Monday, December 28, 2009

Saving Grace



D, originally from the Czech Republic, moved here when he was 25. Naturally, English wasn’t his first language; I think it finished a distant fourth.

We were together for a couple of years -- one short, one long. Though he lived and worked in English, D thought, conceptualized, and dreamed in something else. We fought our battles on my one and only playing field, English. At worst, I could always win on a technicality.

To conclude a serious discussion, when we were either extremely frustrated or charmed with each other, I’d wrap things up with something really scathing or really sweet. D couldn’t do a change-up. His last pitch was always, “That’s the truth and I’m not kidding you.” Only it was more like, “I’m not keedeen you.”

If I felt like it, that fell right in my strike zone.

To be fair, had he insisted we play the game elsewhere, in French for example, my zingers would have been in the realm of “You giant goat of shit!” or “Dear, you be sweet mutton with me.” Yeah, and that’s my second-best language.

The idiosyncrasies that so delighted us early in a relationship were the very ones that came back to haunt us two years later. He grew tired of my easy-breezy ways, and I grew frustrated with his blatant, unashamed love of money, as well as the appalling accent. He ceased to be cute. Well, on balance, the sweet mutton side in us both had all but disappeared.

After much experience, experimentation, and observation, I think couples in long-term relationships have three things in common: Kindness, forgiveness, and patience. Also, when an argument starts to get ugly, giving way once in awhile. The self-control to bite one’s tongue, even though you’ve got a comeback that’s so good, oh so good. But you know what? If a couple goes the distance, a sincere and lovely distance, the first thing to leave is the last word.

I don't think I'll ever find that state of grace; certainly, I'll never leave a good phrase unsaid, at whatever cost. But I like to know such grace exists. That’s the truth and I’m not kidding you.

64 comments:

  1. Before my brother got married, he said that he could find no faults in his fiance. I reminded him, "It's not the faults that will sink you. It's the things that you initially find charming."

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  2. Just making relationships work period can be such a challenge that when I see couples with major cultural differences making a go of it, I am in awe. It's often said that opposites attract. They don't. They collide head on. All that "shared interests" bullshit they feed singles trying to find their soul mates is actually much closer to the truth. The result is usually much more of a merge than a head-on collision.

    I have to admit, Karin, I'm curious. What brought D to mind and this insightful post to life?

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  3. In my over-romanticized 20s, I would have said something like 'openness' keeps people together.

    Egads.

    Boundaries, people. Boundaries keep relationships together. Otherwise you inevitably drown in some flash flood of one or the other's making.

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  4. It's all about the check?

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  5. Well a very timely post pour moi. Thanks KB. A little something for me to chew on. Pollyanna here needed that little reminder. C'est la vie....sigh.
    V

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  6. If a couple goes the distance, a sincere and lovely distance, the first thing to leave is the last word.

    Yes, I've known that! Good to know you've known that one, 2.

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  7. "...the first thing to leave is the last word." Yes, how true. I'm in a program where I've learned to keep quiet a lot of the time, and to understand that there is more than one right answer. The people I know in this program regularly say things like, "Even though she completely misunderstood, when my wife told me she was angry with me I didn't defend myself." But they also know that they had some part in it.

    WV: mindol

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  8. I, too, love that line "the first thing to leave is the last word".

    Karin, what an excellent thought provoking post. I am sure most of us are both wondering about the D person, and wondering how your thoughts apply in our relationships.

    You almost have me running for the hills! I have much to ponder. But I have given up getting the last word in.

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  9. Brenda: Running the hills are exhausting. Be careful!

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  10. The last word is just so terribly, terribly tempting.

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  11. VFR - hee-hee - your way with words still amazes me.
    Now back to reading the post - from the photo, it mast bi e duzi or houevRR jou Amerikan-boRRns saj it.

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  12. PS - come see my nostalga pics on mostlyLAcounty.blogspot.com - I blame it all on you and PA.

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  13. Just a silly thought. What if the last word is, "I love you?"

    I"ve been out of this game too long to make that call.
    V

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  14. Susan wrapped it up in two sentences. Terry, this happened '07, and it's the end of the decade, so time to take stock. I'll add Linda's boundaries to your shared interests, and raise you a thoughtful CO, ME, BA and Virg.

    Yes Dez, but you have too much tact. And Tash, everyone should visit your mostlyLAcounty.blogspot.com. We share an old world accent.

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  15. I've been married for over 30 years and I'm weighing in on boundaries. Cross mine you'll hear all about it, right then and there. I cross yours, I don't have any problem apologizing for that. I had both experiences today, which means it all got worked and and that's what makes it a good one.

