I was sitting at a stoplight and a minivan pulled up in the lane next to me.
The wife appeared to be driving and, who I assume, the husband was slumped over in the passenger seat. Quite possibly hungover. Renounced pathetic in his silence and downward, saddened gaze.
The engrossing part of this travel tale was that she was scolding him with both hands and all that. Arms flailing. Eyes furious. Teeth gnashing. Murderously chewing his ass upside and down there behind their minivan windows.
This would be a day I would not ever forget if I were him. The guy looked defeated as he sat there frumpily slumped. Acceptive of whatever verbal beating his wife was handing down.
I don’t know if he fucked the dog last night or what, but guys, this dude was in trouble. 😯
Looking for reasons why things would fail used to be a big part of my day.
I devoted hours to it. Always poking around under the hood for clues to prove that whoever I’d gotten close to was up to no good. That I was going to get hurt. That people were evil.
Reviewing all the data at frequent intervals.
If that all sounds dumb it’s because it was.
I didn’t trust people or the cosmos. I knew the fingerprints were somewhere, I just had to find them. Keep dusting, keep analyzing. Always teetering on the brink of crazy.
Where is the evidence?
When I didn’t find any, it didn’t matter. I knew something was there somewhere. I just had to keep looking. Patiently waiting for some unspoken testimony because sooner or later I’d get a confirmation, a conviction and then all my doubts and nightmares would come true.
And then if I did get absolute confirmation that there was indeed absolutely nothing going on, I couldn’t even relax with the sound judgement that everything was good. I was too battle-exhausted from my search. I was too shaken by the possibility that it could happen.
I needed to stop looking for proof. Do you know what happened when I did look? I made the very people who loved me crazy. I pushed them away until they left.
I’m divorced twice. It’s a real thing that we bring what we most fear into our lives by being absurdly afraid of it.
Looking at my case files it’s pretty clear now that it was never about the other person or what they were doing. It was about me and my insecurities. I needed to “quit” all the scrutiny if I wanted to have a healthy, peaceful connection with another person.
With Sara, I still keep a close eye on things but in this very moment I look for proof why they *will* work. Reverse the numbers and flip the math. Cherish the very reasons why love wins. Embrace what flows freely when I be my best self.
adj. having an excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance
Everybody knows the definition but I don’t think one really knows until experiencing daily life. With one. Up close. For years.
They can be tricky because we want them to like us. We crave their approval yet they seldom offer any. And then if they hug us we can breathe again. They’re malicious and berating yet adorable and charming.
Walking in a sea of flowers with landmines buried underneath. Be even more wary when the vain are parading around town in a love bus.
What I mean by this is something along the lines of…
Last time I came home you didn’t look up from the TV so the next time you walk in I’m not going to stop it watching either.
Scorekeeping is a way for me to exert control in a situation where I feel like I have none. When I feel helpless, putting marks on the blackboard helps me claim some power.
I will punish you when you hurt me, give you the silent treatment when you don’t pay attention to me. Won’t fold your laundry because you were more interested in your phone at dinner than talking to me.
That kinda bullshit.
Keeping score doesn’t work though. It perpetuates the infinite, dysfunctional loop. It’s sprinkling more salt on my wounds. And theirs. It’s me locking myself in a box with all the things that’ve ever hurt me. It’s me saying that keeping track of what you’ve done wrong is more important than the overall health of our relationship.
If I want to have healthy relationships I need to practice healthy behaviors. Talk to people about what’s bothering me as things come up. And if they don’t take my feelings into consideration, if they aren’t willing to compromise for the greater good then fuck them. We deserve better.
I better compromise, too. Take what people say with an utmost urgency because they’re taking a chance on me. Going out on a limb and showing their own vulnerability.
And please don’t think that I’m some kind of spiritual dynamo here. I’ve kept score my whole life and you know what I got? At the end of the day with that blackboard filled with checkmarks?
I got a list of resentments as long as both arms.
