That tiny crystal pyramid on the shelf? Jose’s Pulitzer!
By Caitlin Kelly
They came to us in a sad way, one we think about every time we sit in them.
In our co-op apartment building, we have many older folk — in their 80s and 90s — and some are long-married. One of them, always elegant, always together, went out one Friday afternoon for lunch.
On the drive home they were struck by a drunk driver, a woman. The wife was killed and her husband died later at the hospital.
Their children held an apartment sale to dispose of their belongings — so we went downstairs and found a pair of wing chairs, something Jose had wanted for many years. A good quality wing chair is easily $500-1,500+ so this had remained out of reach.
We got both of these for $450.
The upholstery is not 100 percent my taste, but neutral enough to work with our current color scheme. I’d like to change it to something else, but it will be costly.
Jose and I sit there and talk, sometimes for a long time. There’s something lovely and formal and intentional about sitting side by side in an elegant chair.
After we lost touch, she moved to Ireland, then back home to Toronto, then to the U.S. — as I did, and there married and divorced without children (as I did.) Now she’s back in Canada and we caught up on so many stories! It was eerie how much we had in common and so comforting to feel like it had not been so many years; she, too, had DCIS (early stage breast cancer) and reached out to me on Facebook last year when I was diagnosed, then living in New Mexico — my husband’s home state.
On this trip we also caught up with a man I’ve known since my very early 20s, married for years to his husband, now retired to the country. We met their gorgeous Airedale and enjoyed a great meal together. We hadn’t seen them in a few years and look forward to returning. How nice to know we’re welcome again.
We also spent an evening with yet another friend of many, many years — who I met when he was a tenant in an apartment in a house my father owned. It’s lovely when you’re out on the road for three weeks, most of it working, to sit at a friend’s table and savor their hospitality. (We arrived there with a big box of delicious bakery goodies.)
I finally, after many lonely years there, have several good friends in New York, and one who’s known me for about 20 years — but the depth and breadth of my earliest friendships, the ones who knew me before my first husband, (pre-1986), are so precious to me. They knew me “when” — and, still, gratefully, know me now.
On this trip, I’ve also made several new younger friends through Fireside, and I am really enjoying getting to know them better.
In 2017, this was part of a fun Montreal afternoon I spent in the company of a young business-owner I met at a NYC conference and stayed in touch with
By Caitlin Kelly
Loved this story from my first employer — The Globe & Mail — about a terrific inter-generational friendship between a Kiana Eastmond, a young black entrepreneur in Toronto and Paul Copeland, her older Jewish landlord, that began thanks to $8,000 in her unpaid rent.
She finally managed to re-pay him, but the relationship was much more than transactional:
Falling $8,000 behind in rent, which seemed to her an insurmountable sum to pay back, she simply avoided him. When she finally ran into Mr. Copeland, who lived in the building, “I almost felt a sense of relief that he was finally going to evict me,” she says. “At least I wasn’t quitting. I’m not a quitter.”
But Mr. Copeland didn’t react the way she expected. “What’s going on?” he asked. She opened up and told him the truth. “I cried,” she says. He didn’t offer advice or a shoulder to cry on. He tossed the ball back in her court. “Figure it out,” he told her. “I want you to do what you told me you were going to do with this space.”…
The two ultimately became friends, hanging out and going to movies and concerts. He enjoyed her youth and energy. “I taught her about music,” he says. They both laugh. “No really,” she says. “He has this insane music collection, with slave hymns and gospel music.” He would drop by the studio and chat easily with whoever happened to be there.
As someone with friends who are decades younger, this doesn’t strike me as odd, but it is for some — why on earth would a 20 or 30-year-old want to hang out with someone “old”?
What would we have in common?
You name it!
Work, music, politics, travel, family issues…all the things that people just talk about. My father, at 89, has friends decades younger as my mother always did. I simply don’t buy the notion that being older or younger eliminates all the other reasons you might enjoy someone’s company.
And some of my much younger friends have already faced some really bad shit — like paternal or maternal health issues, mental and physical — that prematurely forced them into care-giving roles. I faced that myself, so I get it, and the complicated stew of filial duty and resentment it can create.
