Saturday, July 8, 2017


A year ago today, my world got rocked. 

No, I don't mean in the way that someone made my day or anything like that. I mean, it was rocked. It was hit by rocks, knocked off its moorings, blindsided, and so much so that for weeks, even months, I was unsure of anything anymore. 

I have thought about the experience often since then, painful as it is to do so, and all I can figure out is that I was a victim of - or more likely a participant in - a miscommunication that destroyed a promising friendship. And it all came down to expectations. UNSPOKEN expectations. 

You see, I had planned to stay a few weeks with this person while I was out of town. I was willing to pay for the cost of the groceries I would be using, and I was so grateful for their generosity in offering me a place to stay at less than I would have paid for regular accommodations. 

But, well in advance, every time I would mention or even ask what this person expected to receive, that person changed the subject.   They preferred to joke around - and I could take so much of that ... and then it became so much that I had to just make an excuse and go do something else. And this was before I even got there.

We should have talked. We should have talked about EVERYTHING. 

This person's idea of friendly banter was teasing. I hate teasing. Teasing was always malicious when I was growing up, and I grew to detest it. So when this person started doing this, laughing at me, twitting me about my height and telling me to keep up, and making fun of my Maritime expressions, it didn't feel like friendly banter to me. It felt like criticism at best and persecution at worst. 

So one evening this was happening and I started to react. And I reacted badly. And I said things that were, in fact, malicious. And this person was hurt. That was the first mistake... unspoken expectations. Not talking about what things meant to us, where the boundaries were. 

That night before bed, I apologized for losing my cool and then proceeded to explain where I had been coming from. All this person heard was someone who pretended to apologize and then justified her position. Resentment grew, unknown to me. I thought things would be better. But they weren't. They got cold. Real cold. Real quick. The teasing stopped, but it was replaced by stony silence. And I assumed that the person just needed time to recover. But that wasn't it at all. The individual had made a judgement of me and my motivations based on that person's upbringing ... and not mine.

You see, this person was brought up in a home where if you screwed up, you apologized without excuses, you took all of the blame for everything, and then you moved on, letting everyone be the way they were beforehand.  In my upbringing, nobody ever apologized that way; if there were apologies at all, they happened in the midst of people trying to understand why the other person did what they did. So to this person, my apology (which would have been accepted with open arms in my own family) was suspect, and not to be trusted.

But there was something else, too.  There were other unspoken expectations, and rather than talk about them, this person never even considered that I might come from a different perspective. It had to do with the rules surrounding house guests. In this person's home, everyone - even guests - pulled their weight, and nothing was free. The unspoken rule was that you cleaned up your own mess, you paid your way, and you did it without being asked and without expecting any thanks. To do any less was just plain rude and selfish.

Photo "Girls Looking At Each Other" by Stuart Miles.
Courtesy of

I, on the other hand, grew up in a home where, whenever anyone came to visit, they would offer to help out, and my mom would shoo them away from the kitchen and say, "No, you are guests here. You don't need to do that." If they offered money, it was, "Keep your money. Your money is no good here." So I had the unspoken expectation that hosts waited on guests hand and foot. And if a guest insisted on helping, they were profusely thanked (unlike the family members, who never received a thank you, not. even. once. ... but I digress.) If I (as their daughter) tried to do something on my own, my help was not appreciated, and I was often criticized for not doing it right. So I learned to only help when I was given explicit instructions, because to do otherwise would invite parental anger.

So, back to a year ago.  It only took a few days of staying with this person after the initial misunderstanding when things really fell apart. I was not feeling well, for various reasons, but yet the task of carrying this person's things fell to me and I was never thanked. Not. even. once.  I felt as though I was treated like a slave.  All the while, I felt hesitant to do things like wash dishes and put them away, and I was keenly aware that this was someone else's kitchen and not mine. I didn't feel free to move around, and I was kind of scared of the dishwasher - had never used one of the more modern ones, and wasn't even sure how it opened, or where to put things in it. So I stayed away.  

So of course, this person thought I was an ingrate.  

I didn't know how to pay for things; at the grocery store, they would whip out their bank card before I could even speak - and all the time, resentment built on both sides. 

Each of us felt put-upon. So when the blow-up happened, it happened BIG. 

I won't go into the gory details, but when this person finally confronted me, three days later, there was a list of things that took 20 minutes to deliver... and I was not used to confrontation. I apologized; my apology was not accepted and the person accused me of justifying my behavior because I mentioned not knowing how to help and not knowing what the rules were. I paid the person twice what they had already spent on me in groceries. I did not receive any kind of comment or even a statement that it was too much.

Unspoken expectations.

That evening and the next morning, I tried to chip in and show that I was trying to follow the rules this person had laid out, but it was too late. The cold shoulder persisted. I no longer felt welcome. I was on the verge of tears the whole time - partly because of the experience and partly from lack of sleep. Finally, when they left to do something with their family, I arranged to move out and pay strangers to live elsewhere, like I should have done in the beginning. 

The relationship never recovered.  It took a long time for me to recover from the experience. I was not used to not being believed, not used to essentially being called a lazy, selfish liar, even though those words were never used exactly. It rankled that this person could feel this way about me. And to this day, the memory of how things happened and thoughts about what I could have done differently plague me. And all I can figure out from all of it is that if we had just talked about things without judging each other - if we had just listened to each other without making assumptions - our friendship might have survived.

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