I got a pile of hurt long after they were gone. An index of crimes and criminals. A mental spreadsheet with dates and times going back to the first day when I didn’t feel like I could tell you what was wrong.
One time when I was married to Kathy I unloaded my scorecard on her, spread all her felonies out on the bed for her to see. I can’t imagine how she must’ve felt knowing that the whole time we’d been together I was silently keeping score. When I think back on it now I’m embarrassed. More than that, I’m ashamed. I was a real champ.
Sure, in my early 20s I didn’t know my ass from a hubcap but memories like that are what push me to be a good person in the here-and-now.
Resentments aren’t good company.
And then when a good soul does comes my way I won’t be ready. I’ll start a new scorecard. You’ll have a clean slate but a slate none-the-less.
How about I just erase the blackboard. And throw away the chalk. Retire the standing army. Learn to deal with myself and my feelings. Communicate with those I care about and care about me.
I look back on certain parts of life and think, “boy I really fucked that up” … but the good news is that for the last few years, I feel like I’ve done my best work. Been my best self and that’s a pretty good feeling. So much more than tallying your scores and balancing the books.
Each day I’m given a fresh chance to be a better person. It’s a new day to give people another chance. If I want power in life, if I want control then that’s where it’ll come from.
It’s when you notice that the someone who you’ve spent years of your life with is now gone. You’ve already grieved in the months since they left and now it’s been a few years and then you realize again, for no apparent reason, that they no longer live in the home you once shared.
And you’ll think about all those moments you let slip away when you could’ve held her hand but instead chose to be grumpy because he didn’t do the laundry that one time.
Yeah, that’ll suck. Maybe you’ll want to rewind the clock and postpone that twentieth fishing trip of the summer, but dude you can’t.
Remember that time you got pissy because you saw him looking out of the corner of their eye at a cute girl who walked by. Do you know why he did that? It wasn’t because he didn’t love you, it was because he’s human. And that’s what people do. If someone says they don’t look, they’re lying. So what if she’s checking out some hot guy that has more muscles than you. She chose you and that’s much bigger than any fleeting animal instinct.
Because after you’re done doing all the yard work for the weekend you’ll be looking around and admiring what a good job you did, but no one will be right there to share it with you. That person may been laid to rest or they might just be on the other side of town but either way they’ll be gone. The neighbors won’t pat you on the back either. They’ll just be glad your dandelion forest has been cut down.
Sure, that might be a lovely castle you built for yourself but being a king or queen living alone is dreadful. And your new clip board won’t mean a fucking thing.
Ask yourself what’s more important. Is it that the dishes are done or that you have someone to hold and love for the rest of your life? There will always be more dishes to do but there won’t always be somebody in your life.
It’ll be after 5 o’clock on a Saturday night and the only person you’ll have talked to is the Hispanic lady in the drive-through window at McDonald’s. And she’ll barely be able to speak English.
So go ahead and chase your dreams like Edmund did when he first climbed Mount Everest but after you’re done get your ass back to base camp and kiss the woman that kept your dinner warm. If you don’t have someone to share your triumphants with, what’s the point of doing them?
And the next time that he’s watching some dumb documentary on the History channel about WWII technology, grab some couch and just be with him. Even if Panzer tanks do have you rolling your eyes. Don’t wait until the moment you walk by an empty couch with the TV off to figure out that you made a mistake and missed your chance for happily ever after.
And all those things you hold dear, that are oh so important, like emptying the cat litter or finishing that video game, they’re all inconsequential when paired against a living, breathing person who loves you.
And, on the off chance, that person is still with you now then hug them dearly.
People need time to grow into their best selves. You do, too. Enjoy the journey together. It’s not one you’ll want to make on your own.
PS- I normally stay away from writing in the “you” perspective but for this story it seemed fitting. Because it’s not all just about me.
Not long ago I was reading an article wherein the author said that people aren’t going to care about what you’re doing. Like if I plant a wonderful garden people aren’t going to come from miles around to see it. They won’t throw flowers and shower me with attention.
Unless I’m a celebrity gardener, nobody will care.
