There is so much we get to decide for ourselves, so many options on life’s menu to choose from moment to moment, day to day, over the course of a life, lived. We choose a lot of stuff. We make a lot of choices. Many decisions are in our hands. There is something we don’t get to decide; we don’t get to decide if we’ve hurt someone else. They get to decide that, as the person who feels hurt. Period. End of discussion. Non-negotiable. We only know our own intention, and we’ll lie to ourselves about that, if it suits us. (Yes, you too. Yes, me too.) We tend to make ourselves the protagonist in our own narrative – and “the good guy” as well.

Yesterday I hurt my traveling partner’s feelings. I wasn’t sure how initially; I was feeling pretty fucking hurt myself, as it happened. He’d managed to hurt my feelings, too. He brought his hurt feelings to my attention immediately. I felt crappy for hurting him, angry that he’d hurt me, and resentful that he “got to it first”, resulting in also feeling that I had no legitimate opportunity to speak up about my own hurt feelings with him directly, without undermining the sincerity of my apology for hurting him. It was a less than ideal situation for good communication, or affectionate support. Still… I muddled through, and stayed true to one understanding of emotions I have learned I can count on; when we feel hurt, whatever the circumstances, we want the person we perceived has hurt us to acknowledge our suffering, and the part they played in it, and if possible we want them to make it right (or at least to apologize sincerely without making excuses). It’s an important part of treating others well to be able to apologize wholly, to mean it, and to handle that quite separately from our own hurts. That’s hard sometimes.

It's hard to unsay the words.

It’s hard to unsay the words.

I don’t always recognize that I’ve hurt someone. I don’t always understand why they are hurting. If they are hurting, and they tell me they are hurting, I accept that the hurt they are experiencing is truly their experience; it isn’t up to me to decide for them what hurts. No amount of comparison to my own experience, or other experiences, can serve to define, clarify, or place limits on the experience of someone saying they are hurt; it’s their experience, no one knows like they do. Let’s put another period right there, while we’re at it – this is also a non-negotiable on life’s journey; we don’t get to tell someone else how they feel. Just stop doing that shit. (I still catch myself, sometimes, and it usually begins innocently enough as an attempt to connect, to understand, to empathize… doesn’t matter much how it begins, if it ends with me telling you how you feel, I am in error for doing so, regardless whether I am coincidentally correct about your emotional state.)

Search all the books that matter most to you, there are still verbs involved. :-)

Search all the books that matter most to you, there are still verbs involved. 🙂

I’ve gotten decently skilled at some of the emotional intelligence stuff… It hasn’t necessarily eased the journey in any noteworthy way. lol I am quite human, and struggle most with emotions within the context of my most passionate intimate relationships like pretty nearly everyone else. I’m okay with that, it is a process and there is no lack of love. I felt sad to have hurt my traveling partner’s feelings. Keeping my sadness to the side, without disrespecting my own emotional needs, I made myself commit to listening deeply, however much his words hurt me (there was nothing abusive about them, just painfully frank, and striking directly at where I also hurt most, myself, in that moment). In listening with great care, and great compassion, I stayed open to accepting that I had hurt him, regardless of my intent. I apologized. He lashed out, hurt and angry, and I apologized again for hurting him, while I wept private tears. My morning felt pretty blown. My head ached. I felt heartsick.

Perspective matters. I often find it here. ;-)

Perspective matters. I often find it here. 😉

I took the space I needed to care for my own heart. That was a mixed effort for some time. It got easier after my traveling partner had time to give consideration to the morning, himself, with a clear head, and unencumbered by his own hurts. He apologized to me. We mutually acknowledged the misunderstandings, the miscommunications, mistakes resulting from the order in which text messages were received or read, the way key words and phrases evoke emotional reactions, we reinforced our value to each other, and took time to say soothing, caring things. We moved on.

Be love. It's a choice. Love is a verb.

Be love. It’s a choice. Love is a verb.

Did I hurt my traveling partner’s feelings deliberately? No. I wouldn’t. It’s not my way and I find no value in willfully treating people poorly. Did I hurt his feelings at all? He said I did, therefore that is his experience; my own, in that moment, is not relevant to his experience – even if I am also hurting. (Those are quite separate experiences.) It’s hard not to respond to my lover’s pain with my own pain – but it’s not productive, generally, to do so.

Our own pain easily manages to feel like the worst pain we’ve ever known (and generally without regard to whether we’ve ever hurt worse in the past, in other circumstances). Our approach to the pain of others is different – we want to fix it, to help, and we most certainly don’t want them hurting, we try to make it go away, or try to ignore it. As silly as it seems to read it in print, we behave as though we can use our words to re-craft our experience omitting their pain. It just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes people hurt. Sometimes we are the reason why they are hurting. The result, too often, is that we put our own pain ahead of the pain of others and end up imagining our pain hurts worse, when we cannot possibly know that, and can’t validate that assumption even by asking. The kinder choice is simply to be compassionate about pain, and to apologize when we’ve hurt someone. In mutually supportive relationships among equals, this is a reciprocal practice.

It’s still super hard though; if I feel hurt I want that attended to, and letting it go long enough to care for the pain of another is one of the more difficult practices I practice. Sometimes the result, as with yesterday, is that after that hurt person is cared for, they return that care and soothe my hurt in return. Sometimes that is not the case, and I must care for myself. The thing about that… it’s okay. I’m getting pretty good at caring for myself, and when I must, I can count on me to do so pretty skillfully. The most important thing is to refrain from treating myself badly while supporting someone else. Yesterday I managed it through a haze of tears over text communication… I don’t know that I could have done it with as much success in person. I’m still very much a student. I need more practice.

I keep practicing.

I keep practicing.

My traveling partner and I enjoyed a splendid fun evening, later on, and not “as if nothing had happened” – that’s a place I don’t personally want to get trapped. Instead, we enjoyed the deeper intimacy of two human beings, fully human, loving each other humanity and all, awake and aware, present with each other. When we greet each other our embrace wrapped us both in warmth and affection, and the shared understanding that we’re really there for each other – even when we’re the ones bringing the pain. Those sincere reciprocal apologies built on respect, consideration, compassion, and openness, delivered with awareness, and accepted with heartfelt relief make a huge difference. We go forward stronger. Love wants a good apology without reservations, and without excuses. It’s okay to save reasons for another moment, a different conversation, some other time.

This morning I sip my coffee, content and calm. No lingering tears, no “emotional hangover”. It’s nice. It’s been a long journey to get here. There is further to go. Today is a good day for housekeeping, and becoming the woman I most want to be. Today is a good day to practice loving well.