It’s easy for the careful and unbiased observer to pinpoint the development of fights. Ah, they might mutter, now he’ll ask her why she’s never introduced him to any of her friends. Oh yes, here comes the part where she claims he’s undermined her self-confidence. Mhmm, and now the threats, the violent gestures. Yes, yes, how very predictable.
For the actual people involved, these thresholds are not noticeable. Anger is so deliciously addictive that it gives you this happy high (for however brief a time), this glorious sense of satisfaction that can be obtained no other way. When you’re fighting, little is more important than the attainment of this feeling. And so you only feel the vaguest sensation of the hurt you cause, the barriers you are passing. If I continue on, she won’t talk to me until tomorrow. If I continue on, she’ll revoke Board Game Thursdays. If I continue on, she’ll make me give back the keys to her apartment. If I continue on, she’ll tell her parents I’m an asshole. If I continue on, she’ll forward that picture of me at the Christmas party to my whole address book. If I continue on, she’ll hate me. If I continue on, she’ll pack her toothbrush and her stainless steel silverware collection and her smile and never attempt to see me again.
These cues are simple things – tugs that remind you of possible consequences, reminders that are usually promptly overruled. The problem is that you can’t go back – going back would mean humiliation, would mean losing face, would mean appearing vulnerable and that’s just not something anyone is prepared to do. No one blames you for not being able to do it.
As for me, I obsess over things like these. I tell myself how to act in a conflict, but of course the phrases I’ve prepared and the game plan I’d been imagining never work out like I want them to. Besides, I do not exercise rationale. I draw up all my resources, all my petty insults, all my carefully-tended secrets, all my knowledge on human weaknesses and catapult it at my victim, taking pride in the way their composure falters, in how long it takes for their comeback to arrive.
Spelt out this way, it sounds unbearably cruel: anger. It’s not, however, as you probably know or should realize. Sometimes anger is a good thing. Sometimes it’s just downright necessary. I’m all for goodness and joy and peace in the world, but we are (fortunately or unfortunately) human. Getting pissed off occasionally is in our hardwiring. The important thing is preservation, knowing when to stop, when to listen to those little cues and think okay, enough is enough.
Today I bypassed several of those subtle cues. I felt myself disregarding them as I elbowed my way towards my objective and now, in retrospect, I’m not sure how I feel. At the time my reaction was something akin to screw it! and yet now I regret it (as I, and you, knew I would). The accusations, the barbed words, the threats are all there now, in the space between us. However much I may apologize, correct, rectify, things are not the same. However much you may forgive, acknowledge, offer quiet sorry‘s of your own, things are not the same. I do not know whether this is a good thing – whether we’ve grown in being separated from each other and then thrown back together again – or if, somewhere, somehow, a small but harsh, bitter something lies incontrovertibly between us.