Apologies, this post is a bit rambly, I’ve just literally poured out everything on my mind!
OK, I’ve just literally been up all night reading a particular subreddit on Reddit. For the record I scarcely visit Reddit, I think I can count on the fingers of both hands, and possibly my toes too, the number of times I’ve ever knowingly accessed that site, in my whole life, ever. But that might be about to change. I’ve recently rediscovered a particular subreddit; “Am I the A*****” [bad person/in the wrong] that I don’t want to spell out here! (I’m sure Google would be very instructive if anyone wanted to check it out!)
I was promised/warned that it was addictive – and that has turned to be absolutely true. Oh my goodness, the things that people are capable of doing! So people post their dilemmas about things that happened, and decisions that they took, asking for judgement from the community, asking in each case “Am I the A***”? These cases discussed range from very small or seemingly petty matters, to huge, life-changing things. It might help if I gave a few examples of the kind of things that people have done. I literally spend so much time gasping over these different scenarios – seriously. To illustrate, many of these cases have to do with awkward family relationships, or inconsiderate spouses, or awkwardness around gender roles, or living situations. Or money, of course. So many cases about money.
OK so there is a consensus that a significant percentage of these cases will be utterly made up, for shock value etc. However I’m thinking that if even 10% of the cases are real then that in itself is an insight to what human beings are capable of doing. Thankfully there is nothing *reallly* bad as physically violent cases are banned otherwise I can imagine what next level of horror that would bring!
Reading this subreddit has been so instructive because even if they are made-up, so many of these stories are plausible. You could imagine that people could do these things. There are two main aspects to this: the storytellers relaying their stories, asking “Am I the A****?” and then there are the commentators, giving their opinions as to who is in the wrong in each situation.
Both of these sides give such a deep insight into human nature. I’m deeply interested in human reasoning and psychology, and trying to understand people, and these are a few things I have taken away from the hours I’ve spent perusing this subreddit:
1. Perspective is everything! Really! There are some cases where you feel that the argument is won by the way people express details, the details they choose to emphasise versus the details they gloss over. For instance, there was this case where a woman was saying that some kid was making a huge racket, so she decided to “politely ask him to keep quiet”. And I thought, I wonder how other people would have expressed the exact same situation. She thought she was justified in addressing him because of the racket he was making. However someone else listening on may not have perceived his noise as been overbearing, or they might have instantly given him leeway for having a very bad day or generally going through difficult times.
A Bible verse springs to mind, from Proverbs: The first person to argue his case seems right, until his neighbour cross-examines him Proverbs 18v17
And there are so many cases like this, where it can be so subjective: my flatmate is really messy, my husband is always losing things, and so many of these cases hinge on the extent to which that person is truly that messy etc.
What this shouts to me is that as people we really have to learn to demonstrate empathy, and to try to see things from someone else’s perspective. So say you’re the flatmate who is supposedly utterly inadequate, and your landlord who is also your best friend throws you out, without even explaining the situation to you, thinking it should be obvious? Perhaps you acknowledge that you could be a little neater, but you don’t think it is unacceptable, and you don’t even understand that that is the issue?! So if they were to express their viewpoints on “AITA” as it is also known, and they emphasised how utterly messy you are, then obviously everyone would be clamouring to exonerate then. But if they’ve never expressed it to you and you sincerely don’t know what the issue is, then you could also (legitimately) feel immensely hurt by their behaviour.
2. Directly related to his, and the Bible Proverb! The commentators almost always side with the original poster, or “OP”. In perhaps 5-10% of cases they will tell the OP that they are indeed the “person in the wrong”. I think that this demonstrates the way our minds work, to just have a level of sympathy for the person in front of us.
There was a case I read a few days ago posted by a husband who was married to a new wife, but who had an ex-wife. He was complaining that his new wife did not understand that his previous wife had been in his life for a number of years, and he still felt a certain level of obligation towards her; I believe he and ex-wife may have had at least one child together. So new wife was clearly not happy about the level of involvement/commitment he still had in his ex-wife’s life.
