Yesterday, Jordan and I got into a fight.
I’m sharing this because it’s an important reality of our relationship. We aren’t perfect. We are messy, we are human. But it’s easy to come off as perfect when you write pieces about the beautiful little moments together.
The fight started with me, before even I could have guessed that discontent lurked underneath the surface.
I had done the dishes and made Jordan a snack, and I waited eagerly for him to get home and be happily surprised by it.
But instead he was distracted. He tried to get the fire started, and then looked at something on his phone, and then came and ate the snack a few bites at a time before whisking away to do the next thing.
I had this whole picture in my mind of how the night was supposed to go–us snuggled up by the fire, entertained by each other’s company, Jordan studying for his exam while I read a novel. And that wasn’t it.
So when we got into the car to take Chara out to the farm for a romp, I snapped at him over something silly. He got angry, and we spiraled downward from there.
As we fought, I realized that a) we weren’t really fighting about anything, and b) we had perceived the night completely differently.
“We snuggled in front of the fire!” Jordan protested when I said that I had hoped the night would turn out differently.
“No we didn’t!” I said, surprised.
“I had my arm around you!”
“Really?!” I said, shocked and horrified that we could have such completely different memories of the same evening. This all sounds very stupid now–as fights often do–and even fairly light, but believe me, we were both mad.
Now, this brings me to my point. I think that the fight came mostly from my inability in that moment to manage my own emotions.
Jordan hadn’t done anything wrong. I just felt discontent. But instead of acknowledging that I could feel unhappy without having a specific cause for the feeling, I went looking for reasons why. Suddenly, Jordan wasn’t attentive enough, wasn’t grateful enough, our conversation wasn’t fulfilling enough.
Instead of taking my own emotions in hand, I let them fall on Jordan. And that isn’t fair.
This idea of “managing your emotions” actually came initially from Jordan, and it’s something we’ve talked about a lot. It doesn’t mean that you don’t let yourself feel things. It just means that you don’t necessarily give into every emotional whim. Just because you’re sad or jealous or angry doesn’t mean that you treat others differently. Instead, you handle the feeling internally, and continue to treat everyone around you with respect.
I think that this is a lot easier for some people than others, depending on the way they were raised, their internal chemistry, personality traits and a whole host of other things.
Once we even tried to come up with metaphors for our emotions. Jordan described his as riding a horse. Most of the time, he has them tightly under control, but once in awhile they burst out and surprise him–mostly in the form of anger.
I think of my own emotions as like being in a small boat on a lake. I’m the boater, my emotions are the lake. It’s hard for me to control them–I can’t stop feeling sad or angry or happy–and the waves easily move me up or down. But for the most part underneath the surface stays calm. It takes a pretty big storm to really bother me deeply.
I sometimes wonder if the difference in how Jordan and I view our emotions comes from how we were socialized.
Many sociologists believe that because our society has long-developed gender roles–i.e. Americans have specific ideas of what a man or woman is supposed to be like–we then push those expectations on children, which can affect how they grow up and handle their emotions.
To lay out the emotional stereotypes for you, the stereotypical American woman is supposed to be temperamental and moody. Think of the quote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
The stereotypical American man is stoic and strong. He only cries when his first child is born or when his best friend tragically dies. He is quiet in happiness and sadness. He is loud in anger.
Just to be clear, I think these stereotypes are a load of B.S. But I do think they sometimes impact the way we see the people around us, and the way we expect people to behave. They may even impact the way we expect ourselves to behave.
I read a study a few years ago that explained how male and female babies are treated when they cry. The study had parents describe what they thought their infants were feeling when they cried. Crying female infants were mostly described as being scared or sad, whereas crying male infants were described as being angry. The study went on to say that those interpretations changed how the infants were treated. Girls were more likely to be soothed, and boys were more likely hushed or ignored.
I’m not here to argue about whether all this is true–about whether or not socialization impacts the way we deal with things like emotions. But I personally believe that society’s expectations can have a powerful impact on our psyches.
Sometimes I wonder if I never learned how to control my emotions because I wasn’t expected to–because I was expected to be temperamental.
And on the other side of the coin, I wonder if Jordan learned to tightly control his emotions because he was expected to be stoic and strong.
(Important note: in no way am I implying that every woman struggles to control her emotions, or every man struggles to express his–part of the reason stereotypes are so useless is because everyone has their own unique makeup of genes and socialization and parenting and role models and life events–which means that they express themselves differently).
In my opinion, both extremes are unhealthy. People should moderate their emotions to a certain extent–it isn’t fair to those around you if you let every moment of unhappiness weigh on them.
But no one should bottle up anger or depression either. We all should be able to cry, to laugh, to shout, to share the nitty gritty of what’s happening in our brains–especially because there are probably people out there who feel the same way.
The other part of my thinking on this has to do with the overall landscape of happiness on social media. Part of the reason I felt moved to act last night (e.g. snap at Jordan) when I felt unhappy, was because social media encourages us to believe that we should always be happy (since most people only post things that make their lives seem perfect). And that if we aren’t happy, it’s something we should be working to fix.
I know that I personally am not comfortable with feeling unhappy. I’m always looking for ways to live my life better, and while I think that helps me to grow as a person some of the time, sometimes I need to just take a deep breath and accept whatever it is I’m feeling–happy or sad or empty or melancholy.
It’s all part of life, and I don’t always have to find a way to fix it.
What metaphor would you use to describe your emotions? Do you think the way we’re socialized affects the way we handle our emotions?
Note: This is an old blog post that I dug up after realizing I’d never posted it. I thought it might be interesting to share it, especially after meditation has helped me to control a lot of my moodiness. In this post I talk about my emotion swings–meditation is the tool I’ve used in the last year to actually do something about them. I personally love the Headspace App (and no, they haven’t paid me to write this), but anything that helps you take a deep breath and step back will go miles toward managing your emotions in a healthy way.