It’s Flora’s fault.
She’s sensitive, empathetic, and ruled by her heart. And she’s only 10, so her heart makes black and white rules. Wait. I’m telling this story wrong. I should have begun… never mind. Let’s start with Flora. And what Flora says is,
“But how can you like someone if you hate the way they treat their husband or wife?”
I’m not sure how to respond to that—I’m never sure how to respond to anything she says, really. And she goes on:
“I mean, how can someone be a good person if they treat the people they’re supposed to love badly?”
And I still say nothing, but I don’t need to, Flora is following her own train of thought, and she finishes:
“If you’re mean to your own wife or your kids or your husband—and these are the most important people in the world to you, the people you love the most—how will you treat me? If I’m a stranger, and you don’t know me at all, and don’t love me?
I would want nothing to do with such a person.”
And then she takes a carton of green tea ice cream from the freezer, and moves on to other things.
Meanwhile, her mother stands in the middle of the kitchen, phone in one hand, spatula in the other (I was making tacos—not that it’s important, but, you know, if you’re trying to assemble a full picture of the moment), and stares off into space, and ponders…
…that what Flora said should be true. Right? I mean—to flip it a little—that the way we treat the people we love the most should be the best we’re capable of.
Except it’s not, is it?
So often, the people we love best… they’re the ones who get the worst of us. Get treated the worst by us. Day after day after day…
There are three reasons for this ass-backward behaviour, I think.
First—when we love unconditionally and fully (or just a hell-of-a-lot, because most love is conditional, but we’ll talk about that another day) and are loved in return, we trust that love will be there no matter what. And so, when we trust, we let ourselves go. We snap, snip. We let our loves see us at our worst—and they still love us—and so we do it again… and again…
Second—husbands, wives, children, lovers, families—we’re together all the time, in each other’s faces. We rub against each other in the stress of hurried everyone-get-out-the-door mornings. We’re in each other’s faces in the I’m-too-exhausted-to-give-a-fuck evenings. We’re out of energy for politeness, manners. We snip. Snap. Again… and again… and again…
Third—we do it again… and again… and again… and then it’s a habit, and the majority of human behaviour and interaction is, simply… habit. And so… we do the nasty thing, say the mean thing again. And again. And again…
We say things to the people we love the most that we would never, ever say to more casual friends—to strangers—because, Christ, how unthinkably rude, cruel. Nasty.
We accept hearing/receiving these unacceptable behaviours from people who love us, because…
Actually, so here’s the thing, because—why, exactly?
Because they love us? And so it’s ok for them to treat us disrespectfully?
Because I love you, it’s okay for me to mock you? It’s ok for me to knock you down, undermine you, speak to you in a tone so disrespectful I would never, ever use it on a co-worker (not even that really, really annoying one)?
When Sean comes into the kitchen, I’m sitting in the middle of the kitchen, phone and spatula on the dirty floor, taco meat burning.
he asks, and I love him. I can’t put it into adequate words, so I put it into bad ones. And then, add:
“Do I ever speak to you like that? Ever?”
I don’t think I do, gods above and below, I hope I don’t, but does one ever hear oneself? Does she realize what comes out of her mouth? Does he know what he’s really saying when he says something so…
“Never. God, never, ever.”
(He’s lying. Because he loves me. I know that sometimes, when something he’s said or done triggers me, I react much less… kindly, tolerantly, lovingly… than I would had a less intimate-to-me person said or done the same thing. But I let him lie, in that moment, and I try to believe it.)
“If I ever do… stop me. Hard. The first time.”
As Valentine’s Day comes up—my third least-favourite faux holiday—lovers all through North America will be exchanging flowers, chocolates, and Hallmark-sanctioned expression of love and affection.
I refuse to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
I prefer to show that I love—and to be shown that I’m loved—every day. Mostly, in little things, you know what I mean, the tiny stuff: “thank you for doing the dishes, my love” and “I’m so sorry you had a lousy day” and “I missed you, come sit with me” and “will you do this for me, it’s driving me crazy” and “this poem made me think of you” and “I’m so happy you picked up cream on the way home” and also “god you look good today, I want to devour you” (delivered when I feel spent, exhausted, and so unsexy, and I’m pretty sure you’re lying, but oh-it’s-so-good-to-hear).
I choose to show that I love by how I talk to you. To him, to her, to them. The people I love best? They deserve me at my best—or at least… trying, conscious, aware, fostering, building.
And when I slip up? Call me on it. The first time. Hard.
Don’t let me treating you disrespectfully—because you love me, and I love you, and so it’s all ok—become a habit.
Because it isn’t ok to treat the people you love the most the worst.
Flora said so.
And she knows.
Happy un-Valentine’s Day.
PS I have some un-Valetine’s Day presents for you. First, 15 Compliments for Your Valentine, Courtesy of Erotic Artist Dorothy Iannone. Kind of awesome.
Second, 3 Misconceptions that Ruin Great Relationships by Kelly Flanagan from The Good Man Project. It’s essentially an essay AGAINST the grand gesture and for… habit.
Third, my friends and I have been debating for the last god knows how many weeks whether love is what you feel or what you do, and we’ve been reading and arguing about, among others, these:
- To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This, by UBC’s Mandy Len Catron (in The New York Times)
- The Lie About Falling In Love, by Debra K. Fileta (on Relevant)
You’ve probably seen one or both pieces already. If you haven’t, they’re worth a read.
Fourth, Good Daddies Are Hot.
Fifth—the original title of this post was, “Dear un-Valentine: How you speak to your partner tells me everything about the type of friend you’ll be. And it tells me you’re a jerk, and I want nothing to do with you.” But I decided it was a little… wordy. Jane out xx