Wednesday, March 19, 2014

You Can Burn Down My House, But Don't Cut Me Off In Traffic (or why we hold grudges)

This week, the Today Show briefly mentioned a story that made the bitch in me sit up and listen.

 This really couldn't come at a better time for me, personally, because I've been trying to figure that out myself - why I have forgiven some pretty major things in my life...but I can't get over the little stuff.

I'm just glad I'm not alone.  I mean, if someone actually did a study on it, there must be at least 100 people out there who feel the same way I do.

For example, why is it that I can forgive the betrayal of someone close to me that's cost me hundreds of dollars in therapy, but I can't get over the rude behavior of someone I don't know very well?  Why is it that I can have some people over to my house many times in a row..and then be irritated when someone else doesn't reciprocate like I think they should?  Why is it that I hardly think about the ridiculous behavior of one person that may have even altered the direction my life has taken, but can distinctly remember the time some asshole cut in front of me in line at the grocery store?

Why is it that the little things keep me up at night while the big things have somehow been released from my consciousness?

"If the hurt is minor, we can let it fester. If the pain is major, we find ways to calm ourselves down. We do similar things when we are physically injured. A gunshot wound can cause us less overall pain than a bad back, because we go to the hospital when we're shot, while we're perfectly content to wait for weeks before we seek treatment for a bad back."

Hmmm.  Now there's a thinker.


This morning, in the Ask Amy column in the paper, a woman asked for some advice on how to handle a friend of her husband's who constantly comes over for dinner and never contributes anything.  

"He has never brought a dessert or a bottle of wine," she wrote.  "Should I continue to host someone with poor style or stand firm and not continue being a hostess to my husband's friend?"

Now, I'm betting that, being an adult and being married, this woman has had to deal with bigger
issues in her life (probably even due to her husband on occasion).  And while I don't completely understand her complaint (I, frankly, don't know many men who would think to do something like that without some sort of female influence), I do understand how something like that can fester like a boil on your consciousness.  I bet that woman has lost hours of sleep thinking about that damn dessert she thinks that guy should bring over.  Hell, it bothers her so much she wrote into a syndicated columnist looking for advice.

And I'm betting that even if he started bringing a dessert now it would be too late for her.  The grudge is there.

Now, the original article from Signs of the Times implies that we're more likely to  excuse the bigger offenses of the people who are close to us rather than the minor offenses of people we don't know well.  And that makes sense.  We have a history with some people and not with others.  With some, we can justify our feelings of forgiveness with those who have treated us well in the past while, with people we don't know well, the only thing we really know about them is that they've pissed us off.

But I don't think that's all there is to it.  At least not for me.
I discussed this issue with a friend yesterday because, as I said, it's been on my mind.  It irritates me that I keep spinning my wheels, anxious and angry about things that will never be resolved.  It's a waste of my time and energy, and yet...I almost can't help myself.  So, I asked the question:  why can I forgive big things and then stew about the little stuff?

"I think it's because with big things, it's usually a one-time thing," she said.  "But with little things, over time, there's a history and it's usually a behavior that annoys us over and over again.  When we get pissed and start holding a's almost like a form of self-protection."

I can definitely see that in myself as I've gotten older.  My sister used to say that I would forgive just about anything.  But, having been screwed over multiple times in the same ways but by different people, I don't have a whole lot of patience anymore.

Take my previous blog for example.  When my oldest daughter was younger, I would pretty much let any parent walk all over me when it came to play dates.  As the years went on and my son started making friends at school, I started on the same path and then suddenly realized what was happening and put a stop to it.  Now that my youngest daughter is entering into the play date age, any signs that a parent or child is going to take advantage of us...I cut them out of our lives immediately, rather than wait for repeated behavior that I know is going to keep me up at night.

Now, this means that the parents of my youngest daughter probably think I'm a complete bitch.  What they don't know is that they're paying the price for the bad parenting of others in my past.  All of that little stuff has built up over time until I just couldn't take it anymore.

Just like when I get cut-off during rush hour on the highway - the the first time that happened when I was a teenager, I was probably more scared than angry.  But after 20+ years of being cut off...I'm not afraid.  I'm staring at my ceiling at 3 AM fantasizing about throwing my Super-sized iced tea cup at the offending car because I'm so irritated about all of the times it's happened before.

The first time someone didn't show up for a lunch date, I don't remember being angry and probably
even justified it by saying, "Oh, they're so busy.  It's okay."  But if anyone does that to me now, I assume that they have no respect for my time.  And that annoys the crap out of me for weeks.

The problem is that it's impossible to let some of these things go.  As we get older and more experienced, it's easy to get jaded, again, as a way of self-protection.  If it's something bigger, it's usually a one-shot thing, something that we've never experienced before and so, since we don't have a past with that particular issue, it could be easier for us to let it slide. But with the little's probably harder to forgive because something similar has happened to us before and we'll be damned if we're going to let it happen again.


As you can imagine, this has made dating a lot harder for me.  When I first began dating after my husband died, I hadn't been out there in a while and was, therefore, pretty inexperienced.  I had guys who would show up late or show me very little respect in general and, at first, I thought this was how it was going to be.

Six years into dating and, because of my previous experience, it takes a lot for me to even go on a first date with anyone, much less think about a future with them.  I know now that it's not okay for someone to be late.  It's not okay for someone to think they're going to be able to take advantage or manipulate me in some way.  It's not okay for me to settle for anything less than the way I think I should be treated.

Again, this makes me jaded.  And it also gives me a very definite idea of what I think is right and wrong.  Part of my frustration and why I hold these little grudges is because I know I can't change people and to make them do what I think is right.

Oh, if we could all only be as perfect as I am, right?

But isn't that what frustrates YOU?  When someone does something little that irritates you and keeps you awake...isn't it because you know you can't change that person and you know they're going to keep right on doing it?

Of course, when I really think about everyone operating the same way I do, it also sounds slightly boring.

I mean, if I didn't have a few bad dates, people who irritated me, and the public-at-large out there with absolutely no grocery store etiquette...what would I have to blog about?

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