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  16. Susan C - so, so very true.

    I'm a good tongue biter. :) But in the good way that does not mean I'm just repressing it all for later.

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  17. Boundaries: check.

    I would also offer: 1) walking away and thinking about it, if you must, because time will soften an argument; and 2) friendship. I figured out how to love and be love when I figured out how to be friends with a man.

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  18. I'm naturally saved by having the inability to think of a good comeback until at least one hour later. {PS: I concur with Susan C.}

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  19. Excellent. This wise, yet funny, post as well as the insightful comments of your merry band of readers comes on the eve of a first date with a new fella. I'll be sure to keep this in mind, if things progress. Wish us luck! If experience has taught me anything, I'll need it. I'm not keedeen!

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  20. On further thought (your posts often give me further thoughts to ponder), I appreciate that you include not just what D. did wrong, but your own failings as well.

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  21. Shortcomings? Failings? Don't think that was the point. This was more a piece about people who are in it for the long haul and people who aren't.

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  22. Not that you have any faults, of course, Hiker. Obviously you're past that phase.

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  23. Of course I wasn't saying I have no faults, just that I don't see fault as an issue in this case. Or, let's say, I wasn't trying to be so pejorative.

    I think the character of many human interactions is a matter of temperment rather than premeditated behavior and choice.

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  24. Separate bedrooms and lowered expectations. The glue that binds.

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  25. I didn't miss the meaning of your post, I just didn't communicate my meaning well.

    I've been around a few unhappy couples lately, and all I hear (from both sides) is how wrong the other person is. I never hear anyone say, "I have this foible" or "I could do this better." I just meant to say I appreciate your ability to do that. It's a valuable quality.

    And now, the winning WV of 2009:
    "hothag"
    I win, I win, I win!
    Yet there is no prize.

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  26. PA, you are so smart. I would kill for my own bedroom...actually, after we take care of building some closet shelves I will have my own bedroom. That's right, the extra bedroom is mine, mwahahahaha! As for lowered expectations that goes without saying, I mean, NOBODY'S that good, even Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt couldn't make it work.

    A difference in temperament - that's a tough one. When our son was in high school we ended up in the last place we ever thought we would be - a kind of group counseling. We learned that our temperament and our son's weren't a good fit. The solution: don't judge, don't blame, let him make his own mistakes, no matter what. Not an easy thing to do when someone you love is making what you think are bad choices. Eventually, though, things came full circle. It seems that if you love someone, set them free, set them free, free, free, set them free...

    Petrea, is that hothag or hot-hag? Maybe we should all write a sentence with our favorite wv and see if we can come up with a piece of Flash Fiction...

    wv gumso
    I'll have some of that tasty gumso soup.

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  27. They did not give me a hyphen, I'm afraid.

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  28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  29. "I think the character of many human interactions is a matter of temperament rather than premeditated behavior and choice." Certainly temperament has something to do with it.

    I think what happens is, we grow up with mechanisms that we adapt from our surroundings to deal with whatever the world appears to be in our early lives. We come to believe that our reactions to things are the way we are and the way those things need to be reacted to.

    But there are ways of seeing the world differently and learning to overcome our immediate reactions to things if they aren't bringing us the results we are seeking. I've seen evidence over and over again that people can change the ways they react to things and therefore the direction of their lives.

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  30. And then sometimes there's the person that in order
    "to make nice", accepts the blame for it all in order to make it all better. Not healthy, but it usually pleases at least one person in the relationship.

    I'm still chewing on cultural differences. Pollyanna /Scarlett will think about that tomorrow!

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  31. Earl, I thought my piece was an appreciation of people who have aspirations other than my own.

    Well, this is what makes blogging great. I get to know when I hit or miss a mark.

    Now I'm going to go talk to Scarlett.

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  32. HA! Maybe one or two of you are scratching your heads trying to figure it out. Let me just add that when you're from Birmingham, Alabama, U S of A, the rest of the planet qualifies as "cultural differences"! I just love ya'll! :)

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  37. Uhm, I probably removed more here than was warrented, but please my friends, this is a friendly place. And not a site you want to take up any issues regarding folks from other countries. My parents were immigrants, so you'll have to fight me first.

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  38. Great post, AH. Long-term is SO hard. Truth is, to make a marriage (or other) work, you have to make peace with never, ever getting 100% of what you want. You have to compromise on everything, every day. And that means both of you. If it's just one-way, it's disaster.

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  39. Soilman hit the nail on the head. All take and no give is a recipe for disaster. In a good relationship everyone does the heavy lifting.

    And KB, don't apologize for keeping your blog on the up and up!
    V

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  40. Another vote for the man of soil.

