A Heartwarming Story About The Power Of Forgiveness That Pivots Into A Heartwarming Story About The Power Of Lack Of Forgiveness
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A Heartwarming Story About The Power Of Forgiveness That Turns Into A Heartwarming Story About The Power Of Lack Of Forgiveness
A few weeks ago I ran into someone I hardly know but dislike a great deal.
My relationship with this person was “friendly acquaintance” until I went out of town for two or three weeks in maybe 2015 and she made an attempt to transfer the affections of my boyfriend to herself.
I’m sure she thought she was making great progress as there is something in the intensity of my boyfriend’s gaze that has made many people think he’s into them. I have bad news for everyone. It’s just his “I’m listening” face. That’s all!
He didn’t say “she’s bad, we can’t be friends with her.” He told me because he just wanted me to know. It bears mentioning that my boyfriend is not one of those guys who thinks everyone is hitting on him.
I didn’t do or say anything. I was like “nice try.” Months later, this woman behaved, right in front of me, as if she believed this transfer of affections might still be possible. There was plausible deniability but her vibe was coy and sneaky. I wasn’t worried about my partner falling in love with her or even having sex with her, although objectively she is quite attractive. It was just so rude. I attacked.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” were the words I used. I probably could have chosen better ones. In my defense I was taking antibiotics, which studies have shown to cause aggression in flies, and also, this happened in my living room.
Sadly, having now set a boundary, and this being a part of the world where boundary setting of a harsh nature can easily cast you in a worse light than the person who forced you to set the boundary in the first place, she and I had strangely switched roles. I was the bad person now. She was the victim. She had hit on my boyfriend in my house, but I was mean.
When I vaguely gesture at “part of the world” above I do mean Northern California, but since my boyfriend was the only witness (and grew up here) I have to admit I’m talking specifically about the three square feet of unceded Nisenan territory occupied by him. He was really mad at me, horrified, in utter shock at my outburst. What I’m trying to say is that the geographical imperative toward “human kindness” was coming from inside the house.*
And so it came to pass that within 48 hours I was face to face with the woman who kept aggressively flirting with my boyfriend, apologizing. It took her a while to soften, as she had been understandably quite hurt by me noticing that she was being an asshole and daring to say so. But she eventually did, and we danced the “sorry I hurt you no I’m sorry I hurt you” dance. We danced for a long time.
The thing about this dance is that it can legitimately lead to feelings of increased empathy.
Seriously, I actually did feel that I had grown from our conversations, that I had experienced what people around here call “a heart opening.” This woman was not so bad, she was maybe even a wonderful person. In her presence, balloons reading “human kindness works” inflated themselves in my head and floated around in there. We were never close, but we had seen each other at our worst and we had moved on —was there anything more beautiful than that — and I thought we had a sort of bond.
Years passed. Then one day I messaged her to ask her about a situation with a guy who lived near all of us who kept getting wasted and plowing his truck into our cars. I had a suggestion for dealing with this character, did she want to participate, no pressure. I swear to you I wrote to her from a position of complete mental neutrality.
She was immediately hostile. What happened next was so confusing to me that I can’t recreate it here. Basically, there had been an incident involving crazy truck guy and her friend’s car. She was mad, I gather, because we hadn’t told her about it quickly enough. But I hadn’t even seen it. My boyfriend had. I didn’t know when it had happened or when he had talked about it to her relative to this and why and under what circumstances. I tried to explain this to her, still not mad, still just confused.
She wrote that she was a good neighbor and that she would appreciate it if we would do the same.
Now I was mad. I put down my phone. Ha! I shouted into my empty house. Ha! Ha! Ha! A good neighbor. YOU ARE KILLING ME. I was livid.
I resolved never to speak to this woman again, and I did not. I took it seriously. I would pass her on a narrow sidewalk or path with no one around for miles and I would not say hi. She moved away and I was so glad.
I forgot about her. And then one night a few weeks ago, there she was, sitting with people at a table I was supposed to sit at too. So much time had passed, and I knew I should not give a shit about her one way or the the other. But I felt my indignation rise. I had made myself sweet for her, in spite of myself and I did not appreciate it.
Still, was it not — water under the bridge? Just say hello, I commanded myself, act normal. Don’t be a child. Just do it. You will lose nothing by saying hello. I sat down with my back to her, which sounds weirder than it was, it was a big table. My mind commanded me to turn around and greet her, but my body refused to comply. A few minutes later, she left.
I remember when she and I cleared the air all those years ago, it felt so good. But watching her walk out and imagining I had something to do with it felt even better.
I guess I wanted her to know: This is who I am for you. I am the person you walk away from. The person who apologized to you was not me. That person could exist for someone else, but she doesn’t exist for you. I wanted to be clear.
*An issue at the core of my relationship: I am quick to anger, my boyfriend is judgmental about anger. I am also ambivalent about my own anger: After getting mad I can waver between feelings of extreme righteousness and nagging guilt. Then, instead of coming to my own conclusions about whether I am comfortable with the way I choose to share my displeasure with people, it is always available to me to see the experience through my boyfriend’s eyes. I think you know where this is going. In place of saying to myself “You know, you really overreacted” or “You know what, that was entirely reasonable, don’t beat yourself up,” (“taking adult responsibility”) I simply get mad at him for getting mad at me for getting mad.
True… I know the feeling
The thing that hit me the hardest about this whole story was your footnote. I too am in a long term relationship with someone who does not appreciate anger. I‘ve done a lot of work on this in therapy with said person. What it came down to was “anger is good and real and important.” And it is. People who are conflict averse obviously hate it. I think your “what the fuck is wrong with you” could not have been more perfect. If only I had that nerve. Well the fuck done! And instead of you feeling vaguely guilty about your anger maybe your boyfriend, lovely though he is, should feel vaguely guilty for shaming you just because he is uncomfortable. Um, not your fault.