Enchiladas, Fights, and Heros
You may not know it’s love until you’ve argued for the first time with your partner. To know how much you love them because of how much you hate them.
There are many common arguments that most likely every couple will go through in their time together: the missed turn while driving, the ‘you always _____’ generalization, and of course, ‘What do you want to eat?’
Recently, my girlfriend and I went out to eat without the ‘where to eat,’ argument. Yay us. Unfortunately, there was still an argument waiting to happen.
Arguing in itself is not a sign of the end of a relationship, in fact it is a very healthy part of any truly loving relationship. (A series of articles on that coming soon.) Depending on where you look, couples may argue everyday for ten minutes around 8pm or they may have 30-50 intense, name-calling arguments per year.
How often and what we argue about differs depending on the combatants, I mean lovers, involved. My partner and I are both quite stubborn, confrontational, and used to winning intellectual or emotional debates, so things can get pretty volatile…
I had been having a bad day: work and money was not going as well as I wanted, the new apartment still wasn’t finished and the landlord would be in Buenos Aires for the next month leaving my girlfriend and I to sort it out, and it was the Mexican Black Friday with well, you know, those types of people out everywhere. To top it all off, I was hungry.
My girlfriend, seeing my pain, pulled over to take a break from our business to grab a bite before moving on to the next undesirable task of the day.
The server comes over and asks what we would like for our main dish as she takes our empty soup bowls away. My significant other orders the milanesa, and then I order the enchiladas verdes. Then it happens…
‘Not spicy, right?’ The server says looking at me asking about the dish I just ordered.
I politely smile and reply, ‘Yes, I like it a little spicy.’
She then looks to my Mexican better-half for confirmation.
And explosion. The camel’s back was finally broken for the day.
Normally, I would just overlook or even laugh about the constant superiority complex or racism or xenophobia or ethnocentrism Mexicans have about gringos eating spicy food. But on this day, I wasn’t interested in being kind and tolerant to being judged based on my nationality, or lack of hispanic nationality.
So I did as we do, I confided in my partner for understanding, for recognition and validation in my frustration with the world. ‘It can be so exhausting having to tolerate that every time I go out to eat.’ After 7 months of living here, I would be rich if I was paid every time Mexicans assumed my food tolerance.
‘She was just being polite’ my partner said.
‘Doesn’t mean it’s right to make assumptions about me based on my ‘race.’’ I said.
Now, whether the server truly was concerned about my fragile gringo palette and digestion did not matter to me at that time. This day, I was not to tolerate anything I felt as a slight, however polite.
And the fireworks started. We argued, and then we ate in silence. Ironically, I didn’t like mine well enough to finish because it wasn’t spicy at all. Perhaps the food needs to be spicy in Mexico to make it. Or maybe I just don’t believe something is worth doing unless it hurts a little. Either way, I like the ‘pic’ in picante in my food and my life.
Then a gentleman came over and took our plates, he took away our food and looking at my half-eaten plate and then my Mexican better-half, smiled and said to her, ‘Maybe next time, get him a hamburger.’
I’m apparently still not a visible human adult, and to make matters worse, my girlfriend responds with a shrug of indifferent affirmation.
As the rest of the day went on, we struggled to get through it in silence and occasionally nasty remarks until a bedtime final royal of all the worst things we could throw at each other ensued. We went well beyond any argument about stereotypes and consistently being emasculated based on food and which country your were fortunate or unfortunate enough to be born in.
It was ugly and left fallout following into the next morning.
What’s Really Going On
I was so focused at first on being exhausted from the constant anti-American remarks that it drug me into the past when I had to deal with entire dinner conversations with French friends having a show of American stupidity while occasionally looking at me and saying, ‘not you, of course.’
I was ready to write my response to all these people that think they know every American to allow themselves to cut them down in wide-sweeping generalizations that make themselves feel better. Something I have no doubt overcome long ago having spent most of my adult life outside of the country. That and also knowing that even though I am living evidence in front of these people that their stereotypes aren’t true, they need it more than I do to believe in it.
And, well, quite honestly this ‘accidental racism’ is just ingrained into their culture and as my girlfriend kept reminding me that day that racism, however said, shouldn’t be taken so offensively.
After writing out my justified rage on the digital screen, I realized how disproportionate my anger really was. I had even just written an article about being triggered the previous week.
Feelings still lingered however, and meditation worked until the bedroom lights were passive-aggressively turned on and left on when leaving the room.
