Dear reader. I am not a monster. I’m simply recognizing a flaw in my character and shining a big old stinking light on it. Besides, it’s winter and the mind turns strange during the shortest days of the year
I was difficult to be around this weekend. My wife may have been as well, but it would only have been a reflection of my own extreme defensiveness that would have made her so. The reality of such a weekend is unpleasant.
I try very hard to avoid my wife’s sensitivities.
That’s me passive aggressively assigning to her that which is my problem. Unfortunately my psyche is gifted in it’s desire to protect itself. The result is me setting up situations that leave us both walking on eggshells. For her the feeling is justified. For me, not so much.
My wife and I share a great many commonalities as well as many wonderful, synergistic differences. Where she sees trees I see forest and thank god for both of us that it is thus. Where she may have mild anxieties of the safety variety, I am so aloof as to be a danger at times. Furthermore, we crack each other up. Not everything we find funny is shared, but we find ourselves laughing hysterically all the time.
Fear is our downfall. Specifically my fear.
For much of my life I established norms that wouldn’t allow people to take up permanent residence. If I started to become invested in you, if I felt myself starting to pull you closer despite my emotionally locked elbows keeping you at arms length, I would go into rejection mode. There was a certain fleeting nature to my friendships and loves and connections.
I would tell people that my personal philosophy was, and I embarrassingly quote myself here, ‘float, don’t stick.’ As life philosophies go, ‘Float, don’t stick.’ is a remarkably efficient expression of a fairly broad worldview that I now see expressed more sensitivity and vulnerability then I thought it did. While my life has fortunately developed deep and meaningful roots, there is still a portion of my psyche that is still super sensitive and hyper vigilant to real and more often imagined indicators that I’m brushing up against someone who considers me objectionable. Perhaps I arrived fully in possession of this trait at birth or perhaps it was fostered and fed through my youth as I tried to find attention while conscientiously trying to avoid being seen looking for attention. My fear often flies out of me as self-righteous indignation. It flies loudly and has a perfect targeting system. It defends itself with meticulous and specific arguments of logic that are maddeningly effective. Anything that reflects any responsibility for bad feelings away from me is perfectly on target in my opinion. (I’d prefer to say ‘it’s’ opinion, but I suppose I have to own it now.) It so perfectly replicates true self-righteous indignation it’s not always easy to know the difference.
When my wife is annoyed, a state anyone is entitled to, my delicate and fragile sense of self goes into full on protection mode. I come baring arms in the attempt to make sure that if this is the one, if this little threat is gonna be the one, the one that takes this person away from me, I’m getting out in front, real loud. I’m getting big like a bear so you, me and all the world can see I’m not to blame, it’s not my fault. Can you imagine how hard it is to be with me in those moments? Don’t get me wrong, they are balanced out by a pretty awesome guy, but this aggressive little prick in defense of his ultimate value as a human is pretty impossible to tolerate. Even for me.
My wife finds aggressive confrontation unpleasant. She’s a rational adult that way. Her response may be to shut down a bit. Disengage from the unwarranted unpleasant guy. A very reasonable response to a scared lunatic. My subconscious worries that she’s abandoning me. So I do what I do. It’s a cycle propelled by me, at my worst.
If thing’s are awful at work or your sister said something that really hurt or if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and the world has been in cahoots with your demons all day and you just don’t feel right, I’m often the worst kind of partner. The truth is I am taking the barometric pressure of your furrowed brows and long pauses and transmogrifying this data, this information pointing to your discomfort, and sculpting it to fit into my fear. I’m making your possible bad day worse, as I’ve stolen it from you and made it a me problem. I’m so scared in fact that I’m not going to lead with empathy, I’m not going to try to comfort you. I’m going to ask you if you’re mad at me. A terribly unfair and pointed question with a terrible disguise of concern, barely hiding a self centered concern for me.
‘Are you mad at me?’
What an awful way to care for a person. What a dismissive, even co-optive maneuver. you are experiencing some difficulty and pain? Maybe? Give it here! Mine mine mine! Cripes. Its my giant blind spot, much like my unavoidable self criticism.
The silver lining in this grey cloud? I’m aware of it and will try to be better. I will.
She’s lovely. She’s loving. She’s far too good for me.
The humility. Oh god, the humility.