“Darlin’, if we break up, it’ll be over something stupid.”
This was my husband Louie’s response, long before we were married, when I requested that he wait a while – until a sticky job situation was resolved – if he had been thinking about breaking up, because of the turmoil and uncertainty. He assured me he would not end our one year relationship because of a serious situation. Regarding stupid things though, he made no such commitment.
My sister and I laughed and laughed about Louie’s declaration. Because it’s hilarious, but also, because it is truth. Something stupid is the likely culprit for strife, irritability, and huge blow-ups in all sorts of stories I hear, and in a steady stream of online rants. Memes and bumper stickers commonly warn that even the most insignificant transgression, with no intent to harm, might be the one that makes the driver or poster “go off”. I try not to be among that group of people; but, being human can be a stronger force than my better intentions.
A few days ago, Louie was with me at the craft store. This is a rare occurrence. I mean hey-somebody-cleaned-my-house rare. And he showed more patience than expected. No signals via body language urging me to hurry up. No loud sighs. He pushed the cart and helpfully pointed out a few sale items. It was so pleasant, I did not expect it would be me who snapped.
As I was looking at a rack of substantially discounted acrylic ink, a woman (tall in contrast to my 5’1” self) pushed me aside with her leg. Startled, I looked up; “You know I was here first, right?” Her voice, laced with a dare (that’s how I heard it anyway) bellowed downward. “So? That doesn’t mean you get the whole rack.” I disagreed. “Well, yes it does. That is exactly what it means.” Her leg was still touching me. HEY LADY, I wanted to shout, we have basic rules of human interaction, you know!
In any case, Louie was not close enough with our basket for me to literally pick up the whole rack. So, I scrambled to gather every glass bottle I could securely hold in my arms and hands and headed to the opposite end of the aisle. Irritated, I loudly complained to Louie, making sure the giant lady could hear.
As I talked, I shook bottles to check quality so Louie did too. I moved on from the drama (outwardly) to tell him what I know about acrylic ink, how I might use it, and the usual cost. He then glared at the woman and said, also for her ears, “some people just don’t know how to act out in public.”
Truth be told, I had never used acrylic ink and only wanted a couple of bottles to play with, but under pressure, with one tall lady leg touching my shoulder and her hands between my face and the display, I couldn’t decide on colors. I did decide I did not want her to have any. I am not proud of acting on that. And it was stupid for sure.
When Louie and I walked past her a few minutes later, I half expected him to reach into her basket and snatch the three bottles she hijacked from me, but I’m glad he didn’t. One something stupid at a time in this union please.
We already have quite a collection anyway.
There’s a toilet seat thing which requires the seat to always be up, contrary to the stereotype. (If you are curious, it’s because our pups will drink out of the toilet and dribble water on the seat. And if you think that one is mine, it’s not.) There is not listening to plans the first time (mine) and paint being all over everything (his) and quite a few that are his and mine equally, including the TV battles which I cannot say with confidence we as an us will survive.
Currently, I’m torn between thinking television will be THE something stupid, and confidence that we are rock solid having navigated eleven years of disagreements.
Television related revelations appear in a quick search of stupid reasons to break up with someone. The copious lists also reveal silly, shocking, and occasionally, uncomfortably funny responses. From long toes to eating in bed to not liking Bruce Springsteen’s music, the confessions sometimes hint at more. Similar lists can be found for other relationships also: roommates, siblings, best friends, and so on.
Could some of these deal-breakers also be considered “the last straw” among a longer list of petty complaints? No way to know for sure. But, I’ve been thinking about different types of reasons – sort of the opposite – the kind that make people stick together.
Pondering significant moments in relationships, the ones that build or erode foundations, sparked memories of a stretch of time when my son, Lee, was in high school and turned our backyard shed into a music recording studio. I’m using a broad definition of studio here, though the transformation was impressive. He and his friends spent many hours recording mostly original music there. Also impressive. I enjoyed hearing them practice and create. It was fun and exciting when they finished a new song. The completed CDs made me a proud mama – so proud, I helped sell them.
