relationships

Sometimes It Really Is A YOU Problem

Fifty (or fifty-one if we’re being specific) is a marvelous thing. With five decades behind me, I now understand my place in this world much better than I have before. I’ve learned that I am not as important or influential as I thought. I am not responsible for everyone else’s feelings. After fifty years, I am free of the burdens and expectations of others. Mostly.

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I was raised to believe I was the direct cause of other people’s suffering. You know the phrase, “That sounds like a you problem?” Well, everything negative that happened in my interactions with others was a me problem. It all rested squarely on my shoulders. If someone was unhappy with me, it was because I was selfish or lazy or thoughtless. There was no onus on the other person. I was to blame. Always.

The natural consequence of believing that my every mistake, misstep, or misspoken word made me less likable was a conditioned level of fearfulness around other people. I didn’t dare express what I liked because someone else might not agree and that would be awkward. I didn’t feel comfortable asking for what I wanted because that might put someone else out. I was terrified others would see how naive and foolish I was if I spoke up, so I kept to myself. I played along. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t impose. I didn’t want to rock anyone else’s boat. It wasn’t until I hit fifty that I realized my concern for not rocking anyone else’s boat meant I never learned to sail my own.

For most of my life, the you problem comment bothered me. I found it haughty and mean-spirited. Eventually with therapy, I began to understand that diagnosing a you problem had less to do with being dismissive of someone else’s feelings than it had to do with being responsible for my own. A you problem is a problem you are responsible for. Nothing more. Nothing less. As long as I own my part, it’s okay to wish, hope, or expect another will own theirs. Believing someone else is responsible for their own feelings is not dismissive of my responsibility to them. It acknowledges that I am responsible for only my part in the transactional nature of our human relationship. It allows another the opportunity and responsibility to accept their fair share. It’s equality.

I still live my life trying to be decent and fair to others. I still try to consider other’s feelings and cause no harm. I still strive not to be a burden. I just no longer accept that I am 100% responsible for someone else’s reaction to what I say or do. I can only be responsible for myself. If you’re reacting negatively to what I say or what I need, you should examine why it bothers you because that is a you problem. It feels good to let you shoulder your own feelings and expectations. It feels good to let that go.

 

 

 

I’ll Share My Life But Not My Toothbrush

Toothbrushes in the trash. Try not to judge me by the Red Vine box and the gummy bear bag in there as well.

Toothbrushes in the trash…where my potty mouth belongs.

So this past weekend we headed out for a few days in the mountains. As we were packing up, I noticed Steve hadn’t yet packed his toothbrush. Wishing to avoid a weekend with him without proper oral hygiene, I reminded him to grab it. He went into the bathroom to get it.

“It’s not here,” he said, referencing the toothbrush holder on our bathroom counter.

“Yes it is. I left a couple of toothbrushes in the holder when I grabbed mine,” I answered.

There were two toothbrushes in the holder that I hadn’t been using, so I knew he had forgotten his.

“Look. I already packed mine,” I told him. I showed him the toothbrush in my bag.

“That’s my toothbrush,” he replied.

“No. It’s mine. It’s the one I’ve been using.”

“Then you’ve been using my toothbrush.”

“Really?” I balked. “Are you sure? I’m pretty sure this one is mine. I used it this morning.”

“Yes,” he said, inspecting it more closely. “That’s mine. You’ve been using my toothbrush.”

“How do you know? They all look alike.”

We buy our toothbrushes in bulk from Costco. The Oral B package of soft-bristle brushes contains eight, spanking-new brushes in four, color combinations. We’re both fairly consistent about changing our brushes out every couple of months because, well, we buy them in bulk at Costco so why not? Because of the multiple color combinations, though, it can be easy to forget which toothbrush is your current one. I mean, by the time you’ve gotten used to your brush and have memorized which one it is, you’ve chosen a new one and have to remember it. We’re getting old. It’s hard to keep track of things, you know?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was sure that one was mine. It’s not a big deal, though. Here you go.”

I handed him the toothbrush so he could pack it. I turned around and went into the bedroom to pack some other things. When I walked back into the bathroom, I noticed the toothbrush in question was now in the trashcan along with the other two toothbrushes that had been in the holder.

“You threw them all out?” I asked incredulously. “Really?”

“Since we don’t know whose is whose, we’ll just start over. I’ll buy a new one when we get there,” he replied, as if this were the most logical solution.

What the heck? Suddenly I was feeling downright dirty. I began wondering if the Board of Health might need to shut me down as a contamination risk.

“Am I diseased or something? Is that why you can’t keep any toothbrush that might have been in my mouth?”

“It’s just gross,” he said. “I’m pretty sure other people would agree with me.”

“The toothbrush was in my mouth…the same mouth you kiss. You know that, right? We share food off the same fork sometimes. How is this any different?”

“It just is.”

“Apparently my foul mouth really does bother you,” I retorted before heading back to my packing chore.

I’m not going to lie. I was disappointed and shocked that my own husband had such virulent concerns about my hygiene. Don’t get me wrong. I understand where he’s coming from. It’s not very sanitary to share a toothbrush. That’s a fact. And I wouldn’t normally want his mouth on my toothbrush either, but I wouldn’t freak out about it if tables were turned. As a rule, I don’t like to share, especially when it comes to germs. It was just the immediate and swift manner with which he dispensed with all the compromised toothbrushes that irked me, as if he were taking no chances. Was he concerned I could have Ebola? Honestly, I wouldn’t have been thrilled to discover Steve had been using my toothbrush, but I wouldn’t have thrown it out. I would have shrugged my shoulders, given him a hard time about it (probably forever), and then eventually switched it out for a new one when I had destroyed all the bristles on it by brushing too hard. (Yes. I know this is not a good practice for my teeth and gums. I’m working on myself one flaw at a time, and this particular flaw is reasonably far down on my list of concerns.) Whatever germs don’t kill you make you stronger. At least that has always been my theory and, forty-six years into this theory, I’m still here so it appears to be working.

The man's personal toothbrush kingdom.

The man’s personal toothbrush kingdom.

Let it not be said, however, that I am insensitive to my husband’s needs. After twenty years, I may not have understood his relative level of paranoid germaphobia until now, but I do know how to solve a marital problem. You find the issue that’s been rubbing you the wrong way and you find a way around it. It doesn’t even really require compromise. You simply apply a bit of creative thinking and find the win-win. So, today I dug into my resourceful brain and found a solution to our dilemma. I bought him a special treat…his own toothbrush holder to keep on his side of the double vanity. Henceforth, his toothbrush has its own kingdom and it need never be near mine. Ever again. Problem solved. Now he just has to hope I don’t hold this germaphobe thing against him. It could be a long next twenty years for him if I’m stubbornly refusing to put my mouth anywhere near him because of this slight. Not that I hold a grudge or anything. Well, if you’ll excuse me…there is a piece of cake in the fridge I’ve been saving for later. I need to go lick it to guarantee it’s mine. 😉