Some time ago, PG asked for a post about fighting. "How do you deal with arguing with people you're close to?" she asks. Hmmm. I haven't posted about this because I don't think I'm very interesting in this regard. And because I don't think I'm able to tell the truth about it, necessarily.
I don't argue often -- that's the truth. I like to think that's because I'm easygoing and reasonable and frank and open-minded and generous of spirit, but that's probably not true. What's probably more true is that I'm avoidant and indecisive when I'm troubled by something, and I'm reluctant to talk about it until I've figured it all out for myself. I would like to think that my arguments are tactful and loving but I'm not sure I'm always very reasonable. The truth is I don't really know. If I have a conflict with someone I love it's emotional and stressful and I'm in my head so much that I'm not a very clear observer. I think I've written about this before, how I can't remember break-up scenes, or big relationship talks, the way I can remember more ordinary conversations. I come away with just the gist, and no recollection of how the topics segued from one to the next. I'm desperate not to disappoint the people I love, and if it looks like I have done so I project all of my own self-judgment and criticism and imagine they are levelling it at me and it feels so bad I can't stand it and get resentful and outraged and self-righteous. It's hard to get past that to reasonable ground.
My basic approach to differences isn't conducive to a lot of arguments. You do your thing, I'll do mine. I'm okay being friends with people who vote differently than I do, or who live differently than I do. I'm pretty unbothered by differences of opinion within professional or nonprofit situations; I don't feel the compulsion to persuade other intelligent people to my worldview. Where we diverge I'm generally curious about the reasons, and I'm rarely so attached to my own preference that I wouldn't consider changing it. I'm even okay being friends with people when I think they are being selfish, or foolhardy, or shortsighted, or unkind in their approach to other people, although in those situations I'll speak up if I can. Speaking up usually means some combination of gentle teasing or admonishment, or saying something like, "You know I'm on your side here, and I don't mean to imply that I think it's easy, but I think you're being a coward, and I think you're brave enough just to say something. I don't understand why you don't feel like you can tell the truth." The point being to let them know I love and respect them, and am baffled by their behavior, even as I recognize their autonomy and will stick by them even if they keep falling short of being their best self.
The boyfriend who dumped me shortly after the inception of this blog has become a pal since then. After me he got into a very turbulent relationship with a woman who was trouble trouble trouble. After one of their breakups we were talking about their frequent fights. He's a gentle fellow -- kindhearted and easygoing. He and I never fought. "I think that was the trouble with us," he said to me, thoughtfully. "You and I always got along so well. It was always so easy. Whereas M___ and I fought like cats and dogs." In the wistful sigh that followed it was pretty clear which one he preferred. I've never had a relationship like that, full of anger and raised voices and tearful recriminations. I don't think I have the temperament to stick around for anything so dramatic.