My younger pals are often those I’ve met through journalism and initially on-line. I make sure to have lunch with them whenever we’re in the same city, delighted they make time for me.
Another is 21 years younger but every time we’re in the same city, we end up talking so long that a lunch date turns into dinner.
I’d never been to the amazing orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx — until a younger friend took me. So gorgeous!
True friendship is a meeting of minds — and people who are curious, adventurous, smart, kind, fun and resilient are usually someone I want to know.
It’s not just me, of course.
American advice columnist Heather Havrilesky, writing for The Cut, recently described her friendship with a woman who’s 93; she’s 48.
Speaking of which, I went to go visit that 93-year-old woman I met on the plane, the one I wrote about a few weeks ago. She had told me her birthday was coming up, so I brought her a birthday card.
But it was difficult. It made me feel dumb to show up at her house with a card. I felt embarrassed for some reason. I even felt a little stupid calling her earlier today, asking if she needed anything. I don’t have a ton of free time. I have a long list of things I should be doing. It feels dopey to call someone new, someone who is much older and probably has other things to do.
But this woman, I like her a lot. She is extremely interesting. She tells long-winded, wild stories. She plays poker and has a lot of friends. She even sang me a song that she wrote in 1968. She grew up during the Prohibition, motherfuckers. She’s had a lot of experiences and she’s made a lot of mistakes, and she doesn’t mind talking about them. She’s a very honest person.
We met — how better for two career journalists? — thanks to a magazine assignment.
I was writing for a women’s magazine about what was then an exotic, little-discussed way to meet someone, called Internet dating. Long before Tinder or Bumble, it was considered sad and declassé, something you might do if desperately lonely but definitely not cool.
I got 200 replies to my on-line profile from around the world — with the truthful headline “Catch Me If You Can.”
I stopped reading after 50.
Luckily for both of us, my husband Jose was in the top 50.
I had hoped to find, for my second husband, someone modest but accomplished, a world traveler, someone with a strong spiritual life, if not religious. Someone funny, smart, goodhearted.
And handsome would be nice.
He is, like me, an accomplished career journalist — a photographer and photo editor for The New York Times for 31 years, who covered three Presidents, two Olympics, multiple Superbowls and the end of the Bosnian war, sleeping for six weeks in an unheated shipping container in December.
Sept. 17, 2011, Toronto
We met for our first dinner in midtown Manhattan on a cold March evening, and he wore a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl (his practice) as a muffler.
At the end of a long and lovely evening, he wrapped me up in it, warm and scented with his fragrance, a classic scent called 1881.
That was it, kids.
Eighteen years later (!), here we are.
18 things I’ve learned:
1. Everyone carries some emotional baggage. If you’re lucky, maybe a duffel and a carry-on, so to speak, and not 20 enormous unpacked trunks. But we all bring it with us.
2. Which is why humility is essential to sustaining an intimate relationship. No one, anywhere, is “perfect.” If you think they are, you’re deluded. If you think you are, get a grip on your inflated ego.
3. Affordable access to a good therapist can be the best investment you’ll ever make, for yourself and your partner/spouse. Until you can safely unpack, name and number your personal demons, they can destroy your life and that of anyone trying to love you. This includes addictions.
4. If you find yourself — as we both did on separate occasions — shouting at your sweetie in a blind rage, allow for the possibility you’re shouting at a ghost, at someone from your past who’s still living inside your head. Yes, of course, we can get angry at the people we love, but this is different. Sometimes it’s not about you at all.
5. It can take a long, long, long time to trust another person, and that might have nothing to do with you or how much they love you. I’m forever moved by this verse of this song by John Mayer…
I know a girl She puts the color inside of my world But, she’s just like a maze Where all of the walls all continually change And I’ve done all I can To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand Now I’m starting to see Maybe It’s got nothing to do with me
6. So don’t ever try to force or rush physical or emotional intimacy with someone you love. Let them feel safe with you and relax. Some of us had scarring childhoods and need a lot more time than you think we should or you expect or makes you feel comfortable. True love is not all about you.
7. If your sweetie never laughs, why not? If you never laugh with them, what’s up? Laughter is a daily constant with us, and deeply healing. Depression is also real.