Well just a few hours ago I was reading a headline in the Telegraph, which sounded as if it could have been written from the new wife’s perspective. My husband is still at the beck and call of his ex-wife. Unfortunately I have not read the whole article because it is pay-walled. But I have managed to sneak a quick glimpse just now before the paywall software activated – and it was pretty much what I expected.
This is such a cliche and we all know this but seriously there are always two sides to every story. When you are hearing a story from one side, ask yourself “How might the other person express this story? What aspects might they emphasise?” In this husband/wife/ex-wife scenario I think it all hinges on what would be reasonable contact between a man and his ex-wife, considering that he has now got a new wife.
I must admit that I see where the husband is coming from, however in this particular scenario I tend to side with the new wife. This is simply because I know that there can be so many feelings of insecurity in a relationship anyway. No woman wants to feel in any way threatened in her marriage by any other woman. However an ex-wife is not just “any other woman”. In a way she has a prior claim to the husband – and this accentuates the feelings of insecurity. If husband and ex-wife are that close, there is always the fear that he might decide that he prefers ex-wife after all, and he might go back to her. From the story it also seems as if husband was consistently putting ex-wife above wife which is such a bad idea. And then he justified it “Well she’s been in my life so long!” Yes, but you have to put your new/current wife first, always! You know I have personally scaled down friendships with men after they got married, because I did not want to be a source of insecurity to their wives. Also there might be a level of friendship that you can cultivate with an ex-spouse, if you have parted amicably, while single. But that does not mean you can necessarily carry that same level of friendship with that ex-spouse into a new relationship. You have to consider the feelings of your new spouse. This would work in either direction, eg if it was the wife that was still close to her ex-husband. Your current spouse always has to come first above an ex-spouse, and in this particular issue I would err on the side of cutting off contact with ex-spouse. This is not necessarily the case with all friends of the opposite gender. But I believe that a close relationship with an ex-spouse requires you to be extra sensitive to your current spouse’s feelings.
But that is just me. I hope it is fair to say that I am not going to find myself in this situation as the current wife as I avoid romantic involvement with divorced men. Widowed men would be acceptable, but divorced, no. (In the Bible Jesus gives a certain leeway towards this but it is not optimum. I’ve got such high hopes for my marriage that I want it to be optimum.) If it did so happen that my husband and I divorced, remained close and he married someone else, I would make definite moves to downscale our friendship for the sake of his new wife. To be honest I don’t understand why this particular man married someone else at all! If he still had such a deep regard for and commitment to his first wife he should have just persevered in working it out with her. I know it’s not always (or rarely) that simple.
3. I usually agree with the general consensus. However, I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the general consensus. And it is usually perplexing when all the commentators universally subscribe to a certain viewpoint, which I just cannot see, or I can see, but I can see other things besides..
4. People usually encourage others to consider their own self-interests in a way that to me comes across as tending towards selfishness/inconsideration, usually along the lines of “It’s not your fault that so-and-so could not get their act together, why should you have to subsidise their poor life decisions, why should you have to compromise your own life success….etc etc” The way commentators reason can make me feel a little queasy. It promotes a kind of mentality which to me seems to be so tied up with individualistic Western Capitalism: “Do what’s right for you!”. It often makes me cringe. I absolutely believe that people should do what is in their own best interests, and they should not let themselves be taken for a ride. But if often seems to miss out the understanding that as family or friends we help one another out in difficult times, with the understanding that our family and friends will equally help us when we need it. I vaguely made this point here on this blog in a recent post about what community means to me. But it seems as if commentators would insist “No! It’s not your fault that you are successful and they are not!!!” Oh wince wince. On reflection, many times I have had conflict with others it seems to be because they are exercising their “right” to this “Reddit” kind of thinking – while, perhaps subconsciously, taking it for granted that I will respond to them in my community-oriented way. In practice what this means is that they get to be as selfish as they like, while knowing that I will always be there for them and be selfless with my time and my efforts etc. No baby, it does not work that way. Which nicely brings us to the title of this post. I don’t do drama, not any more. I just ditch people. At the moment, alongside family, I have two levels of friendship. One is my absolute closest friends who like me are pursuing Christ with everything, with all their efforts, their sincerity etc – and then there is everyone else. If someone is not in the first group of friends, then I try to be as loving to them as I can, but without making myself vulnerable to them. When I say I “ditch” people, that usually means at most moving them from one level of friendship to another. I have in the past actually ditched people altogether from my life but cutting them off but that always felt so brutal. Even where I don’t want to make myself vulnerable to people I still want to show them that I care about their lives. I still want to wish them “Happy Birthday” and celebrate their achievements.
