My ex-boyfriend, Chris, lived by a very stringent set of rules; unfortunately I didn’t have a copy of his rule book so I learned the rules as I went. This book by David Finch was very helpful in learning how to understand and communicate with him effectively, since any signs of emotion or anything not rooted in straight logic or reason were not part of his rules.
One evening, as he was preparing to make dinner in the kitchen at my apartment, Chris looked at me very seriously and sternly, and it was clear I’d broken a rule. “Do you know what I find very upsetting?” he asked. The question was delivered without any trace of humor or lightness, and it seemed very important to him. I’d become used to this sort of thing, and I believe love should be unconditional, as mine for him was, so I’d spent a lot of time reading, learning, and understanding how to communicate with someone who viewed the world so differently.
“I don’t,” I answered as calmly as possible.
“You left a wet, water- logged sponge in the sink, I touched it, my hands smell like wet sponge, it’s going to take forever to get the smell to go away, and I FIND THIS VERY UPSETTING.”
Previously, I’d been prone to emotional outbursts when I was instructed to water plants a certain way, shouted orders about cooking, or lectured on knife-washing hygiene, but I came to recognize these things as part of his rules, so I learned to be patient.
“Okay, I said, I’m sorry that happened; there are new sponges under the sink, maybe just throw that one away and get another one.”
But breaking this rule seemed more serious, and there were some moments of silence and exasperation on both ends.
I started to lose my cool on this occasion, but tried to remain calm, “I mean, I’m sorry, but can’t you be a little more lighthearted about it, is it really that big of I deal?” I asked.
It was, as evidenced by his response, “You know how you’re trying to decide if you could live with someone, and you’re taking everything into consideration, well, that’s what I’m doing.”
On the outside, I nodded and said, “Okay.” On the inside I screamed,” I MOVED MY LIFE TO ANOTHER PART OF THE COUNTRY, I LIVE IT AROUND YOUR SCHEDULDE AND YOU’RE DETERMINGING OUR FUTURE TOGETHER BASED ON MY FUCKING SPONGE ETTIQUTTE?”
But as someone who hyper-focused on minute details regularly, he very often missed the big picture. This was a living hell for both of us.
I learned some important things though during our time together, I can chop vegetables safely, tell you the most important difference between crocodiles and alligators, and make
killer homemade lemonade and pies.
In the end, I wasn’t sponge-worthy, and our life together would have been hugely challenging, but he was right, leaving water-logged sponges in the sink is disgusting and makes your hands smell gross. And I haven’t done it since.