative family and can therefore relate to what Buffy’s going through on some level, but we don’t need her to say it out loud to make the connection.)