How the author believed it did work was like this: if I care about you and your garden then you in turn will care about me and my garden. Of course there’s no black and white rule that you can apply to all people or all situations but I do think there’s a lot to be said for me caring about you and you reciprocating.
All the people that subscribe to my magazine, I’ve established relationships with them. Showed a true interest in them as human beings. And not because I want them to subscribe but because I legitimately care about them and their lives. Because people can smell a rat.
I don’t want to go off on a ratty tangent but I do know that my life is much bigger, much more meaningful when I get to experience another person’s sorrow and happiness. And as a bonus I get to have people care about me and my pursuits. Humans are special. Valuable creatures. If I wanted to be treated as such then I better do my part.
It’s not always easy to stop and listen to what people are saying when we have plates in the air spinning but what I’ve found is that being there for another’s triumphants becomes so much more fulfilling than experiencing mine own.
Okay, I’d like to think myself all that and a bag of chips but I’m not that spiritual. I don’t fully engage all the time with everyone else’s wins.
However, when I do life is pretty good. Another’s joy will lift up my soul and foster my own creativity. My struggles aren’t that impossible and my plates don’t spin nearly as fast.
I was talking with one of my friends several months ago and I brought up something that sounded an alarm in her. What I’d just touched on triggered an unhappiness almost like ripping someone’s blanket off on a chilly night when they’re sound asleep.
I don’t know who first used the blanket analogy but I love it so much that it works its way into the things I write.
But you fuck people up and you won’t be able to take that shit back.
It’s unfortunate that I can’t be my best self with certain people because of the torrid history between us. Even though I can forgive people, there can be so much damage in the past that it forever influences the present. And then also, the future will be permanently stained.
Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true, that relationships can “never recover” but both people really have to want it. They have to fill the present with astounding moments and create a backlog that more than rivals the historical damage of the past.
What I’ve seen, more often than not, is that people can’t ever get there. At least not both of them.
And sometimes it seems like you just run out of time.
For whatever reason the Chicago Tribune left newspapers on my sidewalk for three days in a row. I like that because reading the paper from start to finish broadens my horizons. I come across articles and the like that I wouldn’t have sought out on my own.
Like this particular Dear Abby-ish piece about a couple that was having a fundraiser with the funds coming from a cash bar. Another couple had shown up with their own wine and proceeded to drink out in the yard or something.
So then the columnist’s advice was to just bluntly ask them about it.
“Daisy and Tom, we found a pile of wine bottles on the lawn near your car, and I think they came from you and your guests. What’s up with that?”
The thing I like most about this was the such few words the columnist offered to the person who wrote in. It wasn’t War and Peace, it was two sentences.
“Here’s what you did that upset me. Why did you do that?”
When I have something to say to someone about something they’ve done I can get nervous. And when I get nervous I can talk too much. And talking too much dilutes and pollutes what I’m trying to say. Those extra words make the conversation harder than it needs to be.
Emotionally tip-toeing around the subject can put me on the defensive with an aggressive person. It can give them the upper hand since the spotlight is on me and my nervousness instead of on them for what they did in the first place.
Confrontation isn’t easy for passive people like me. I regularly deal with a guy who’s consistently combative, who’s in it to win. Well, he’s in it to be right. At all costs. Whenever he gets a chance to be “right” he stomps the gas, squeals and smokes his tires, and barrels ahead full throttle. He swerves all over the road with pure emotional adrenaline fueling his words and actions.
I’m not a fan of funny cars so I do my best to diffuse those situations with objective facts. Because I don’t care about being right anymore. I care about having great relationships with people. If I’m wrong, so be it. Me saying that I’m wrong let’s me have those phenomenal relationships. Me saying that I’m right when I’m obviously not only makes us both lose.
But back to my point. Me calling people out has never been my strong suit. I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I want other people to feel safe and I want to feel safe as well.
And then the cosmos goes and puts me in situations that make me uncomfortable, to teach me things I need to learn. And often it seems as if those same lessons come up again and again until I do get comfortable with them.