Which leads me to another point. (Sorry if this post is all over the place!) I think I’ve finally managed to articulate to myself what the issue is with “unconditional love” in marriage. Here’s the thing, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you might know that I just don’t believe in the concept of unconditional love as it is usually understood in marriage; that your spouse does anything and you are just supposed to sit there and take it, because “unconditional love”. It is so easy to think of a few examples where it cannot possibly be true. What if your husband is physically abusing you? Or your wife is stealing all your money? People act like this is from the Bible, but that is not true either (I’ve written a post about it) – the Bible talks about “unconditional love”, but it is not even in the context of marriage. If we were to think about it, there are so many situations in which it would be extremely unwise to persist in a marriage – and these situations crop up all the time. To these situations, the good Christian answer cannot be “Sit there and love them more” (while continuing to put your life in danger, for example). So this shows that standard thinking about “unconditional love” in marriage must be either flawed or unworkable.
Well thinking about all this has helped me crystallise my theory:
As a Christian, love towards anyone should be unconditional, but vulnerability is not. Here’s the thing: my ability to be vulnerable towards you, that is the wisdom of allowing myself to be vulnerable towards you is utterly conditional, and is dependent on your character. Pragmatically speaking this is the way we all live anyway. When we decide that we do not feel safe around someone, even if we thought we loved them, then we remove ourselves. So why do people pretend that it could be otherwise, in their shouting about unconditional love? This thing cannot possibly work. In so many relationships it quite clearly does not work. When I talk about continuing to love people, I mean things like I said above, still caring about their lives, still wanting the best for them, not allowing myself to be consumed by anger by their actions. Even if I do have to cut someone off completely from my life, then I will endeavour to still wish them the best and positive things for their life, but from a nice safe distance. But I have personally realised that unless someone truly has outstanding character I simply cannot afford to make myself vulnerable to them. Because people are capable of doing such unbelievable, gasp-worthy things. Even so called Christians. So yeah, no drama here baby! Perhaps I should also acknowledge that even my outstanding friends are capable of doing regrettable things – as I too am more than capable. However, the hope there is that it would truly be out of character, and if they are truly outstanding, then we can talk about it. I actually really hate confrontation, and I especially hate confrontation with someone who might not have phenomenal character. Once again this is because you do not fully know what they are capable of, how they might be capable of twisting that conversation or retaliating against you because you dared to suggest that they were not perfect. Seriously. So I just tend to ditch. However, knowing that there are two sides to the story, I carefully evaluate and make sure that I only ditch when I am thoroughly assured of what their true character is. (Conversely have you noticed that some people seem to love confrontation, and seem to actively seek it out at any opportunity necessary?!)
However if someone does have great character, then hopefully they can accept when they have made a mistake, they would not try to foist the blame back on you, they can resolve to identify and correct whatever character trait might be wrong, and hopefully between the two of you you can move on and forget it. At least that is the hope! And it works for me too, whenever I do something stupid. Actually, I hope that in most cases my friends would not have to confront me with my mistakes, potentially putting them in an awkward position, but rather I would be forthcoming to proactively address the issue myself, as in positive feed-forward. But let’s just say I completely disagreed with my friend, as I disagreed with some of these Redditors, and I thought that there was absolutely nothing wrong with what I did, like the husband’s approach to his ex-wife detailed above. I hope that I would still be willing to consider things from my friend’s perspective and amend my behaviour as necessary to accommodate their feelings.
