Letting Go of the Grudge: Not Building A Case Against Socks
Does the following story seem familiar–out of all the billions of people on earth you find one–the one for you. You pay a large sum of money for a wedding, a house, a vacation. You love this person–would do anything for her or his happiness. Then you see the socks lying on the floor. Or the unbalanced checkbook. Or the leftover brussels sprouts. Suddenly, delusion kicks in. Those dirty socks or withered vegetables are important–much much more important than love, commitment, yearning, or vows.
If these socks seem to demonically posses your love relationship, you are not alone. What would happen if you simply ignored the socks? Your first reaction to this might be shock, horror, or both. Ignore the dirty socks? Wouldn’t they simply multiply and soon fill every room in the house, like the furry little creatures called Tribbles on an episode of the original Star Trek which were cute until they clogged the entire spaceship?
And then the rationales kick in–it isn’t my job to pick up socks, these socks show a disregard for my needs and wishes, this disregard demeans me as a person, these socks show my beloved no longer cares for me. In fact, these dirty socks are soon an anti-love missile. As a rule, we fear that love can be destroyed by betrayal, adultery, abandonment, lack of concern and compassion. But in reality the day in and out problem with love gone domestic is more apt to be a quarrel over the recycling than a political disagreement.
So try again. What would happen if you ignored the socks? And socks are not a feminist issue. I know because I have had two husbands complain about my part in our shared housekeeping. In fact, much to my amazement, they seemed to have the same complaints. I simply considered it to be a remarkable coincidence that both of them wished I wouldn’t leave apple cores in odd nooks, cups of cold tea everywhere, and my shoes in doorways. To be honest, I like these little unattractive habits. They make me feel like a cosy guinea pig, safe in her messy house. But they seem to drive other people crazy.
Apparently my worst habit is that I never wrap cheese up properly when I put it back in the refrigerator. I eat a lot of cheese, never wrap it, and then it dries out. I mused once to my friend Carol how odd it was that both my husbands felt I didn’t wrap the cheese properly. I chalked this up to one of the mysteries of the male psyche.
Carol had once lived with my for a few weeks and knew me well. “But Miriam,” she said. “You don’t wrap the cheese properly. And it dries out.” I was shocked by this feedback, which was obviously true.
The story of the cheese could have only one effect on me (besides encouraging cling wrap). I had ordinary irritating faults that did not bother me at all but that bothered other people. And I knew deep inside that I was not leaving stray apple cores around to upset anyone or to show a disregard for their needs. I was at times a bad roommate but basically I was a devoted wife. And both my husbands seemed to intuitively understand this. I got on their nerves, but they did not build a case against me. Perhaps I could learn from how others were treating me.
People may change a bit, or not at all. You can try linking things in the environment to your sense of security–when you don’t wash the dishes properly it makes me feel ignored and alone–but it is not that likely that you will get a positive outcome. After all, this is simply the imposition of your world view on another person’s. You could analyze this forever or go into couple’s counseling over the socks. Or you could stop building a case.
When I first took up with my second husband Rich, I was in an altered state. I was still grieving the death of my husband Robert, while being ecstatic to be re-united with my first love. Death and the changeable nature of things were always present in my mind. This made me feel open, spontaneous, at times even transcendent. But I was not immune to the delusive state of mind induced by dirty socks.
At that time, I was still seeing the therapist who had helped Robert and me during the time he was ill. I’d stayed on in couple’s therapy, only this time my partner was an empty chair. After Robert died, I was haunted by how we’d quarreled about mundane things, never realizing our time together was limited. Robert always claimed he was about to paint the trim on the house some hideous drab color that I loathed. One day it was gray, the next olive. We’d fight, but of course he never even went to the paint store. After his death I couldn’t believe how much I had nagged him about things. I nagged and nagged, he never changed at all, and then he died and I was desolate. Of course this is actually a description of the human condition. But I hadn’t seen it until I was out of the situation, when of course it was too late.
So I was sitting in my therapist Fred’s office talking about my new relationship with Rich. Fred handed me a piece of paper and said: “Write down the three things you like the least about. him.” How exciting! My sock mind kicked in. Forget about death and the transcendent view. I was going to get to complain! Happily, I went to town, and handed the sheet back to Fred. Without looking at it, Fred crumpled it up and threw it into the garbage can. I was shocked, but then truly relieved. It appeared these alleged faults were not my business and not my problem. I don’t know where Fred got this radical approach from, but it was freeing.
You can try it yourself. Do just what I did.
1. Write down three things you don’t like about your partner.
2.If you are single and dating, try this with even a more casual acquaintance.
3. If there is no one current in your romantic life, try it with an ex.
4. When you are done, re-read it.
5. Then, crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash or burn it.
6. It might be interesting to also try this with a co-worker, family member, or friend–anyone you want to practice basic acceptance towards.
7. Repeat as necessary.
William Blake has a beautiful poem called “The Poison Tree” which is about anger. He says: “I was angry with my friend/I told my wrath/my wrath did end/I was angry with my foe/I told it not/my wrath did grow.” The anger becomes a huge poisonous tree spreading over everything. Essentially you need to remember–perhaps over and over–that your beloved is your friend, in the largest sense of the word. If this friend is truly not a friend, but mired in some kind of addictive behavior or pathology, then obviously you cannot regard her or him as benign. But what about that most usual of circumstances, being with someone you love who is just as flawed and ordinary as you are, a person who lives in an impermanent changing world, a person who will someday die, and a person who is really not thinking about you at all when she or he tosses socks on the floor.
You don’t need to water the poison tree by adding these socks to a long list of grudges. Try picking up the socks and making a little hand puppet out of them. Talk to that delusive part of the mind that thinks socks are more important than love. Or just ignore the socks.