I don’t understand fighting. I mean, I understand why people fight. I’m a liberal atheist feminist that openly hates capitalism. I’m also asexual, and I dream of a grand, sweeping romance with another woman. Fighting is something I do regularly in that regard. But I’m not talking about the fighting for your rights while a stranger screams at you kind of fighting. Those situations are easy for me at this point.
No, the fighting I don’t understand are the petty fights. The ‘can you do the dishes’ fights that turn into name calling and verbal gut punches. I don’t understand how they end up there, and I don’t understand how to get out of them.
I also don’t understand why it’s so common.
When you’re fighting for your beliefs, that’s one thing. I understand the desire to not be wrong — if your beliefs are wrong, your morals are wrong. If your morals are wrong, that means you’re the bad guy. No one wants to be the bad guy, and we will fight tooth and nail to be the good guys. Even many Nazis thought they were doing the right thing and actively taught the school children ‘hey, discrimination is grand.’ Even modern Nazis think they’re doing the right thing. They truly believe they are defending their lives. Note: They are not good people and their humanity does not excuse their behavior, but the point is that they don’t see themselves as villains. They want to be the heroes. So, while I may hate you and everything you stand for, I also know why you won’t back down. That’s why I typically try for a gentler approach, reaching out to the people that actually want to talk and blocking the vile scum. The vile scum being the ones that use ‘I just want a discussion why won’t you have a discussion with me’ as an excuse to harass and abuse others. I will never be too tired to fight for my beliefs.
So, I can recognize those behaviors very quickly. I see them every day. Yet, when they start to happen closer too me, when the people acting out those behaviors aren’t alt-right Twitter trolls but people that I see on a daily basis, and when it’s over dumb things like picking up the trash on the floor or doing dishes…that’s where I start falling apart.
Coincidentally, those are also the times when people are most likely to start calling me a doormat because, well, those are the times I start retreating. I don’t know how to defend myself when ‘can you please do the dishes’ becomes a shouting match. I don’t know how to defend myself over things that seem absolutely basic to me.
I’ve started to wonder lately if there are people out there that I could live with who wouldn’t behave this way. I realized recently that I’ve almost never lived in an environment without at least one person that could be viewed as abusive. Sometimes, that someone has been me, when my roommate was even mousier than I was. Well, then there’s also the people that I’m fairly certain are abusive who call me an abuser, though I’m almost positive I’m not being abusive in those situations. It’s not wrong, I don’t think, to stand my ground when the person who is supposed to be doing the dishes attempts to turn the conversation to my skills as a bathroom cleaner. Nor is it wrong to expect to be treated the way that others would like me to treat them. If you want to be an hour early to something that you don’t want to be late for, that’s fine, as long as I also get to be an hour early to something I don’t want to be late for.
But then, I only have my own perspective. I can’t speak for others. Am I abusive? Is everyone abusive? Or am I just spiraling again because of all the confusion?
I’m afraid of being an abuser. From what I understand, my father was abusive. I never met him, but that knowledge alone has me worried.
I also am not sure I completely understand abuse. I understand the examples, I know to trust the victims when they speak up, and I can recognize dangerous situations when they present themselves. But when it comes to my own life, I’ve always been notoriously terrible at recognizing what’s happening in the moment. I spent a decade in an abusive friendship (abusive relationships come in all flavors) because I didn’t know friendships could be abusive. How could they be? You choose your friends, after all. If a friendship was bad, wouldn’t you just let it go?
The short answer is No. For many of the same reasons you might not leave an abusive romance or marriage, people also often stay in abusive friendships.
But then, are relationships where fights are uncommon still abusive? After all, people can have horrible fights and come out alright on the other side. When do you draw the line? Should the line be drawn over petty things like dishes?
I keep coming back to the dishes, but they are code for ‘anything that involves shared spaces‘ and many, many tiny privacy things. ‘Don’t tell your friends/boyfriend that I lost my keys’ shouldn’t be a fight. It should be a ‘ok, I won’t do that’ and a following through on not doing that — doing it but not telling me is still not ok. Dishes are just the easiest to talk about because, funnily enough, every situation that has made me question myself has involved a person who picked a fight like this over dishes.
Because such tiny things can quickly become a fight, I tend to opt out. Oh, you don’t want to put any effort into cleaning? I guess we’ll live in a pigsty then. I may opt out of a fight, but I’m no one’s maid. I would rather live with dirty dishes, hoarding a clean plate in my bedroom for when I need it, than clean up for someone else. And that works better because then I never have to fall down the rabbit hole of ‘did I go to far? am I being mistreated?’
That abusive friend I mentioned above was the last person to call me a doormat, but she was the sort who would call me a doormat while behaving abusively. In one breath she would be berating me for not giving in to her demands, calling me names and picking at the deepest wounds she could find, and in the next she would be berating me for not standing up for myself when she thought someone had wronged me. She thought that this made her a great friend. Now, even though she’s gone from my life, I’m still haunted by the doubts and fears that she etched into my mind. Am I abusive? Am I a doormat? Where is the line in between? I don’t want to cross that line. I want to be a good person.
In the current political climate, there is a lot of advice being passed around about how to deal with trolls. And this sort of rolling-around-in-the-mud purposefully-aiming-for-the-gut-punches behavior is the sort of thing that is often associated with trolling. They want to upset you, they want to make you cry, they want to win. (Or, as noted above, they don’t want to be the evil ones.)
There has also been some talk on how to handle friends when you find out they’re ok with America having concentration camps for children, or are fully supportive of Trump, or whatever. And…well, I can handle that too. If I find out you’re complacent with or supportive of Nazi-like behaviors and you won’t budge from your position, then I am morally obligated to walk away from you.
What I can’t seem to find is advice for what to do when someone you care about and align with politically and by all senses of society should get on very well is the one behaving this way. I mean, there are tips on how to escape from logical fallacies when they are brought up, but they’re really hard to implement effectively.
I happen to be a certified conflict mediator. I spent weeks studying how people argue and learning how to be a third person that helps them find common ground. I guess the one thing they forgot to teach was how to save yourself when you’re at odds with someone else and there is no mediator.
When it happens, I’m just left fumbling around and asking myself: How did we get here? How can I escape? I can’t block a face-to-face interaction. I can walk away, and endure the belittling attacks that come with that. Well, I can happily say that the people in my life now don’t do that. I cut out the ones that did. Those that are left don’t quite go that far. But they do take my leaving as surrender, which, I think, is just as bad. Especially because then the thing that needs to get done still doesn’t get done and now we’re all hurt because of it instead of just me.
I want to share these musings both because I want help but also because I want to help others. I can’t be the only one struggling with these feelings. A desire to do good, a fear of being evil. There is a bit of fear involved in putting them down. What if someone in my life reads this? What if they know it’s about them? I can’t pretend it isn’t, either we’ve had fights like this or we haven’t. And, if we have, then this is about them.
I don’t want to be a doormat. But I don’t see how I have any other choice. My words are my only weapon, and I’m only even good at using them when I’ve had time to think and iron them out. So, I suppose, this is me, not being a doormat. This is me, hoping for something better.