I Had a Really Bad Day. OH YEAH? Well I had a Worse Day. OH YEAH??? Well…
“My day sucked. It was TERRIBLE.”
“Uh-huh. What happened?”
“I was moving a desk up the stairs and knocked off one of the legs.”
“Uh-huh.” Feigns interest. Exhaustion in his voice.
The Poor Me radar picked that up.
“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND I HAD A REALLY REALLY REALLY BAD DAY.”
“Um, I need to go now. Talk to you later. ‘Bye.”
A few weeks ago, my best male buddy David (not his real name), who is the wildfire supervisor in Southwestern Colorado, was up to his bushy eyebrows in fire.
As the enormous fire spread virtually right in town, he was running crews, running interference, and dealing with incessant inquiries from terrified townspeople who needed to know if they were safe. He worked with his men wielding water, spent untold hours in and around the fire all day long, and at night fielded phone calls from the mayors and his crew and everyone else.
The fire spread to thousands of acres, threatening businesses, more homes, animals. It was brutal. By the time he got home each night he was exhausted. He’d been dealing with people who had lost their homes, their dogs, their horses. Many more were terrified about loved ones they hadn’t heard from all day. Or longer.
Breaking a leg off a desk for this man doesn’t exactly count as a “bad day,” at least not by comparison to what he sees. While it does for his girlfriend, what he was seeing, and continues to see (we now have a 103,000 acre fire that has taken out more than 100 homes) teaches him daily what a “bad day” looks like.
This is the same man, who, some many years ago, was my roommate. One night after tying one on, he curled up in his front seat to sleep it off near the bar. He got picked for one too many DUIs and had to do six months in jail.
I think David understands what a bad day looks like.
He pulled himself up by the bootstraps, got sober, went to work, and got his EMT. He’s been saving lives ever since. More time than he wants to count, he and his crew arrived too late to save someone.
I think David understands what a bad day looks like.
David and I were discussing this conversation with the erstwhile girlfriend last week. She’d gotten hugely angry and offended. Major drama had ensued. The GF was pouting. Pissed. David was officially in the doghouse.
While I can relate to how it feels to damage furniture (I moved a very large couch by myself into the garage, which was fine, except you should see what I did to my wood and vinyl floors in the process. My floors had a right shitty day) I struggle to embrace the POV.
I’ve known this man since 2002. Competent, caring, the ultimate fireman hero, the consummate professional in the field. I know how others’ pain drags on him. But by the same token, he has a limit, just like everyone else. He can carry a much bigger load, but when it’s too much, he shuts down.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. Not at all. It means he needs to rest his brain. His very large heart. Like all first responders, he exists on pure adrenaline. At the end of day after grueling day during a truly bad fire season, like we have this year, he has a right to rest. Recuperate. Because early the next morning, or in the middle of the night, it starts all over again.
I knew David when he was a rank rookie, and a massive fire nearly took out my house-the one he and I shared- with my dog in it. I was in South Africa on an adventure. Justifiably terrified. He regularly kept me updated, convinced me to stay at home (you’d be put in a shelter, at least over there you’re distracted, he said, and he was right) and mitigated the fire danger around the house by cutting the problem trees down and clearing the brush away. That’s now his house. He lives with the same dangers everyone else does in high, dry country.
I’m sensitive to the reality that our partners also have bad days, and to them whatever emergency is going on is a MAJOR EMERGENCY. By the same token, I have difficulty understanding how the GF in this case simply cannot understand the nature of his world, his life, and not create space for him to just be heard. I suspect he might need to blow off a little steam himself. Given what he’s been seeing lately, there’s probably a whole lot of it to let go.
Happily, as one of his closest friends, that’s what I’m there for.
What would be even better, however, is to have our partners be our best friends as well. That doesn’t always happen. In that situation, we need a good social system to support us, so that when the love of our life can’t be there for whatever reason, others are. David has me, as well as guys at the station. The GF needs a best buddy to empathize with her horrific day breaking the leg off the desk. In all fairness, we really can’t expect our partners to be all things to us at all times. That’s why having a rich range of people who care about us is so essential.
Getting into a verbal pissing contest with a guy like David about who had a worse day is…um….stupid. Selfish. Self-centered. Self-absorbed. Lots of drama. David has quite enough drama in his life right now.
This a good way to scare off a good man. A good woman. Anyone.
The GF has a lot of redeeming qualities. No question. This isn’t one of them.
Here’s the piece. In the ongoing give-and-take that is a relationship, one of the most essential elements is recognizing when to talk and when to listen. Even more so, taking the time to look at the larger picture. If they just aren’t into the conversation right now, consider the circumstances. Your stuff usually can wait a few hours, a day. The good ones will do the same for you when it’s your turn. Doesn’t matter whether your partner is male, female, gay, bi, tranny, queer. Being willing to embrace the larger picture of a person’s life is one of the ways relationships teach us compassion, patience and empathy.
I know enough about David’s GF to know what her life is like, and some of her issues. By the same token I also know that she’s very bright. Sadly, so are a lot of folks who have difficulty giving their partners room, space, and peace and quiet. Being bright doesn’t guarantee sensitivity. Empathy. Having the wherewithal to understand when to back away, give your partner cave time, or simply to be softly in their presence.
I’m Outta Here
The fastest way I know to send a good partner running for the hills is to browbeat them, particularly when they are exhausted. Make them wrong. Find fault. Drag drama into their lives when all they want is a moment of peace. Being there for each other sometimes means just that- just BE there. The ability to be present- no phones, no devices, no nothing, including talking — can be hugely healing.
We partner because we want someone to answer that great aching question, “Is there anyone there for me?” Sometimes that answer is nothing more than the squeeze of a hand. A quiet acknowledgement that you don’t have to do anything. Relationships also need to offer rest, respite and reinforcement at times.
Sometimes the most important that we can hear is “What do you need right now?” “What can I do for you?” Sometimes the answer is silence. Being left alone for a while.
A Time for Quiet
David and I have both spent many years living alone, and for us, silence is a supremely important way to recuperate from stress. This doesn’t invalidate the GF’s bad day. However, what it does do is present an opportunity for those who care about us to learn to love at a higher level. What that looks like is unique to each relationship. It’s how we learn to recognize and respect boundaries.
Love is earned over time, trial and many tribulations. It’s earned in the small, day-to-day interactions that demonstrate that we do indeed have our partners’ needs at heart. The GF isn’t wrong for needing to be soothed. However, at a time when David is simply overwhelmed by the extraordinary conditions in his life, arguing over who had the worse day doesn’t look like love. It smacks of selfishness. I’m sure the GF would argue this point, and that’s the whole problem. The need to be right can override the need to be a good partner.
The sad piece is that this could cost her a very good man. On more than one occasion David has said that it’s hard for him to take all the additional drama after what he has to take in day after day, especially during fire season. He’d rather be alone, and be able to detox quietly in his house than be harangued about how insensitive he is.
Wanna argue about whose day is worse? We may lose a lot more than the argument. It might serve us more to be sensitive to those signals that say, “Kindly, not now.” There is a great gift in learning to listen, and setting aside our own needs for the greater needs of another.
The paybacks for this kind of caring likely include gratitude and appreciation. Then when you really, truly have an awful day, chances are really good they’ll be there for you, too.