Of all the things I have been told about aging, one thing is true. Never pass up a chance to visit the Men’s Room. Little did I know what I might hear along the way.
One sided conversations leave the imagination much to consider. Interpreting them is risky. Here is one that reminded me of the complexity of relationships and how reductionistic it is to claim there are only two options.
A few weeks ago I was returning from a golf trip a few friends afforded me the privilege of participation. Who could refuse sunny Florida while it is Winter in Oklahoma?
Our plane stopped in St. Louis on the return flight. Living in Flyover Country most always means at least one stop along the way to any given destination, unless of course you are a Gozillinaire and can cover the extra costs of a direct flight when available. Our turn around time to board the next plane left just enough time to find the restroom.
The fellow next to me was on his phone. His side of the conversation went like this:
Fellow at the next urinal: “You could have been more sincere.” (Impatiently)
Person on the other end of the phone: [“I’m Sorry”] (Speculating by what follows.)
Fellow at the next urinal: “What do you mean you are sorry?”
I could not help think he was talking to his wife or one of his children. This is the classic double bind. You are likely more familiar with the feeling that you are, “Danged if you do and danged if you don’t.”
How many times have you been on the wrong side of this styled conversation? Trapped. Frustrated. Angry.
The better question may be, “How many times have you been the fellow on the phone?” Indignant. Self-righteous. Offended.
Relationships often face this dilemma. Plenty of anecdotes could be shared to illustrate. Most of the time when these events occur we prefer to be at the urinal and not on the other end of the phone. No one likes the receiving end of the double bind.
Though we would choose to avoid the discomfort of feeling bound by another’s vitriol, choosing to be the bind-er is choosing to dehumanize the value of the other/Other.
The double bind is reciprocally practiced. That is, the one bound may often become the one who binds. Consider it Orwellian. Circumstances change and the roles are reversed. Consider the aforementioned conversation and imagine how it might have gone once the fellow at the urinal arrived home. No longer safe behind his cell phone he had to come face to face with his own words.
Surely you may imagine it. His plane home begins its decent. He replays the conversation over and realizes what a jerk he had been. Standing at the Baggage Claim he takes out his phone to let the other person know he is home. He begins with an apology.
Fellow at the next urinal now at the Baggage Claim: I really did not mean to sound so harsh
Person on the other end of the phone now sensing an opportunity: You could be more sincere.
Fellow at the next urinal now at the Baggage Claim: I’m Sorry.
Person on the other end of the phone now sensing an opportunity: What do you mean you are sorry?
Unless one person breaks the cycle, the double bind get repeated endlessly. What is needed is a bit of vulnerability, some humility. Think about it. How much more vulnerable and humble should you be standing at the urinal on the phone?