I just returned to Panamá from a three-week stint in the United States — two weeks in Oakland and a week in San Diego.
International travel with three hundred pounds of luggage (don’t ask) on the worst airline ever. Pandemic. Holidays. Birthdays. Wedding anniversary. Family. Gross consumerism. Violent homeless people. General overstimulation of the Bay Area. An increasingly obvious collective trauma response in the US. Living out of a suitcase with not nearly enough structure, routine, or normalcy.
I ate like a Mongolian warlord the whole time and gained ten pounds. Exercise and nutrition completely off the rails. Visited a hundred people and did a hundred things. Both my grandfather and one of my cats died within a few days of each other. Plus being disconnected from my passions of writing and coaching for that long… holy shit.
We came home on a red-eye with a six-hour layover, drove our cat-sitter home, swooped some groceries, ate, unpacked an ungodly amount of crap, did laundry, showered, and skidded into bed like a Boeing-747 with no pilot.
I tried waking up like usual, but between hardly sleeping the night before, jet lag, and the raging mind-body-soul hangover of being completely drained from this trip, I literally could not achieve consciousness until 11:15. I never sleep that late unless I’m post-op or severely ill.
You get the picture, I’m having a slow-ass morning.
Botched Human Connection
I do some hygiene, check my blood sugar to make sure I’m not dead, and sit down for a little meditation sesh. Afterwards, I linger on the couch and do some phoning — respond to texts, peep the gram, pull up MyFitnessPal to change my caloric intake goals to “not eating like a manatee anymore.”
Ok, this is starting to sound like I was being productive, but let me assure you I was not.
After my rendezvous with some greek yogurt, my wife tells me she wants to run some errands and get things done around the house and asks if I can help out. I saw that fire in her eyes and knew she was operating on a whole different frequency than me at that moment.
My wife is a project manager, list-maker, task-master, visionary, planner, executor, and unstoppable force of productivity and efficiency. It has definitely served her well, but I ain’t any of that shit and I kinda like it that way.
So I pause for a remarkable length of time, questioning my capacity to do anything useful, and then say, “Yeahhh… I can do a few things, but I’m not trynna march to your drum all day. I can’t be on a spreadsheet right now.”
This was not my finest work, y’all. I could taste how offensive that shit was as it was leaving my mouth. Oof. And just like that, I severed our connection.
Letting the Burn Cool
I knew I fucked up, but my communication skills were still offline, so I start looking around for clues. There was a pile of honey-do’s on the kitchen table — menial grunt work, thank God. I install the showerhead, hang the key hooks, felt tip the chair legs, and do whatever else I can tackle with unskilled labor.
After an hour or two of milling about in blaring silence, I make the approach.
“Hey, can we sit down and discuss your goals for the day?”
She issues a tentative “sure” like I was a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman that she wasn’t too excited to be cordial with. I ask if now is a good time and sit down with pen and paper.
Intrigued by my civility, yet still a bit guarded, she tells me a short list of perfectly reasonable ambitions. I know these are the things that need to happen for her to finally feel like she’s home and able to relax.
But I can tell the connection is still damaged.
Making the Repair
I put my hand on her arm and say, “Sorry about that doo doo comment I made this morning,” and crack a smile of the I can’t believe I said that shit variety.
The effect was instantaneous and palpable. Something fell from her eyes and her whole demeanor shifted. I could feel our connection restored. It was like removing a tourniquet and feeling the blood rush back into our marriage.
She told me how she felt when I said what I said — not good, obviously. I knew this already, but it was important for her to say it and for me to hear it without any justifying or mansplaining (nothing like feedback to completely destroy the vulnerability it took for someone to share their feelings with you).
Feeling seen, heard, safe, and respected, she asks, “And what things would you like to do today?” I add a couple things to the list, and we go about the business of having a wonderful day together.
Moral of the Story
The only thing messier than being a human is trying to coordinate two of those fucking things. Relationships are hard. You’re not gonna get it right all the time. And neither will literally anyone you ever date.
You’ll disagree, argue, get resentful, step on each other’s toes. And yes, occasionally you may say some wild shit to the person you love. But learning how to make the repair has a much higher return on investment than trying to be right all the time or convince yourself that you’re perfect.
C’mon, man. Everybody poops. Just learn how to wipe and you’ll be fine.