Someone is always taking my headphones. No matter where I leave them, they disappear. Headphones can’t leave on their own. They have to be either lost or taken, right?
But no one takes them. Ever. No one. Ever. I lose them. But I don’t learn. The moment I realize that they are missing, I immediately think of the last place I left them, check that place, and determine they aren’t there. Logical conclusion? Somebody took them. But no one did. Later, when my lazy ass is over my anger and frustration at having to reach my hand all the way up to my ear to talk on the phone, I buy another pair. Each time I fork over another $30 plus tax for these wax cleaners, I vow that I will pay more attention, and each time I set them down I will make a mental note. “This is where you are. I am paying attention to where you are so that I can come back to you.”
My wife and I are going through a divorce. It will be final in a month and nineteen days. At least that’s what the state of Illinois tells us. It is bitter. I filed nearly a year and a half ago, after having an affair. She wanted to work it out, despite my straying, but I was already gone. She is angry and frustrated, and has a right to be. Nothing justifies the way in which I ended our marriage. Nothing could have made me stay, either.
While it never starts this way, our relationship was a pair of headphones. Collectively, we sat them down, didn’t pay attention while we were doing it, and didn’t come back for a while. I came back, and said they were lost. She came back, and said they were taken.
That’s where she is. Some other lady took her headphones. She knows where she left them, and they aren’t there anymore. She claims they were taken. I claim they were lost. I played a major part in the losing. I avoided conflict instead of facing it, and let it fester and create resentment to the point there was no turning back. Did she play a part? Sure she did. But that part is hers to determine and own, not mine.
Both parties always have their skin in, or in this case, out of the game. The headphones were lost because both of us were doing other things and thinking about other things when we set them down. Now we can’t find them. Harsh sounding, but I got tired of not having them and got another pair. It doesn’t mean I didn’t love the old pair. It just means that they weren’t there when I needed them. Did I give up looking for them too soon? Probably. But again, that is on me, and it’s an issue I have to figure out.
What is the lesson, the moral, the takeaway, the upshot, whatever you want to call it? Shit, I’m trying to figure it out myself as I type this (you do know that this is just my personal journal, out for the world to see, don’t you?). I do know it has to do with blame. When we don’t get a promotion, it’s because the person who did get it sucked up, or flirted with the boss, or chose work over family, which you would never do. When we don’t talk to a friend or a loved one for months or years, it’s because of something they did wrong, not what we did wrong. When a partner cheats, it’s his or her fault for stepping out.
But how about this? How about the next time something terrible happens (or even not so terrible, but anything that gives you a twinge), instead of first asking, “Who did this to me?” or “Why did this person do this to me?” or “How could he?”, instead of that being the default question, what if you ask, “What did I do to bring this upon myself?” One thing I neglected to mention in this first personal journal posting is that this will be Divorce Number Two for me (don’t question my capitalization - divorces are significant enough events to warrant initial caps, maybe even all caps). My first wife had at least one affair, and for ten years I blamed her. Only recently have I seen what a huge role I played in it, from being emotionally unavailable to controlling to almost totally neglecting our sex life.
So ask that tough question. “What did I do?” For me, it’s often hard to ask, and even harder to answer. The answer can be extremely painful and bring up all kinds of guilt, shame, and regret that are going to require even more questions and more painful answers, and on and on and on.
There’s no doubt it will be the same for you. But as soon as you ask it - and why not try it right now, thinking of a situation you have blamed someone for, ask it out loud, “What did I do to contribute to this?” - as soon as you ask, you have taken the first step out of being a victim. You have taken the first step into a life where you are the driver instead of a passenger. You have taken the first step into a life where you are controlling the music.
And if we ask, maybe we can stop losing so many goddamn headphones.