8.Bad shit is going to happen to you both, no matter how thin/pretty/hard-working/wealthy you are. Parents will get sick and die. Friends will get sick and die. We will suffer illness and injury, surgeries and recovery. We’ll lose jobs and face periods of unemployment. Your partner must have strength of character for your relationship to endure without resentment. You, and they, will have to step up and be a damn adult, many times, no matter how painful or expensive.
9. Which is why, if you’re choosing a life partner, pay very careful attention to their values, ethics and principles — in action. Words are meaningless without consistent follow-through. Choose someone with a strong work ethic or you’ll forever be broke and anxious, pulling their weight and pissed at their entitled laziness.
10. Go for long walks, whatever the weather. Alone, to think. With them, for company.
11. Put down your damn phone.
12. Talk to your sweetie every day for 30 to 60 minutes, (even in 10-minute bits!), uninterrupted by children or work or outside forces. Make them your entire focus when you do, because undivided attention is the greatest gift we can offer someone we love.
13. Take time every day to nurture yourself, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically. Don’t rely on someone to be your “everything.”
14. Have deep, sustaining friendships beyond your dyad, (but protect it fiercely.) If you fear someone’s about to poach, (hence my second marriage), pay attention.
15. Make sure you both have wills, beneficiary statements, advance directives and health care proxy paperwork signed. You never know when you might suddenly need to use them.
16. Create a document, updated every 6 months and printed out, with your every PIN and password and emergency contacts. Include your medical record and the medications you take so your sweetie can easily take charge, should you be incapacitated or die.
17. Celebrate the hell out of your partner’s every success, no matter how small it may feel or seem. Few of us will win an Oscar or ever make the big bucks. Small wins matter too.
18.Savor every minute you’re given with a loving spouse or partner. Too many will leave us far too soon.
The word “friend” only became a verb thanks to social media.
One once befriended someone or made a friend; note the verb to make.
It takes time, and effort and consistent interest.
It also requires a shared sense of values and expectations if it’s to last more than a few days or weeks.
Today it’s become a word with multiple meanings, some of which...don’t mean a thing.
Having just weathered intense cyber-bullying by an online group fellow women writers, (none of whom have ever met or spoken with me), I spent some time culling my “friend” list on Facebook.
More than 200 people are now gone from my list of “friends”, as I realized I’d allowed myself to accept requests from people I didn’t know well, assuming — innocently, hopefully and very stupidly — that everyone who wanted to be my friend also knew, and shared, my values, ethics and/or professional expertise.
Several of these women proved to be Trojan horses. Lesson, painfully, learned.
So, back to true friendship.
This week also reminded me what it looks and feels like:
Face to face conversation.
On Monday I went for lunch with a woman who lives across the street from us, and who I hadn’t spent time with for at least six months. We’d had a disagreement last fall, and stopped our weekly walks.
I wasn’t sure we would continue our friendship. We seemed, suddenly, just too different.
Then she was felled, (luckily, getting better now), with a challenging acute illness.
I took her flowers, shocked at the trials she was facing and sorry for her difficulties.
This week, I returned to the relationship with a deeper gratitude for her good humor, her sense of perspective and delight in her recovering health.
Like a handful of people, she knows me very well.
There is something so comforting talking to someone who just knows you, loves you and accepts your quirks.
On Wednesday, I met another friend, a newer one, and we went to the Met Museum after having lunch at Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie, both on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
We’re still getting to know one another, and she is a working artist and art teacher — we geek out over things like Vikings and monstrances.
On Thursday, I caught up with a woman who was originally a story source, a brilliant (Harvard MBA, ho hum) finance expert.
I feel so lucky when I meet and get to know a woman who’s both wicked smart — and deeply kind. What a pleasure to see her, even once a year when she visits New York.
On Saturday — (this is not a typical week!) — I had breakfast with a fellow writer, a specialist in medical topics, visiting from Toronto, then we both spoke on panels at a writers’ conference.
A woman I’d never met before stayed behind after my panel to talk to me….and we kept talking until midnight when we had to run for our respective trains to get home.
Whew! What an energizing, delicious gift this week has been.
The gift of friendship.
