I’ve been a real jerk the past several months towards someone in one of my circles. I don’t even have a good excuse for my behavior; I’ve got hang-ups, and I allowed them to prevent me from having a life-affirming attitude towards this person, who’s extremely likeable, admirable, respectable.
I’ll tell you a little about this person: kind, compassionate, sensitive, fun-loving, funny, intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded, open-hearted, personable, thankful for everything…and loves cats, hugs, and nature. In many regards (and almost frighteningly) this person sounds an awful lot like (a more consistent version of) a characterization of some of my better qualities. We even share some commonalities that would likely make us good friends were we to pursue a friendship. (I said friendship; get your head out of the gutter.) The world would benefit if there were more of this person.
What’s weird is that when we first met, I felt a connection with this person, thought we could be friends. But a couple weeks later that changed–I don’t know if I was subconsciously reminded of someone from my past or if I sensed something that I was unsure of, or what–it still mystifies me. But suddenly I became uncomfortable around this person, and easily annoyed by the quirks–my region of ‘personal space’ grew a bit larger, even while recognizing that this is a likeable person. Realizing my discomfort, and not wanting for this person to feel devalued, I tried to cover up a lot of my failings with humor–it’s an ice breaker and using stupid humor somehow helped me with my irrational feelings.
I truly have no idea if and how my attitude or behavior affected this person. Based on behavior, I suspect this person either A) didn’t notice/doesn’t care; II) has forgiven me about a bajillion times; or 3) has learned to stuff their feelings down. And how tragic would that be if this person was negatively impacted by my behavior; if his/her morale, or worse, self-worth, were damaged by my indifference. I can only hope that this person was raised to cultivate self-love, and to draw his/her value from internal reserves rather than from external sources.
For the past two or three weeks, I’ve noticed myself making an effort to be more patient and understanding of this person. A few days ago, however, it’s as if something in me snapped. Those hang-ups I mentioned? Gone. Gone, and replaced with, believe it or not….tenderness. I now feel perfectly at ease when s/he’s in my physical space, and not only that, but if s/he were in front of me right now, I would hug him/her~ and not one of those 3-second-long wimpy-ass hugs, either. I’m interested in this person’s history, life, thoughts. I want to engage him/her in humor and conversation. I want to help him/her when it’s warranted. Whatever wall my psyche built six months ago has suddenly crumbled. It startled me to realize this, though not unpleasantly.
The past few times when I’ve seen this person, I’ve engaged him/her more in conversation, asked questions about life, thoughts, expressed concern when it’s appropriate, smiled at more genuinely, offered help. I’m relating to way I wish I had been all along, probably overly so in an attempt to compensate for my prior failings, as if to say, “Look! See? I do care! I really care! Are you looking?” I even found an excuse to text message this person, to prove that s/he is trusted with my phone number (who says age begets maturity?).
In a matter of days, my mind and emotions have done a 180° turnabout. Several times recently I found myself feeling quietly humbled when s/he was around. I’ve been such a heel, and the kindness towards me feels undeserved. I tracked down this person’s FaceBook page and grew teary-eyed when I saw some of the pictures and the sweet way s/he interacted with his/her friends. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered to the webpage. (Useless, but cathartic.)
While on the one hand my brain wisely tells me not to trust my fickle feelings, and to hold off awhile before trying too hard to right my wrong, I nevertheless composed a note to this person. Since we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life or how our words or actions have affected them, I figured it best to reach out now with a word of apology and affirmation–you just never know when your words might make or break someone. Here’s what I came up with:
I owe you an apology. The past several months I’ve failed miserably at treating you like a valuable member of the human race. It’s not been intentional, but I’ve been standoffish or impatient when you could’ve used my help or camaraderie. You deserve much better. I hope you meant it last week when you said you’re proud of yourself– I’d hate for you to ever feel “less than” because of something I said or did. You seem to take it all in stride, but I want you to know that I’m not happy with how I’ve been, and I’m changing. I’m also disappointed in myself because we seem to have some things in common that might inspire us to be friends one day. I’m really sorry– sad, to be honest– that I let my hang ups affect the way I related to you. They took a sudden departure as of late, and I plan to give them a stern whoopin’ if they try to return. :] The hang ups left something else in their place, and it’s better this way… I like you…and I care about you. I think you’re a wonderful person and an asset to the world– we need more people like you. I hope you won’t let anyone convince you otherwise. I’m sorry,______, for everything. I hope you’ll accept my apologies, or at the very least trust that this letter is truly heartfelt. …….Valerie”
In the past I’ve been accused of using the written word to avoid a difficult conversation. In this case, though, I was actually fully prepared to talk to this person and apologize. I decided to write the note instead because I know s/he’s a sentimental sap (again, like me), and because having something written down can sometimes be more meaningful to others, more solid, trustworthy.
Please understand that my apology has nothing to do with virtue. Virtue would have been to feel my discomfort and not let it change how I related to this person. It’s only after the discomfort disappeared that I wanted to embrace and affirm him/her. I don’t get, or want, points for this. This is only the natural outpouring of compassion and is no more virtuous than parents caring for their kids–it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.
Well (as is par for the course for me) I grew anxious and impatient and decided the note can’t wait until the next time I’d see this person. So I called the other day, said what I needed to say, and s/he heard me out. And ya’ know what? S/he’s essentially like, “What hang ups?” S/he enjoys it when I’m around, had no clue what I was talkin’ about. I’m over here thinkin’, “Say what, yo?” Either this person’s a liar, a saint, totally oblivious or I was awfully talented at covering up my neurosis.
I shook my head and smiled softly at the irony, a fresh wave of tenderness washing over me. How lucky I feel to know that my insensitivity was imperceptible and therefore had no adverse impact on this person’s psyche. The fact that s/he didn’t notice anything amiss brings a lump to my throat, as it reminds me of the innocence and purity of a small child. I’m humbled indeed, and yet filled with gratitude.
Thanks for reading,