We’d been seeing each other for a few weeks. We’d hit it off really well and expressed our mutual liking. We’d decided to get together Friday evening for something casual. No definite plans had been made, just that we’d talk that afternoon and see what we wanted to do and when to rendezvous.
He called at 4:30 and asked, “Will you be there in 30 minutes? I need to make a call before 5:00. Then I’ll call you back and we can decide what we want to do tonight.”
I waited for the 5:00 call. Nothing. At 5:30, I called and got voice mail. I called again at 6:00, 6:30, 7:30. Voice mail. Every minute seemed an eternity. I was seething. “How disrespectful! How inconsiderate. Here I am spending my Friday night waiting for a call. This man does not keep his promises. He is out of integrity. I can’t date a man who doesn’t keep his word.”
The intensity of my disappointment and anger increased with each passing hour. I rehearsed the voice mail telling him I wouldn’t be treated like this. How dare he make a date then essentially stand me up. If he couldn’t honor his word about something simple like calling me back, what else wasn’t he dependable about? Was this the way to start a relationship?
At 10:00 he called. I knew that his cousin — a man with whom he grew up like a brother — had tried to commit suicide a few days before. My date had been the one to find him after he’d slit his wrists. He had been at the hospital ICU for hours the last few days. We knew from the previous days that there was no cell phone usage inside. After we talked at 4:30 he called to check on his cousin. The nurse said he was failing and to come immediately. He rushed to his cousin’s side. He stayed with him, holding him in his arms until he died. He called me on his way home, disturbed and emotionally drained.
Imagine if I’d left the voice mail I’d rehearsed. Or laid into him as soon as he called rather than hearing what happened. Or said, “You could have stepped out and called me to let me know what was happening.” Yes, he could have called, but in the grand scheme of things that sounded so petty to point out. If you are in the midst of a loved one’s dying, you are focused on them, not on a phone call to some woman you barely know.
It taught me a lesson of how much I make up what’s going on with the other person based on no information. Could he have called me on the way to the hospital to let me know? Yes. Is it understandable that someone would forget to do so given the situation? Absolutely. It is easy to criticize others based on what we imagine we would do in a similar situation, but we aren’t living in their skin, with the thought patterns, emotions and history which determine their decisions.
It is so easy to make it all about us. It is natural and automatic. It is much, much harder to hold off reacting and wait until we have some information. The trick is to feel what you feel, notice what you think, and keep it to yourself until you hear the other side. If you need to write down what you’re feeling to get it out, do so. If you need to talk to a good friend and ask, “How else could I interpret this?” do it. Just don’t barge in like an angry bear. You may end up feeling skinned by embarrassment.
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