Gifts. Life gives them to us. Sometimes we rip the paper and packaging in excited fury. Sometimes we slowly untangle the tissue paper and reach into the bag with hesitation and surprise. In some rare moments, life gives us a gift we never even realized was meant for us. My husband, Jon, has given me a gift I know he never went shopping for, a gift I know he never meant to even place before me. You see, I was not this person I am now, nay, I was perhaps this person, but I was not this partner; this kind, calm, and emotionally mature partner.
I was a hothead in relationships.
Let’s go back. I lived a life of constantly revolving dating relationships. If I was single, it wasn’t ever for long. And it’s not because I scoured or scavenged or made a point to be this Charlotte York-Goldenblatt woman who was desperate to settle down, I just dated all types of personas and every “type” as they say because I genuinely enjoy the journey of knowing and meeting people. I exuded the attitude that life’s joys are in experiencing a plethora of personalities. So there I was, navigating my own personality in a sea of dating relationships, and I learned early that I wasn’t going to compromise any part of myself for someone who might not end up being “forever.” Eventually, this made me into one, aggressive, fiery rattlesnake when a relationship ended or even in a day-to-day bicker with a mate. You weren’t going to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, you weren’t going to win an argument, you weren’t even going to plan a weekend unless I barked and snapped in fierce criticism and I agreed to all itinerary. “No, we aren’t watching the game THERE because that’s not the trendy place now, because YOU are so out of the loop on what’s cool.” (I was really good at a side-arm insult and often just plain old mean.) I became really good at sparring with words. I lived for the shock on a man’s face when I was heinously harsh in the midst of an argument. Did I mean every word I’d say? Well, yes…but some things I would toss at male counterparts were things meant to be THOUGHT, not meant to be SPOKEN. Picture the kind of female in a movie scene that says something so harsh, it renders their opponent speechless. For example, “Maybe you should remember who opted to date you when you had MAN BOOBS!!!” Yeah, I said that at age 25. And that’s just a snippet I’m able to provide on a PG-rated forum. It was bad. And I wore that trait like a badge of honor. So part of me knew I was driving partners away on purpose while another part of me was just so stubborn to keep ALL of me whole, I wouldn’t relent. My husband, until recent years, would attest I was the harshest vocalist in an argument, in any relationship he’s ever been in – I could cut with words like Emeril slicing an Easter ham.
Then, one day recently, I reflected on how I’ve bloomed. I hadn’t even realized it had been months – maybe more than a year – since my Ice Queen heart had lashed its tongue at my partner. I sat and realized it was remarkable. How I don’t explode now. How I absorb information now, and how I don’t blow my lid. I didn’t ever intentionally shed my rattlesnake skin. I surely wasn’t intentionally deciding to be a “kind partner in an argument” because that’s how weak women argue (this is what I’d told myself for years and years – fiery women WIN, quiet woman LOSE, and I was no loser). I realized what happened – I’d had a partner who was strong enough to stick by me without stooping to my level of mean. Don’t get me wrong, he can have his moments of anger and frustration, and he’s taken his rage out in lots of ways amid our larger moments of conflict, but he’s never cut me with unkind words. He’s never approached me with any words other than those that lift me up. He’s fought my rage…with love. And trust me, amid two years of my manic postpartum depression and anxiety, he DESERVED to lay into me with a few cutting lines of anger. He honestly deserved to call me the B-word. Yet, he never did. And apparently, I’ve been influenced by his demeanor without even realizing it. He is the calmest and laid-back person I’ve ever been with. He’s the most gentle person in his family, other than his mom. And now I see, sugar always cancels vinegar in a recipe for sweetness.
The take-away here is to appreciate the parts of a person that they care to share with you, even if those parts may seem bothersome at first. At first, years ago, my biggest gripe was that I wanted him to exude a feisty side. “Be more aggressive,” I’d say. I liked a spar of words. It kept me feeling the feisty spark I longed to keep about myself. However, the gift he gave me in this life turned out to be my own nuance as a gentle spouse in this partnership. I can’t even remember the last time I “went ballistic” and cursed at him. And that was not me, even three or four years ago. I don’t think I realized that with each aggression I unleashed, that was met with quiet reaction from him, I was actually backing down from my own defensive armor I’d gotten so used to grabbing the first second of a disagreement. It was a perfectly wrapped present of emotional maturity in an invisible box shaped like a heart, made of positive affirmations from someone who genuinely loves me enough to forgive my harsh tongue.
I’m not a hothead anymore. Best gift ever.