And how helpful, for all of us, to see the world through others’ eyes and their perspectives. It’s so easy to get caught in your own little worldview, trapped by your own firmly-held opinions.
A key difference I’ve seen here in the U.S. is a discomfort with, (understatement, more like terror of), major differences of opinion, certainly on issues like politics, religion, feminism, the usual flashpoints. If you don’t agree 100 percent on everything, discussion (certainly online) flares into nasty, name-calling argument and boom!
There goes your “friendship.”
I’m slow to make new friends.
Having been betrayed by a few, I’m now much warier about letting a new person in close.
True friendship takes time to grow, to deepen, to broaden.
You may have to forgive them, (and they you!)
Intimacy can be challenging.
Some flee at the first sign of friction.
Coming from a family of origin whose typical stance is estrangement or anger, my friends are my family.
Few things are as precious to me as the intimacy of friendship, old and new.
How about you?
Do you make friends quickly and easily?
Have you weathered the sting of deception and betrayal?
“Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “Wind, Sand and Stars” (1939)
Every year, at least once and sometimes several times, I head north to Toronto and to a cottage on a lake near Peterborough, Ontario, to visit my friends I’ve known for decades.
I left Toronto in 1986, afire with ambition, ready to marry. I met my first husband, an American, in Montreal and followed him to rural New Hampshire; neither took.
By 1994, I was a divorcee (no children) living in a pretty lonely suburb of New York City. Moving back to Canada felt like a retreat. I liked New York. I had yet to satisfy my professional ambitions.
And so I stayed.
In the decades I’ve lived in the U.S. I’ve made friends.
But they’ve come and gone, sometimes with a stunning rapidity. I arrived in New York at the age of 30 — long past the traditional ages when the powerful emotional glue of shared schools, colleges and/or post-graduate training seem to create lifelong bonds for many Americans, some of whom are still pals with their freshman room-mate.
So I’ve found my American friends through other means — a work colleague (briefly), my freelance life, serving on several boards and attending/speaking at conferences, several colleagues of my husband’s from the newspaper he worked at for 31 years and for whom I freelance as well.
Luckily, I have a friend now living directly across the street from me — we met (yes, really) through a local man we both dislike heartily. But, a new pal!
Without children or hobbies or many non-work passions I’ve found it challenging to find people with whom I can create new deep ties. The world is full of friendly acquaintances, “Heyyyyyy!” — but less filled with people with the time, inclination or interest to start a new chapter with a stranger.
So when I see my long-time friends in Canada, we’re also revisiting our earlier selves:
P., once a curly redhead, is now gray, long-married to his husband. We met on a rooftop in Colombia, and still laugh at the same things but our last conversation also included our spouses’ searches for new employment and the struggle over a parent’s estate.
M., also a decade older than I, has known me since I was in my early 20s. We both visited New York City together when I appeared on stage as an extra in the ballet Sleeping Beauty for a story. I’ve stayed in her home many times since then and belatedly realized she’s more family than much of my own.
M, who I met in freshman English class when we eye-rolled at one another. A teacher and college administrator, she came all the way to N.Y. from the northern wilds of British Columbia for my first wedding to be my maid of honor; (my last, fateful words as I headed down the aisle: “Just be my friend if this doesn’t work out”. Thank heaven she did), and all the way to Toronto for my second. We still talk every few months from her home in B.C. and I still use the battered, stained cookbook she gave me in 1986.
L, a fellow journalist, whose home brims with beauty: hand-made pottery, drawings and oil paintings and colorful rugs. Her cooking, and hospitality, is astounding. We met in the 1980s, covering the same story for competing newspapers and re-met decades later on a fellowship in Florida.
S, 20 years my junior, a fellow ferocious jock and adventurous traveler. We’ve set new records for unbroken conversation — on my most recent trip, last week, we sat down in a restaurant for lunch at noon. We got up again at 5:30.
S, my age, who I’ve known since high school when we were both mad about J. — all of us now long since married. Like me, she’s artistic, creative, a free spirit with no children but who shares a deep love of the natural world and travel.
I find it comforting to know people over time, to be loved and valued and accepted and forgiven through the jobs, (and losses of same), the husbands, (and loss/gain of same), through illnesses and surgeries.
