It seems that things tend to happen in threes: good things, bad things, weird things, annoying things.
Or maybe that’s not really true. Perhaps when something happens three times in quick succession you just start to notice a pattern of good, bad, weird or annoying.
In the last week I’ve been hugely discomfited by three incidents of increasing annoyance. Number three convinced me I had to write about this.
A tradesman is working at our house. He’s chatting quite amiably to me when his phone rings. He looks at the caller ID, his face darkens and his eyes roll. He stabs at the phone and barks, “What is it? I’m working!”
He dispenses with the call as quickly as possible with more eye-rolling and monosyllabic answers, then returns to me with a smile.
“My wife,” he says with a sigh – as if that explains everything.
Poor, put upon possum. Fancy having to cope with a phone call from his wife when he is doing such important man-things like fixing my widgets. I’m supposed to understand that the only way to dismiss such an annoyance is to bark at it like a junk yard dog.
You know what? Call me thick, but I don’t understand that. Not at all.
I’m in a cab. I’ve just told the driver my destination and we’re underway when his phone rings. He looks at the caller ID and without answering it, says, “Oh, fuck off will ya?”
But he answers anyway. The conversation goes in much the same manner as described in “Incident One“.
“I can’t talk, I’m working … No, I told you I’m working!”
He hangs up and turns to me – rolling his eyes.
“My wife!” he explains. “Sorry for the language but she just doesn’t seem to understand that I can’t talk to her while I’m working.”
As we chat he confides that he’s pretty much lost interest in sex (why do total strangers tend to tell me these things????). She still wants it, apparently, but he’s just not interested.
“And she just keeps ringing me up all the time!” he said, clearly exasperated.
“Maybe she just needs to know you still love her,” I venture. “Sounds like she loves you a lot and just wants a bit of your attention.”
He sighs and rolls his eyes again.
We reach my destination, I pay my fare and go on to lunch. But I can’t help thinking how absolutely awful it must be to have the man you love react to your phone call with rolling eyes and a wish that you’d just “fuck off”. Sure, you may not know that was his reaction, but that attitude must permeate the whole relationship like a malignant cancer.
I run into an old friend at the shopping centre. We grab a coffee and I ask about how her life is going – I know she and her husband have been struggling financially.
He’s depressed, she tells me, and he won’t agree to see anyone for help.
“Every time I talk to him, he scowls and rolls his eyes,” she says. “I try not to take it personally.”
As she talks, trying to stay ‘upbeat’, I have a vision of him seeing her caller ID on his phone and breathing, “Fuck off!” before answering the phone. I have a vision of him barking at her like a junk yard dog for having the temerity to want to talk to him.
And I say, “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”
“I know,” she says.
“You have to tell him it’s not OK!” I insist. “You have to tell him that you know he’s suffering, but it’s not fair that instead of getting help, he just takes his pain out on you!”
“I know,” she says. “I’m just trying to stay out of his way as much as possible.”
It makes me so sad when relationships which clearly started with romance, love, mutual attraction and respect deteriorate to the stage where one partner is seen by the other as a tedious annoyance. I’ve been treated like that by someone I love (not a partner) and I know how it makes you start to die inside. I now how it makes you wonder whether, maybe, you’re just not worthy of love and respect. After all, if someone you love treats you like that, what does that say about you?
And I know it’s not just men who display this kind of behaviour – I’ve seen women rolling their eyes and rejecting their husband’s attempts at affection, too.
I once worked with a man who really, really loved his wife. They had been married for nearly forty years and it was clear that the ‘magic’ had long since disappeared.
“She acts like she doesn’t like me any more,” he confided sadly.
“Do you show her you like her? That you love her?” I asked.
“I try,” he said, “But I really don’t know how.”
“Why don’t you try taking her home some flowers?” I suggested, somewhat lamely.
He took my advice but arrived at work the next day looking even more dejected.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I bought her some flowers, and she said, ‘What did you waste your money on those for’?”
The tragedy about all these stories is that it’s unlikely that any of these couples will break up. They will just continue on with growing animosity from one side and quiet, desperate loneliness on the other.
It reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Dangling Conversation”:
It’s a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.
And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.
I don’t know what the answer is. I do know I don’t ever want to be the woman whose partner responds to her calls or emails with rolling eyes and a wish that I would just “fuck off”. I’d rather be alone.
This isn’t a very uplifting post for this time of year, but, maybe as we think about “world peace” and “good will towards all” it’s time to think about how we treat those we love – how much peace and goodwill to we bring to those around us? As Dr Phil says, “How much fun are you to live with?”
As I look back over 2013 I can think of a few times when I haven’t exactly been a joy to life with, either. I’m going to try harder.
Perhaps Christmas is also a good time to think about how those you love treat you.
No matter who you are, you don’t deserve to be treated like an annoyance by anyone – let alone the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with.
Please, don’t stand for it! Don’t let yourself be treated that way. Don’t let that kind of rejection destroy you and your self esteem. Because I can say, pretty confidently, even though I know only one of the three women mentioned above, “It’s not your fault. It’s not about you. It’s about him – his problems, his insecurities, his fears, his thoughtlessness.”
And, if he (or she) won’t do something to fix those problems. If your partner’s refusal to deal with whatever is wrong with them or your relationship means that they can’t, or won’t, treat you with the love, respect and kindness you deserve, then it might just be time to move on.
It’s all too, too sad.