I’m just going to be candid about this next part. Because I’m bright – that is I read a lot, a heck of a lot, and I have been blessed with a strong memory so I’m very good at remembering generally useless facts, people often get intimidated by my intellect. So sometimes people accuse me of being patronising. Have I actually been intellectually patronising in the past? Undoubtedly. However I’ve worked extremely hard on my character so I sincerely don’t think that these days I actually am being patronising, and it is definitely not coming from any condescension or superior thinking in my heart. For instance, these accusations only seem to come forth after people have realised how bright I am. I can’t help thinking that in many cases people project their own intellectual insecurities onto me, and interpret that as my being patronising. And it is just one (negative) way that people try to deal with this. Actually a more common way is to try to pull me and my intellect down, or to that prove I’m not as clever as I think I am. No comment! The thing is that I am extremely confident about what I know. When I know that I know something I will often disagree with people and say a flat out “No, that is not the case” without leaving room for argument as described in another post here. If that is what people mean by being patronising, then yes I concede that I am extremely patronising because I do that all the time. Sometimes you try to make allowance for other people’s opinions but other times I feel that a flat out no is necessary and valid. Ironically I myself hate being patronised but when it happens to me it is usually because of racial or gender issues – and yeah!
On one hand I appreciate that people often do not realise that they are projecting their own insecurities onto me. On the other hand I just cannot deal with it. So yeah, I ditch people. I try to be as subtle about it as I can. In one particular situation this woman was shouting and telling me off about this situation in which I’d apparently been patronising towards her and as I say I hate confrontation. And because I did not know her that well, I did not know how she would take it if I tried to make a counter-argument. And you know I can’t be dealing with this on a regular basis, constant accusations of being patronising, being shouted at, when it does not reflect anything in my own heart whatsoever. So yeah this may not have been the most constructive way of dealing with it, but I diplomatically demoted that friendship. I just can’t deal well with people shouting at me. Perhaps next time I could explain that I don’t deal well with people shouting at me, and could she write down her complaints, so I could try to address them in writing? The issue there is that I probably admitted this person into close friendship too soon. In terms of friendship I really require friends who can be extremely honest with themselves about what is truly motivating their behaviour. Many times I quietly identify negative reasons for people’s behaviour which they are either unable or unwilling to address. I guess in that particular situation we will never know because I did not ask her, but she and I were too close, too soon anyway. Another lesson I have learned: two years/evaluation applies to all friendships, not just potential husbands. To be honest it is so rare to meet someone who has truly invested that level of effort into developing outstanding character. However I can sincerely say I have invested that level of effort, and I continue to invest that level of effort. Not just now though, other priorities because of Covid/ work situation. Just being candid again!
I’m going to leave it here because it is now almost 10 am, I’ve been up all night, and I am tired! Maybe tidy this post up later. Apologies this post is written with a tired brain so my connecting words (can’t think what the term is, not sure I ever knew) – basically things to make this all make logical sense as prose are not at their best, so it might be a bit hard to read.
5. Final Reddit point: many of these cases hinge on poor character from at least one of the er, characters, or protagonists. (Not all cases, in some unfortunate cases you instantly see that no-one is “in the wrong” as such, and it is just tricky). In human relationships, in marriage, character is everything! Integrity, doing the right thing because it is the right thing. Really! I feel so blessed that I have managed to miss out on so much drama because I have insisted on stupendous character from potential husbands. And reading this subreddit just convinces me that I’ve been right all along. I’ve already been ridiculously fussy, but trust me after reading this subreddit I only plan to become more fussy than ever!!!
[To be inserted above: If someone’s character reveals that you cannot continue to be vulnerable to them, then you cannot continue to be vulnerable to them. If you are in a marriage then you have to get out. So if you want your marriage to last it is best to discover this about someone before you get into a marriage with them OR make sure that they are the kind of person that you can afford to be vulnerable to on a long term basis – hence two years!]