We mess up. I mess up. We disappoint ourselves, we disappoint each other. We are aggressive, we rage, we manipulate, need, oblige, and bully. I do. I do less of it than I used to. I am not always aware of it when I’m doing it, and often I only know because someone I care about has backed up or disappeared.
I acted out at someone. I wanted something, I was anxious about whether I was going to get it, and I bullied and pushed. I woke up the next morning and my first thought was “I was a brute.” That’s not how I want to start my days. I apologized by text. I did get the opportunity to look this person in the eye again later and apologize in person, but I lost the feeling of fondness I had enjoyed from him.
Most relationships are optional, no one has to be here with me. If I am not a good friend, I won’t get to be a friend. A trusted friend. Trust doesn’t mean we are perfect, it just means we do the work to make it right when we’ve been wrong.
When I mess up with someone that I haven’t built trust with, will I have the opportunity to look that person in the eye and apologize? Do I get another opportunity? Will she feel safe telling me what I did wrong and allowing me to hear it?
This morning, I was out walking the dogs in a neighborhood with a friend. A lady approached us to “ask nicely” to do what she wanted, it was passive-aggressive. If you demand action from another, you may get the opposite of what you want. You can ask for what you want, but openly while allowing the other person to respond. Her ‘request’ elicited rage and threats from my friend. Both were wrong, both failed, and there will be no opportunity for repair. It left everyone shitty.
Repair is what creates trust. You can know someone for years without ever going deep enough to have conflict. That time spent creates the opportunity to demonstrate your values, so that if there is a conflict, it might be worth the effort to repair. Forgiveness is helpful, we must all let go every day our disappointments in ourselves, in each other. But forgiveness does not create trust the same way as repair.
I was a verbal brute one evening to Ted Schaeffer 20 years ago when we were dating. He messed up all the time, I forgave him all the time, why was it a big deal that I messed up? Didn’t I get equal opportunity fuck-ups? At least I should get a pass on a few, right? No. In one of the most memorable nights of my time with him was spent across a tiny kitchen table as he asked me to sit there and look him in the eye and apologize until he felt better. No half-assed, mumbled sorry’s. No “what’s the big deal? Get over it!” But he asked me to own my actions and use my imagination about how what I said made him feel. To utilize empathy. And then to make amends. I have to say it took longer than I wanted to. It was lousy and uncomfortable.
Two weeks ago, I got upset with a dear friend about an art purchase he had made. It was not so much that I didn’t like it, it was that I was left out of the conversation about his experience. The conflict had many subtleties, and though I was offended, I knew I had little right to be and was quite prepared to just let a day pass and get over it. But it made for awkwardness with someone I care about, and that just isn’t any fun. The next morning I woke to a long email from him that examined every facet of the experience from every angle, which he had to write before he could go to sleep that night. It was the most thoughtful apology I have ever heard in life or in fiction. It not only repaired the upset, it put so much trust in the bank I didn’t even know what to say in reply. I respect and appreciate him so much more and I will love that piece of art he bought just for the experience of knowing him better.
If you are my friend, and I have offended you, please allow me the opportunity to hear you and tell me how my actions made me feel.