I love my cats more than you. Yes, even you. I’m sorry. I just can’t help it.
One day I came home from work, and both my cats jumped up on the bed to say hello. The scene that followed could have gotten me institutionalized. The baby voice, the talking to them at all, the incessant snuggling and kissing and belly-scratching and loving.
My partner watched this go on for a minute before he said, half joking and half genuinely sad, “How come you’re never that happy to see me when you get home?”
I glossed over it and made it into a joke. Something about him not having the cutestlittlenoseI’veeverseen!! This only annoyed him more. I got serious and told him that it was because the cats never left the toilet seat up, to which he reminded me that he has never shit in the bed (unlike the cats). Before you know it we’re actually arguing about this, and angry!
The fight fizzled out, but the thought stayed with me. I ended up realizing that the main difference was that I never resented my cats. I never questioned their motives. They’re cats, for fuck’s sake. When the kitten pissed on my sweatshirt, it was because I hadn’t been used to having two cats and dropped the ball on the litter box, not because he was secretly getting back at me for something I didn’t know I had done.
When the cats do something annoying, my first impulse is to isolate the behavior of mine that caused it so that I can prevent it from happening again. I have learned the hard way not to leave delicate things where they could easily be knocked down, to keep dangly plants far enough away to avoid them being eaten, and to never, ever, leave food unattended for a second. I am more patient with them than people. I forgive more quickly because I’m focused on my role in whatever it is.
Now, before you write me off as a crazy cat lady, think about this for a minute: What if we all took that approach with each other?
That’s not to say that people are as manipulation-free as my cats. That would be impossibly naive of me to assert. There are some people who will hurt you because they don’t give a fuck about you. At some point, someone will do something to you that has nothing to do with you, that happened through no fault of your own, and that’s going to be pretty rough to deal with. But that isn’t the norm.
Every interaction between two people consists of, well, those two people. We adapt, and we react, to the words and actions of the people in our lives. If we’re really honest with ourselves we can all think of things we’ve done out of passive-aggression, out of reaction or hurt or fear or anger (which is usually just hurt or fear manifesting externally anyway).
If your partner gets short or snippy with you, it’s easy to shoot right back. At least for me it is. I’ve got, “Go Fuck Yourself,” pretty much pre-loaded in my back pocket ready to go whenever I need it. And you’d be surprised how frequently I think I need it. But that’s not helpful. It won’t solve the issue at hand, and it sure as fuck won’t prevent similar issues in the future.
The hard thing to do is to look at yourself, with clarity and willingness, and to take responsibility when need be. Sure, they might just be having a bad day, but there might be something below the surface there. And I’m not talking about just accepting if someone says you’ve done something. I am talking about actively looking for your role. Seeking out the truth, even if it makes you look bad. Even if it makes you feel bad. Own your actions. Take responsibility.
In doing this, we create a dynamic of acceptance and forgiveness rather than blame and anger. We move on more quickly. We hang on to fewer resentments. We can speak frankly and plainly to each other and know that our feelings will be heard and valued. It is impossible to be equally focused on someone else’s feelings and proving yourself right. It just can’t be done.
I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you, but you were going to find out eventually anyway.