My friend’s husband has this very annoying habit of interrupting people when they speak. I’ve known this man for decades and he has always done this. Sometimes it bothers me more than other times. It also seems to really aggravate his wife and close friends. I assume they are aggravated because they roll their eyes when he starts a conversation over theirs. They’ve also come right out and said his behavior pisses them off. His wife has expressed enormous amounts of frustration at being ignored by him.
“I’ll be talking to him and it’s as if I’m not even speaking. His eyes will just glaze over and then he’ll start a completely different conversation, right over mine.”
When she talks about his behavior I can see the anger and hurt in her eyes. I’ve seen him do it to her and to others and have kind of just come to accept it as arrogance. I mean, he must think everyone around him is just trivial and their words are uninteresting. Why else would he steam roll them with complete disregard for their feelings?
It’s such a part of his character that when I see him at social gatherings, I can count the seconds from when someone begins a conversation with him to when he checks out. It’s usually about fifteen seconds. Then there is a vacant, faraway look in his eyes for about another five to ten seconds. Then – bam! He strikes a brand new conversation up with someone else entirely. It would actually be comical if it weren’t so rude. His wife has learned to develop a thick skin about it in recent years. Well, actually they are callouses from years of being verbally driven over by him.
Then recently, his wife had an epiphany. She and I were having lunch with another friend who has been having some emotional problems. Her moods have been swinging violently from kind and gentle to dark and gothic. One day she’ll be on fire, ready to conquer the world, her exercise program and her children’s attitudes with finesse and determination. The next she will find herself in a pit of quicksand, unable to move her feet even an inch. She finally got an appointment with her psychiatrist and in preparation, spent weeks on Google in order to be able to present her case to the doctor and fully diagnose herself.
We joked about this because we have all done this. I have found myself spending many late nights with Dr. Google, certain I have every ailment under the sun. I carefully document my moods, mysterious rashes and spots that I’m certain are lupus or cancer. Then, when I finally get to the psychiatrist and lay all the facts on the table, she has the audacity to misdiagnose me and charge me $200. The gall.
My friend told us about her symptoms as we picked at our salads, hoping the greens would balance out our overindulgence during the holidays. She described the mood swings, the headaches, the voices in her head. And then she began talking about the focus issues.
“I know I’m ADD. I start projects all the time and never finish any of them. I can’t remember anything from one day to the next. And when people talk to me, I can’t focus on what they’re saying. It’s like I just space out. I can see their lips moving, but after a few seconds of listening, my mind just goes AWOL and I’m completely lost. I feel like an idiot so I don’t say anything. Then, rather than sitting their feeling stupid, I just start another conversation because I can’t remember what they were talking about.”
Wow. Her behavior was identical to that of my other friend’s husband. I looked at my thick skinned friend and could tell that she got it, too.
“That’s exactly what my husband does!” she squealed. “I mean, that’s exactly what he does!” She went on to explain that even though one of their children has ADD, she never really noticed the same behaviors in her husband. But after listening to our friend, she was certain that her husband’s rudeness, his disinterest, were merely symptoms of his ADD.
After that lunch, my friend grew a new empathy for her husband. Rather than rolling her eyes and getting annoyed at his behavior, she simply kept her words brief and to the point. She chose to accommodate his limitations rather than chastise his shortcomings. She chose to understand rather than reprimand. She took a long, hard look at herself and her reactions to his conversational abilities and realized she had been casting stones rather than digging through them for the facts.
How often do we do that? How often do we cast rather than catch the stones that build walls of resentment? If we would just take a moment to open our hands and sift through the soil and brush away the debris of annoyance and hurt to see what lies beneath, perhaps we would find treasure. Maybe we would find a diagnosis, an answer, empathy, patience, diamonds. We might find those special river rocks that when placed gently on the hearts of others, when positioned just right in our relationships, can soften and heal. We might choose to catch the smoothest of those stones before they slip through our fingers and get lost in the choppy water below.