    GG

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  41. Soilman, your handle could be Wiseman. Your addition is wise, too, V.

    Good deleting, Karin--diplomatic and kind.

    I was the party pooper the other night when my fellow diners started ragging on a certain group of immigrants. Sometimes it's hard to look past the neighborhood to the bigger picture.

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  42. I don't think you missed the mark, Karin. You talked about a relationship that ended, and you talked about wanting to have the last word as part of that. I have learned in recent years that successful relationships, of any kind, are based on not having to have the last word, and sometimes not saying anything even though you'd like to. Soilman said it well, that it's about constant compromise. Part of compromise is not saying everything that comes to mind, or trying to prove that you're right. This is a lesson that I'm only recently learning.

    Your piece did not sound like a simple appreciation of people with other aspirations, particularly because we know that long-term aspirations are difficult to achieve even when one wants to.

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  43. Did you think you missed the mark? I think you hit it. The evidence is in the discussion you sparked.

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  44. I always imagine soilman saying the words in a British accent; then they sound twice as brilliant.

    P, I loved your post today.

    And Mr Earl, now you've done it, because I...
    Must...have...last...word

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  45. Oh Earl, now you have to take that sensitivity class all over again.

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  46. This is brilliant.

    After the failed long-term relationships in my twenties and early thirties, I can't exactly figure out what makes Jon's and my relationship work so well. We love each other more than we ever want to be right, I guess. Or maybe we're just good enough friends that it feels stupid to argue. Or maybe we are just so exhausted from raising a preschooler we have no time to find fault with each other. Whatever it is that makes things tick, I'm grateful.

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  47. Ah.... so you mean there is hope for me yet? What a great little reminder you gave me today.

    Having the last juicy and oh, so perfect word is not necessarily the best word and it's barb may just boomerang right back at me.

    Happy New Year Karin..

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  48. I hope nobody else comments so I can have the last word!!! I love this blog!
    V

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  49. I love you, Virg, but you can still have the last word. I'm waiting..

    WV: pedubj - I'm not going there.

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  50. Maybe it was a positive intention here.

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  51. I’ll give you the last word :-).

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  52. Dinner sounds good...who is cooking. THAT's the secret to a long relationship (25th on Vernal Equinox) - finding a man who doesn't care if you don't cook or if you do.

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  53. The great cotton picking state of Alabama, home of Bo Jackson, the Auburn Tigers, and Birmingham Alabama Daily Photo yields to the wacky but wonderful state of California and the home of Altadenahiker for the VERY last word. Take it away KB>>>>>>>

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  54. Ooh, that must have been ugly-five deletions. I'll just banish myself for awhile. Sorry 'bout that.
    Nothing against your parents, KB-still, it's apples and oranges...

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  55. That's ok Bandit. I know you guys were talking about a social condition, but it could have been misconstrued, and my blog isn't the place for that anyway.

    Happy New Year!

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  56. Before I even read all the other folks here, I'm just gonna say that this is really touching and perceptive AS WELL AS one of your most clever--and that's saying something. You just keep topping yourself, AH. Does it make you crazy?

    I'm pretty sure I agree with all your conclusions. I too have failed to stifle myself . . . once or twice . . . and I doubt my superb articulation has ever done any good.

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  57. wow

    hit a nerve, did ya? ;-)

    as one who has been married for more than 18 years, I can tell you, it helps to be married to your best friend. I can also say that, holding your tongue, while sometimes important, will get you to a point where it all comes spilling out eventually, and it often isn't pretty. tact is important.

    compromise is required--whether doing what your SO wants instead of what you want, or not insisting you get your way. turn it into a win for you both.

    I don't pretend to have all the answers, but J & I did learn how NOT to do it from our folks.

    and tho I didn't get around to seeing the deleted comments before they poofed, sometimes, tho the truth may be in there, it doesn't need to be verbalized (or printed). we're all immigrants to some extent, even those of us with some Am Indian in us.

    ...a part of me is wondering if I get the last word tho? maybe the rest of y'all are distracted watching the parade right now?;-) lol...hope it is a happy new year for us all.

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  58. A charming, evocative post.

    Only once did I renounce the last word. Oddly, there have been no words at all for more than 5 years.

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  59. Mr Earl's "I think what happens is, we grow up with mechanisms that we adapt from our surroundings to deal with whatever the world appears to be in our early lives. We come to believe that our reactions to things are the way we are and the way those things need to be reacted to.

    But there are ways of seeing the world differently and learning to overcome our immediate reactions to things if they aren't bringing us the results we are seeking."

    That's amazing. Thanks so much for writing it.

    My wv: consume (!)

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