Fatter, thinner, happier or broken-hearted, lustily single or placidly married, they’ve seen me through it all, and vice versa.
You can safely fight and make up with these emotional distance runners — while others slink away or keep conversations perky, polished and politely, always, distant.
You know these friends’ partners and pets, (including the dead ones), their parents and siblings. Also, perhaps, their children and grand-children.
You know about the grant they didn’t win or the dream they never tried. They know why your brother hates you, and don’t care.
They know what makes you cry, even if they haven’t seen you — or seen you do it — in years.
We hold one another to a high standard, knowing, sometimes far better than a late-arriving partner or spouse, what lies beneath our bravado and bluster.
We are witnesses to one another’s lives.
(Longtime readers of Broadside know that my family is not especially close or loving, so these long-lasting friendships mean the world to me.)
The British user-experience researcher Leisa Reichelt coined the term “ambient intimacy” in 2007 to describe the unfocused closeness we maintain by following friends’ day-to-day on platforms like Twitter. Soon, though, the signals that we continuously broadcast to our friends and followers promise to get more … not intimate, perhaps, but certainly creepy by today’s standards.
The Apple Watch’s ability to stream one user’s heartbeat to another through vibrations is one example of this closeness. As is Meerkat, the suddenly popular live-streaming app that lets users send live video to their followers, turning the previously static culture of webcams into a mobile, always-on experience. Soon enough, we’ll be able to live vicariously alongside anyone we choose at any moment of their life — the ultimate future of the selfie stick is a system that can photograph or record you from any angle and any distance at any time.
I want to sit at a table, or side by side by the fireplace or lazing on the dock, and talk for hours to someone whose face I can see, and vice versa.
Only a few short weeks ago, I blogged here about a community I had found on-line, one filled with women of all ages and races and income levels, from Edmonton to Los Angeles to Dubai to Mississippi. It was secret, and had, at the outset, almost 600 members, many of whom weighed in daily to share their triumphs — (work, dating, family) — and tragedies, (dead or dying pets, work frustrations, break-ups.)
They are mostly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, gay and straight, polyamorous or monogamous and many looking (with little success) for love. I was, being older than many of these women, astonished and often appalled by the intimacy of the many details they chose to share there, with women many of them had never met and never will, women whose character and morals and ethics they have no knowledge of or experience with.
The chickens soon came home to roost…
I was, naively, hopeful that this would be a place for fun, friendship, shared wisdom and a dozen of us living in New York met for brunch in early September and had a great time. The women were funny, lively, creative and I looked forward to seeing them again.
Not going to happen: I was kicked out this week.
It’s been a fascinating lesson in political correctness, tone policing and definitions of “derailment” — taking a comment thread off-message. I won’t bore you with all the details, but what a shitshow!
The group’s small handful of volunteer administrators decided I should be banned for insensitivity. Which is, of course, their right.
I do express my opinions vigorously.
But how amusing that women there could rant for hours about others’ being mean to them — yet turn in a flash on anyone they felt wasn’t being sufficiently sympathetic to their cause(s.)
It soon — why? –devolved into a rantfest. Women raged daily about their oppression and others’ privilege, swiftly chasing down, or simply banning, with no notice to the larger group of their actions or why they took them, those who dared to disagree with them or whose opinions were deemed…unwelcome.
One woman I liked very much was dismissed from the group for her allegedly racist remarks.
Then another — anonymously, of course — took a screen-shot of someone’s comment and sent it to her freelance employer, costing her paid work and a professional relationship. Members legitimately freaked out at such a creepy betrayal of their mutual trust.
Why on earth would you even trust a bunch of people you do not know?
For a group of women so oppressed by patriarchy, it was too ironic that one of their own proved to be such a vicious and cowardly bitch.
Membership had dropped, rapidly, by more than 40 people last time I looked.
I’m glad to have made several new friends through the group and look forward to continuing those online relationships, several of whom I’ve also met, and enjoyed meeting, face to face.
But it’s been a powerful and instructive lesson in group-think, competitive victimhood and endless, endless draaaaaaaaama.
I’m well out of it, sorry to say.
Have you been a part of an on-line group like this?
How long did it last and how much did/do you enjoy it?