The good news is that when I need to confront someone, I don’t need to minimize or maximize what they’ve actually done. I just need to be clear, concise, and direct. Just like the columnist suggested. It made me feel good reading her article, too, to be reminded again that this struggle is real for a lot of people and not just me.
In related news: when I’m done writing what I try to do is go back and take out all the bullshit, all the fluff that gets in the way of what I’m trying to say. Because I over complicate. I want to talk about this and then I want to talk about that and then there’s this other thing that I want to say. Really though, it’s about condensing what I’m trying to say so people understand.
Confrontation is in the same realm. What is it that I need to say? Once I figure that out then all that’s left for me to do is say it.
I tell this Microsoft story now and then because it gave me a little spiritual insight. It changed everything.
One afternoon I overheard a conversation between a sales guy and his boss. The salesman had had a hard conversation with a customer and it frazzled him. He was still upset when replaying the conversation to his boss. The boss said to him plain and simple, “you need to take the emotion out of it.”
Now that’s in the true spirit of detachment. I don’t have to get all emotional about things. I make situations worse when I do. I only need to take a minute to regain my composure. Then simply state the obvious. It doesn’t hurt for me to first say a little prayer either. Tapping into the universe will give me all the strength and courage I need in hard situations.
Moving from someone who’s anxious to someone who’s confident has a lot to do with me just getting fundamentally okay. My past can hold me back in the present so letting go of my garbage from yesterday frees me up to be fully present and able today. It frees me up to confront roaring lions and noisy drag racers.
But still… I’m only human.
So yesterday I got a little cranky with one of my neighbors. There’s a retention pond behind our houses and she’s gotten in the habit of dumping her lawn refuse under one of the retention pond’s trees. And then when I look out my back window or am in my backyard, I see a big pile of her yard garbage.
I don’t get how people can be so selfish and it pisses me off to no end when that spills over onto me. What is it with these people? It’s always me, me, me. It’s like the other neighbor and her little barking dog. Why does she let him be outside barking all the time?
Anyway, yesterday the first neighbor and her wheelbarrow of yard bullshit were headed over to the retention pond. It was the first time I’d literally caught her in the act. When she saw me, she and her wheelbarrow did a 180 back toward her yard. I pointed to the spot she’s been dumping and said borderline belligerently, “you can’t dump that there.”
Oops. I came across more aggressive than I would’ve liked. Definitely had some punch in my words. Too many times seeing her trash pile, though, and then I was blurting belligerence before I knew it.
And that’s where I went wrong in yesterday’s confrontation. I shouldn’t let emotion build up until it comes spewing out. Most importantly, I should never be an asshole when confronting someone. I need to “take the emotion out of it” first.
It’s true that sometimes people need to get a little feeling in their scolding. Seems like it motivates them a smidge more when they know what they’ve done has really gotten on someone’s nerves or hurt their feelings. But still, everybody is human and even though some are selfish, most people are walking around as clueless as me.
What I should’ve done (long ago) is simply knocked on her door and said, “Your yard debris belongs in refuse bags and not under that tree. Please don’t dump it there anymore.”
Yeah, that looks good on paper but I don’t know if I’m that spiritually advanced.
Going to someone’s house is a nice idea and all but most likely something I’ll never do. I’m not that guy. I’ll never be able to bench press 200 pounds either because that’s not the kind of personality that I have.
But even if I never get to be the guy who walks up and confronts a neighbor assertively after the fact, just knowing that’s the loving and true way to handle those situations, makes me a bigger person. Just “knowing” even if we’re not capable of always “doing” puts us on the right spiritual path.
And I’ve had above average success confronting people when I just make my point in a loving manner. I’m grateful that the people in my life aren’t jerks, don’t mean to be an asshole anymore than I do.
Believe it or not the majority of people are receptive to hearing that they’ve made a mistake. And then they feel bad just as I do, just as we’re all supposed to when we screw up. Dropping the ball is all part of being human. It’s how we learn and grow and become better people, become more than who we’ve always been.