So, there were good things that kept me supportive and engaged, but those positives were not winning the daily battle with too many bad moments. Like finding random kids asleep (passed out) in the backyard. The constant fear of incredibly risky substance use choices that my son and his friends made. And the weeks that turned into months when his surly, arrogant defiance almost pushed me to give up. The oppressiveness of mental exhaustion, anger, and helplessness caused physical reactions that my body hasn’t forgotten. (You should see me when the phone rings after 9 pm.)
I tried to be proactive during this particularly turbulent period. I came up with coping strategies that seem ridiculous now. Or pitiful, I don’t know which.
Notably, I vowed to create one positive interaction with my son each day, regardless of anything else going on. I prepared for these contrived encounters in my car before driving home after work. I would sit for about 15 minutes, breathe deeply, check my face in the mirror, dab on lipstick and attempt to conjure up a topic with levity, or invent an easy task to engage with him for a few minutes. Nobody can plan around the chaos of drug and alcohol abuse, but there I would sit, sipping cold coffee, leftover from the morning drive, thinking I could. Unless I got distracted with ways to avoid going home altogether.
The promise I made to myself was easy to keep if I arrived home and Lee had new art or a new song recorded and wanted to share. I could look or listen and compliment effortlessly, as he is blessed with talent and imagination.
Other times, I strained to tell my son some funny or shocking story from my day. My intent was so obvious and desperate, it was doomed from the get-go. And I was unprepared for the sadness of missing my funny, sweet boy as I navigated this unrecognizable relationship.
Once, I left work excited because I did not need a plan. I had 15 cartons of pantry food my students had collected for our local mission. Because my son has always been inherently kind and caring, it seemed like a sure bet to enlist his help to deliver the boxes, and this small service to others would make him feel good. Nope.
Lee reluctantly came along to the mission with me, but his negativity was palpable, so I also brought along our tiny poodle Rudy (who may have been holding my frail little family together back then) as a buffer.
Lee’s surliness turned downright mean during the short drive. He belittled me. In one of several jabs to my deepest vulnerabilities, he called me a fraud for trying to help needy people when I couldn’t take care of my own family. It was brutal. I wanted to throw him out or jump out of the car myself, but I held Rudy and kept silent.
At the mission, he moved maybe two of the cartons and complained steadily.
I regretted the whole thing.
But on the way home, something stupid came out of nowhere.
Rudy threw up in my lap. And the loud, raspy Exorcist-type sounds he made with his little mouth stretched out wide and his tongue flapping about caused my son and me to bust out laughing at the same time. Then we laughed some more as we tried to define and classify sounds that did not match the size or personality of our little pup. Lee laughed at the mess on my leg, so I did too. He handed me a napkin.
It was nothing. No big deal at all. And I had dog vomit on me. Had the “Rudy throw up” thing happened in a different context, it could have caused an angry outburst; or not been memorable at all. But during that particular drive, our shared laughter lifted the burden of negativity and a little hope came in like a breeze. That day, something stupid saved me. Maybe him too. I have no idea if my “daily positive moment” vow ever made any difference. Probably not.
If something stupid can break relationships then the inverse can be true, too. It’s context and choice, I think.
When Louie was at the craft store with me, I could have chosen a pleasant response to my fellow shopper, a gesture so gracious it would set off an endless ripple of positive interactions; a trail of good vibes that might even save a relationship or two along the way. But I didn’t.
Still, it turned out alright. The day after my encounter in the store, Louie surprised me when he brought home the last of the deeply discounted acrylic ink he’d purchased at a different location. Such a nice thing for him to do, so nice it seemed to erase the taint my spite left on the bottles I had selfishly grabbed.
Later, relentless crashes and gunfire defined the television show my husband watched and made my head rattle while I painted; but it was easy for me to keep quiet about that something stupid.
How I choose to look at the good and the bad of all those something stupids defines not only my relationships, but who I want to be.