A few years back, I had a falling out with someone. The type of falling out that wasn’t really resolved by time, or holidays, or apologetic overtures; with the type of someone who is not related to me by blood but is in my family, and who seems to put me in the wrong no matter what I do. It has been tricky navigating the road back from that canyon that grew between us, and for about six months now we’ve been holding steady at “large trench” versus “canyon,” meaning that outwardly things are polite at family events but our interactions don’t go beyond the superficial.
It doesn’t feel great to me, having that tension be a part of my extended family life. It has become sort of a self-perpetuating problem at this point, since due to the tension we don’t see each other often. When we are together for the half-dozen or so holidays and family parties that require us both to be in attendance, there are plenty of buffers that keep our tough edges from bumping up against one another. Here’s the thing though: I hate “keeping the peace.” I loathe “going along to get along.” I despise “water under the bridge” when it’s clear as day that the bridge has been swept away. I am not good at ignoring the “elephant in the room.” And not just because I hate clichès.
If the world were run by me, I would have had a direct conversation with this person back when the chasm first opened about what was what and where things would go from there. I would have clarified anything that was unclear, and tried to right any wrongs that were within my control. But that’s not something that you can force on someone who isn’t ready or willing or equipped to have that sort of conversation. So instead, I have confined myself to benign questions about pets, and work, and upcoming events; and I’ve let the noncommittal one-word answers go unchallenged in the moment. I have then spent far too many minutes of my life dissecting how those interactions went afterward, my husband a patient participant in the post-game analysis.
Tonight the circumstances were different. Happy occasion, lack of normal buffers. I took a deep breath, put my big-girl panties on, and wouldn’t take “fine” for an answer. I had done my homework and was able to ask specific questions, with follow-ups. I smiled, I was friendly. I found genuine things that we could both connect to, and it worked. Maybe because enough time had finally passed, maybe because life circumstances had changed, maybe because with me right there in front of her she couldn’t keep demonizing my good intentions, or maybe because I didn’t talk myself out of trying harder.
It shouldn’t be this hard. If you go around asking people “Is it a good thing to hold a grudge? Is it worth it to hold on to these negative feelings about someone over something that didn’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things?” most people would say “Of course not.” But those are just words, the actions of repairing a rift are more difficult than the actions of holding a grudge. To hold a grudge, you just need to sit back and pick out all of the negative bits of information that come at you about a person to keep justifying why you are right in staying firmly on your side of the divide. To repair a rift, you need to swallow some pride, stick your neck out a bit, and make a lot of inane conversation to show you mean business.
So, Fabulous Thing #43: Doing the harder thing and having it pay off.