Life is good these days. Wonderfully good in a “can you believe how incredibly fortunate we are?” sort of a way. After working together and dealing with some difficult circumstances early in our relationship, we grew stronger and the past few years have been really good ones. In recent weeks, The Best Man and I have been busy fixing up our place in anticipation of a wave of visitors coming in the next few months – it’s been a fun and productive time with lots of laughing and joking around. We’re in a whole new phase, where years of hard work and conscious effort are starting to pay off in substantial ways. And we’re having fun.
We know we are fortunate. We know people who are still recovering from the economic crisis, people who are dealing with losses, people who have had more thrown at them than any one person deserves. We get it. We’ve been there, too.
A recent experience has me thinking about how people respond to life emotionally and the effect that it has on them and on others.
When life throws something at you, you have a choice regarding how to respond. People do this in various ways, some more successful than others.
A friend of mine, who is a very open and creative person, has a very difficult family. She has always longed for a loving and warm family Christmas and it never has happened. She went through phases of grief and anger over the years, and last Christmas just decided to confront it, had a realization, and in a burst of creativity and independence went to Mexico instead and had a fabulous time. It’s been a transformative experience for her and the confidence she gained is now breeding a whole new level of enthusiasm for life and other good things are flowing her way.
Another person that I know has a similar situation, but worse. Unfortunately, she has chosen to respond by becoming a hard individual who responds to most things by attacking. And while striking back at things that truly threaten you is sometimes necessary, it can turn into just striking out at anything and everything. Just for a bit of background, this is a person that I had not spent much time with previously, an old friend of The Best Man who has been almost completely absent from our lives in the 7 years we’ve been together. She’s had a very tough time of it recently and is looking to move here for a change of environment. We liked this idea. Perhaps we could help. Come on up for the weekend, maybe this is right for you.
It was like taking in a stray dog only to have it pee all over your carpet and chew up your furniture while snarling at you.
When someone has been so beaten up by life that all they can see is the hostility of it all, when they forcefully express negative opinions repeatedly, when they take pride in being bossy and cynical and are adamant that this is the right way to be, well, it makes for a long and tedious day.
And unfortunately, it appears that she sees people like me as chirpy insubstantial bits of fluff and made it clear to The Best Man that he had better not try to turn her into one of those.
But, like I said earlier, you have a choice of how to respond. I find that boredom is often a successful way to react to antagonism. It tends to diffuse it. So I spent a lot of time this weekend saying things like, “Oh, well, that’s how it goes sometimes,” “Bummer, eh?” and similar non-confrontational things in a bland, bored tone.
Eventually it got to me, though. The prospect of having this person in our lives on a regular basis was wearing on me and I found myself sinking to that level. I had to get some space and distance and sort it out. I started out heading to the bookstore but changed my mind and headed toward my Christmas in Mexico friend who provided tea and empathy and uplifting conversation on a wide variety of interesting and life-affirming topics.
Damn. We meant well. She’s had a very rough go of things and we would love to provide a safe space for her to start fresh. Because she is basically a good person and has done some very good things for others despite the obstacles she has faced. That’s an admirable thing. Lesser people would’ve been defeated by the life she’s had and that she’s still standing is pretty amazing. There is much to like, actually.
Perhaps life is so good right now that I overreacted. But in the end, I decided that I can only take so much pee on the carpet. If this puppy can’t restrain herself, she’s going to the pound. The Best Man agreed.
He said afterwards, “I think people underestimate you because you have this lightness; they can’t see how strong you really are.” I think he’s right.
For example, it took a lot of strength yesterday when she “jokingly” called The Best Man a “lazy ass” when I was on my way out the door. (You kinda had to be there. There is light-hearted joking and then there is heavy-handed demeaning joking. The same exact words can mean something completely different depending on the tone in which they are delivered. We’re not serious, humorless people. Quite the opposite.) It took a lot of strength to not sink to that level and turn on her with all of the force of the Sun and say, “Listen up, (calling her a name that would be carrying that doggie analogy a little too far) if you ever call my husband a lazy ass or any other name again, if you ever speak to him in that tone of voice again, you will never step foot in this household again. Are we clear?” Maybe I should have. It might’ve worked.
But I didn’t. Instead I walked out the door and went to work. Not because I am weak person who can’t face difficult things and instead glosses them over with phony sweetness, but because I am a strong person who didn’t want to pile on any more hostility. She’s had enough of that in her life.
We’re not sure where this is going to go. The Best Man is going to deal with it and see if we can come to a place where we can co-exist to everyone’s benefit. I hope that can happen.
It’s times like these that make me wish there was a way to just fix things instantly for people, to do a Vulcan mind-meld and wipe out the loss and the pain. But it doesn’t work that way. Every person has to confront and deal with the life they have. You can’t do it for them. And it’s not like I’m perfect, either.
We’ll see what happens. As for me, the virtue that I need to work on at the moment is tolerance. I thought I was pretty good at it, but now I see room for improvement. Getting your carpet peed on isn’t the end of the world and the pound is already too full. Time to step up, chill out, embrace the growth opportunity, and shine on.