When I was in college I had a roommate for one semester, I’ll call her Jane. I didn’t know her, we were just placed in a room together. Jane liked boys. A lot. I walked in on Jane with so many different Tarzans, we finally devised a system. Not that Jane was ever troubled if I showed up in the middle of her eggs being scrambled, I just found it awkward, and Jane was annoyed by the fact that I found it awkward. When I wasn’t interrupting something, I’d come back to our room and find sweaters of mine thrown in a corner, sometimes stained, or I’d go looking for a pair of shoes only to discover Jane must be wearing them. She was catty, and cold, and never had a kind word to say about anyone, not that she talked to me much. I tried to get to know her, but she really wasn’t open to that, nor did she have any other girlfriends. If I saw her on campus, she was almost always with a group of guys, and might acknowledge me with a look, but not a friendly one, and not usually. One morning I walked into our tiny shared kitchen and howled because I stepped on a shard of broken glass. Jane had knocked over a vase, and simply thrown a towel over the mess. Finally, frustrated and done, I requested a new roommate. The paperwork took a few weeks, but there was light at the end of the tunnel.
One afternoon after I knew my days with Jane were coming to an end, I walked in to find her alone in her bed. She looked awful, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were glassy and she was groaning. She had the kind of flu where you just want to dig a hole and bury yourself until it’s over. Her fever was incredibly high, but she refused to let me take her to the nurse, so I went to the store and bought soup and juice and bread for toast, and came back and made her a little lunch. I sat on the edge of the bed and put my hand on her forehead, and Jane started crying. Not just a tear or two streaming down her face, but the kind of crying that sounds more like keening. Primal, deep wailing. I was stunned, but I just held onto her until she quieted. It turned out Jane’s mom had left when she was a baby, and never looked back. Her dad had raised her but he wasn’t the most emotional guy. No one had ever made her soup before. I wish I could say this was the beginning of a close and lasting friendship, or tell you that I still know Jane and that all is well with her, but that moment with the soup was all there was, because the next day Jane was back to her dismissive ways. In fact, she was even more hostile. When I packed up my things before winter break, I left Jane a card with my new phone number and a note that said she could always call me for any reason. I never heard from her, but I think about her a lot. Especially when I meet someone who’s challenging to be around, or whose behavior is difficult to understand. Everyone has pain, everyone is struggling with something.
When you feel as though someone is “driving you crazy”, understand they can only do that if you let them. Checking in with yourself when you’re feeling enraged, frustrated, trapped, or shut down with someone is really essential. Sometimes a complete stranger can “drive you crazy” by talking loudly on their cellphone in a cafe, or not holding a door open, or letting you merge on the freeway. Sometimes it’s someone you like who isn’t responding the way you wish they would. The story that matters is always the story of our participation. What about the situation is triggering us? Why, for example, would you allow the driving habits of a stranger, no matter how annoying they might be, rob you of your own peace? Or affect your blood pressure, or the way you’re driving, or what you’re doing with your own middle finger? What is the real source of the anger or insecurity or lack of trust this person is tapping that already exists within you, and did long before s/he came into the picture? If you’re really tweaked, consider whether it’s old stuff. Are you feeling powerless? Rejected? Abandoned? Are you repeating a pattern of interaction that feels awful and very familiar at the same time? This is the way challenging people can become some of our best teachers. The potential for growth and greater understanding about who you are and where you’re at is always available. If someone cuts you off on the freeway and you feel a surge of heat rush to your face, you really ought to be yelling, “Thank you!” and not, “F&ck you!” out the window, because they just helped you release and explore some of the rage that was already within you. Next time you’re dreading hanging out with that person who drives you up and down a wall, see if you can turn it into an experiment where you drive instead. They can do and say anything at all, and you will still drive your own car, peacefully and mindfully, slowing down whenever you need to hop out and explore the terrain.
Sending you love, and wishes for a peaceful ride without the use of your “traffic finger” 😉