Those of you who told your mother all your secrets–and reveled in stories of her youthful escapades before you came along–will not understand what I’m about to write.
I didn’t really know my mother.
I was born to her and lived with her for many years but I was not privy to her essence. By the time I came along, I think it was long buried under disappointment, sadness and a sense of propriety.
I was born to her in her early forties, the last of six daughters. She was, by her own admission, more interested in her career by then than in birthing more children.
Of course she loved me. She loved all of us.
But I was always stymied by her lack of disclosure. I knew only about the “safe” stuff. Her parents losing their house during the Depression. Living on her grandparents’ farm. Editor of the school newspaper. Navy nurse during WWII.
I could piece together a patchwork quilt of her life but it was quite threadbare.
This rang so true for me.
Earlier this year, I pitched a story to a major women’s magazine about how women with distant or elusive mothers find other women, throughout our lives, who nurture us — whether friends, neighbors, a professor, a co-worker or boss — instead.
Then the editor asked me to write, instead, about my own relationship with my mother.
In some ways, I didn’t want to, as she is still alive and the story is complicated. I chose to leave her care at the age of 14 and moved in with my father; between the ages of eight and 13, I had only lived at home with her for two years, most of my time spent in boarding school and summer camp.
But also for the same reason as candidkay.
I just don’t know enough.
My mother and I — her only child — haven’t spoken in three years, nor have I seen her, as she lives in a city that takes me an entire day to fly there. We exchange no cards or flowers or emails.
She is in a nursing home, a sad ending for a woman with brains, beauty, a huge sense of adventure and the private means to enjoy all of these.
But I know little of her life and she rarely offers details.
I keep putting off a trip out there, for several reasons. But I know one of them: my fantasy that we’ll suddenly get close, after all these years, is unlikely and quite sure to end in my disappointment.
Like candidkay I became a journalist, and, like her — like many journalists do — I have made my living for decades asking total strangers extremely detailed and intimate questions, about money and sex and death and struggle and family.
It was a sad, sudden shock to read this from a fellow blogger recently:
It’s raining, and the sky is overcast. I cried.
I woke up to an empty apartment. The water leaking from the ceiling is hitting a tin bucket, sending out an echo. I cried.
Today, I am not strong. But I’m giving myself permission to feel it all. And I’m not so sure that’s weak, either.
It turns out, losing what feels like home is much more difficult than I thought. Buddy. Georgia. They were my home.
I respect him and what we had far too much to shell out details to a semi-faceless-web, but I feel that to move on, I have to say this “out loud”; Georgia and I have gone our separate ways.
The blog, Key and Arrow, written by a young schoolteacher in Austin, Texas, has been a source of pleasure for me for a while now. Every Monday, she posts “Seven Things”, a recap of seven pleasures from her past week, charming and inspiring, with lots of photos of meals, her man, her dog…
Now the man and dog are gone and I, too, feel a little bereft.
The Internet is odd that way, all this uninvited intimacy with strangers, people we will likely never meet in person, but whose children and pets and lives become a part of ours for a while, possibly for years.
Some people disclose a stunning amount in their blogs, as I have occasionally as well, including infidelity, mental illness, family strife and addiction. The Internet sometimes feels like a safe place to park difficult and complicated feelings, hoping against hope that someone else out there will read you and say:
“You, too? I thought that was only me!”
Admitting publicly, especially to strangers, that your life is actually complicated and difficult takes guts. We’re not all perky and shiny all the time, and blogs that reveal little of the writer behind it quickly lose me. There’s plenty of that faux fabulousness on Facebook already.
But doing so also means trusting that others will read you with compassion and empathy — not schadenfreude and voyeurism. (It happens.)
It takes trust.
I like that it demands trust, as when intimacy is met with kindness, friendship blossoms.
In the past few years, I’ve become friends with several readers of Broadside and plan to finally meet and visit with two of them, both living in England, this winter; both moved from reader to new friend after I posted this very dark and personal piece about my mother.
I find these web-created friendships sustaining, as sometimes people thousands of miles away better comprehend us than our own families, colleagues or neighbors.
