What My Ex Taught Me
When I bought my house, a tiny home, I did a great job fixing it up. Everyone was amazed at how I had turned what had been a shabby house into this cute modern home.
So when my ex-boyfriend, a former colleague, finally bought a condo six months after we broke up, he asked me to go see it and give him some ideas for remodeling. I went there and suggested a few changes.
A month or so later, he told me he had almost finished the work on his house but had hurt his foot while laying tile on the bathroom floor. A sharp piece of broken tile had gone through his flip flops and his foot and had come out the other side, and he’d ended up having surgery. I asked him if he needed anything, and he admitted he could use some help.
I went to his place, which, by the way, looked very nice with the new tiles and paint. He hadn’t been able to clean the place since his surgery, though, so I helped him with that.
I put all the clothes laying on the floor and the bed in the washing machine, starting the first load of laundry. In the kitchen, I washed the dishes, put away the nonperishable groceries he had left on the counter, swept the floor, and moved on to the living room.
Both the dining-room table and his coffee table were covered with paper: bank statements, utility bills, stock market graphs and charts, take-out menus, and receipts. I decided to arrange all that into separate piles so that he could find them easily later.
One of the receipts caught my attention. It was for a rather expensive dinner, probably for two, at the Ritz. It surprised me a little because the whole time we were dating we never went to such expensive places.
He was lying on the couch listening to music, keeping his injured foot elevated on multiple cushions. I waved the receipt at him, “You took someone to the Ritz?” “Yeah… Miralda.” The name sounded familiar… Miralda. She was one of our former students at the school where we had both taught.
I nodded and continued organizing the pieces of paper. “Why do you ask?” he wanted to know.
“I don’t know…” I answered, “Probably because we never went to such places when we were together. I just didn’t think you were the type to spend that much money on dinner.”
He smirked and said, “You are not the type I would take to such places or spend that much money on.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, clearly shocked.
He explained, “You don’t care about eating dinner at an expensive restaurant; that’s why I never took you to one. Miralda cares about where she eats, what she wears, how she’s treated… You don’t, so why would a guy waste his money and take you to an expensive place you don’t really want to go?”
It was true that I didn’t care for restaurants. I’d always choose eating at home over eating out. But part of what he said didn’t sit well with me.
I asked, “Why would you think I don’t care how I’m treated?” He laughed, “Because you’re cleaning my house and Miralda is getting pampered at a weekend retreat. Miralda doesn’t even clean her own house, ever, because she doesn’t want to break her nails. She’s a lady. She deserves to be treated like one.”
“She’s a lady.”… Meaning what? I’m not???
I was officially offended and speechless. I just smiled, but a thousand thoughts flooded my mind. I continued to do what I had started. I didn’t even know how to feel. I felt insulted, angry, disappointed, and hurt. I finished cleaning and then folded the laundry, and my mind was still racing. I had a lot of questions, but none for him.
Was he really that stupid? Didn’t he realize I was helping him because he was a friend in need? Should I not have helped him? Was my kindness interpreted as a lack of self-respect? More importantly, did everyone think like him? Are people’s intentions and actions misinterpreted so badly? Did I really not respect myself? Does one really gain more worth and respect by treating others poorly? Does respecting oneself mean not being kind to others?
When I got home, I called my friend and told her what had happened. She got mad and called him names and told me not to think about “anything that comes out of that jackass’s mouth.” Later, I repeated my conversation with my ex to another friend, expecting to hear some comforting words, and, to my surprise, her reaction was completely different. She said it was my own fault he was a jerk to me because he didn’t deserve my help but I still gave it to him.
Getting opposite responses from two friends who I knew loved me, and both of whom I loved and trusted, made me question if there even was a correct answer to these questions. I decided to investigate a little further, so I went back to my two friends and asked each of them, separately, if they thought one should show kindness to all.
One replied yes, which was the answer I expected. The other, however, added the clause “unless they’re asses.” My next question for her was, “Aren’t we supposed to show more kindness to those who are more difficult?” My friend said, “Answer me this: Are you an ass whisperer?”
She made me smile. I wanted to say “no” but I understood what she meant. Her question opened a whole other can of worms for me, and I had other questions, the answers to which differed based on which friend I asked. Perhaps reactions to these issues had to do with perceptions and perspectives.
My own train of thought was this: If we actively choose to be kind to some and unkind to others based on how nice they are, aren’t we practicing a form of bullying? And if we behave unkindly, how are we different from those who aren’t nice, those who my friend so eloquently called “asses”?
They say those who have more challenges and unresolved issues in life become more difficult to deal with or bitter and need more compassion and kindness. If everyone decides they don’t want to be an “ass whisperer,” won’t these people end up experiencing even more hardship?
After much reflection about various past experiences, I decided I would be kind to everyone every time, even if some viewed that as lacking self-respect. I decided “being kind no matter what” would be my definition of being a lady.