Thought-provoking post here from Jezebel; (read the comments as well, lots of good stuff in there):
What is a fight anyway? A disagreement, sure, but predicated
on what? Miscommunication typically. Unrealistic expectations. Actions by the
other person that are perceived as selfish or thoughtless or simply not in line
with whatever one person in a relationship thinks are the perceived agreed-upon
values, stated or otherwise, of the relationship.
And a big part of all this confusion is usually this weird concept of
unspoken agreements. Can I just say right here and now that the concept
of unspoken agreements is super baffling? The thing where someone does
something and you’re supposed to know it means X or Y whether they say
so or not and return the thing to them you didn’t know they did in the
first place because it’s all supposed to be understood?
I bet more relationships have ended by failure to mind-read than almost any other crime of the heart.
So it goes without saying that lots of fights could be avoided by talking
more, by improving communication, stating/negotiations and expectations, and by
lowering expectations. But we are mere mortals over here, not Deepak
Chopra. Fights are happening. Deal with it.
Some people go through life (medicated?) never having a fight with anyone, ever. Over anything.
I’d love to be one of them, but it’s highly unlikely.
Jose, my husband, and I have been together 13.5 years. We had our first fight before our first date.
But, once we met, we were together after that first night.
We laugh often and loudly. We wince at the thought of ever losing one another. We’re both stubborn, hard-headed and opinionated. We also love each other deeply.
But we’re not averse to verbal fisticuffs, an issue we struggle with still. We were both badly bullied when were younger and neither of us were trained or socialized to beat the shit out of our tormentors. Instead, we learned to verbally annihilate them. We got really good at that.
And both of us are tough, competitive career journalists, a profession that best rewards aggressive winners, not calm, gentle, cooperation.
We also grew up in completely different emotional environments. His parents never fought (in front of him.) My family yelled a lot. I hated it, but it was what we learned. So taking the gloves off, so to speak, comes too quickly, a habitual behavior that’s tough to break, no matter how essential to do so.
When Jose and I first fought, there was an underlying meta-fight, like gasoline poured into flame, of his disbelief, outrage and shock that we were fighting at all. For me, it was business as usual. It took a long time for me express my needs more calmly.
Like every couple, we also carry ghosts of old hurts, sometimes arguing ferociously not with one another, really, but with an unresolved bit of business from our past.
Everyone in a lasting intimate relationship must find a way to negotiate through conflict.
I really liked this recent post from another blogging Caitlin at Fit & Feminist, which addresses how grouchy and (regretfully) argumentative we can get when we’re really just hungry:
A couple of weeks ago I found myself embroiled in a bit of an interpersonal snafu. I was trying to broach a sensitive subject with care and delicacy, hoping that I could not only get my point across but that I could do so in a way that was diplomatic and fair.
The problem is, I tried to do this while I was hungry. And so instead of being careful and delicate, I struggled to find the right words to convey what I wanted to say, and then finally, I became frustrated and blurted out exactly the wrong words required by the situation.
After I finally got to eat something, I realized what I had done, but it was too late – the damage had been done. And not only that, but the damage had radiated outward in a domino effect of fuckery, and I found
myself spending the next couple of hours engaged in a desperate attempt to put band-aids over all of the social wounds my hunger-fueled carelessness had wrought.
It occurred to me later that if you could go back over the past several years and catalog all of the times I had really stepped in some big piles of shit with other people, then dig deep down to find the underlying causes of it, nine times out of ten your excavation will lead you to an empty, rumbling, pissed-off tummy.
Here’s one of the best songs ever about a remorseful lover (successfully) rushing to the train station to re-claim his sweetie who’s about to leave him after a fight, recorded in 1996 by British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson:
She’s sitting on the train, the train’s gonna to leave
Bags in her hand, tears on her sleeve
Banging on the window with all of my might
But she won’t look to the left or the right
We had a fight and it wasn’t pretty
Now she’s leaving, ain’t it a pity
Going to wait tables, down in the city
Hold that red light one more minute
6:18’s got my baby in it
Train don’t leave, heart don’t break
Train don’t leave, heart don’t break
And here’s a brilliant post from American business guru Seth Godin about the corrosive effects of tantrums at work.
As readers here know, from a recent string of critical comments, I have little stomach for fighting with strangers. Fighting with intimates is stressful enough.