And then I knew who I was mad at…
Our Lover, Our Scapegoat… Para Siempre
Whether it’s intolerable remarks from strangers, the jackhammer outside your window all day, or your baggage lost at the airport carousel. The world just seems to be against us sometimes and when our partners try to calm us from our egocentric thinking and over-emotional response, we snap at them, fall silent, then turn our anger towards them. Our true love and scapegoat for all our woes in life.
How could they be so carefree and indifferent? How could they not be in pain when something like this happened to us?
And so it clicks, the humiliation, the headache pounding in your frontal lobes is all their fault. ‘You know, you’re just as ignorant as them for saying gringos are weak based on food preference and you should know better, even defend me against such stupidity.’ Et voila, a somewhat unfair and sad response to what was originally a nice gesture on their part for us.
This may not be clear or make much sense at first glance. Yes, maybe your partner does participate in jokes made at your expense, and a bit of humor can diffuse an often tense situation. But we aren’t always ready to laugh at jokes made at our expense, however innocent or however blatantly untrue.
Therefore we begin a vicious cycle of superficial and irrational comments and arguments all based around one very unfair presumption of love: that this person we love, that we’ve committed ourselves to, is more than just our center of emotional existence, they are also responsible for everything that happens to us, good and bad, however objectively insane and deeply unjustified that sense may be.
The world can be a cruel and ugly place with lots of twists and turns, seemingly without any lights to guide us along the way. The indifferent world seems to disappoint us, upset us, hurt us, and frustrate us every chance it gets; be it our attempts to be creative, our hardwork in our careers, or just simply losing our keys in the oddest or most obvious places. And while the world is crushing you, it seems to reward the idiots and the undeserving masses.
It can be difficult to point out who to blame for all this, especially when deep down we know it is ourselves or that we could lose our source of income or that it may simply upset someone that may leave us. And what’s worse, us reacting at all makes us seem like the insane one, or just simply too thin-skinned.
So, what do we do?
We blame the one person who most likely would last want to see us harmed. The only person we can truly expose our insecurities, our frustrations, and all the grievances we accumulate over time. This person closest to us, the one we love, becomes the beneficiary of all that accumulated rage at the injustice and imperfections in our lives.
It’s obviously quite silly on our part to blame them for partaking in the pain we feel. But to ignore this is to misunderstand one of the unwritten rules of how love works. We can’t always get angry at the people that deserve it, so we get angry at the person that we know will tolerate us for blaming them: our sweet, sympathetic, and loyal partner.
What’s love got to do with it?
Those hateful words we mutter or scream sound, without a doubt, mean. But if we think about it, who else on this earth could we say such hurtful comments? It is strange to see this sort of mental abuse as evidence or a symptom of love, but in its own way, it is romantic, especially when you consider the detail of the sexual conclusion that frequently happens after these disputes. The closeness it brings of licking the wounds.
Just think how exhausting it is to always have to be polite and reasonable to strangers, bosses, clients, even friends and family members. It is so relieving to have someone where the rules of propriety don’t apply. You can be your true self (mostly, you may want to occasionally spare them). You can show your crazy side, your deranged side, your truly irrational and unkind side to this person we trust.
And more than that, we can do all this knowing we will be forgiven.
Our partners play such a vital and profound part in our lives. We put so much faith in them to understand us, especially the dark places we hide from the rest of the world. Obviously it is unfair of us to ask them to solve their prejudiced compatriots or find their missing keys all the time or wipe away any of our struggles through life. And it is just as unfair to punish them by making them as unhappy as us due to their lack of affection or care for our current situation.
Blame Our Parents’ Love
We idolize our partners’ perfections, and we also exaggerate their powers in this world. Our superhero or heroine to save us and protect us from the aforementioned cruel world. This can in part be blamed from a distant echo of our childhood, when once a long time ago we had someone in our lives that really did seem like our hero.
Our parents used to be able to literally carry us around all day on their shoulders. They always kept track of the baseball tickets, and somehow there was always food in the fridge, and if there wasn’t, a slight complaint would remedy the situation soon enough. They were the hero we needed at that time. The one we are still subconsciously looking for in our new lives as adults and searching inside our partners to be.
Our poor partners have unknowingly inherited this unfair trust we need to place in someone as we did our parents. It is beautiful and romantic to hope for such a thing in a partner, but also dangerous as most hope can be.
And somehow, our amazing partners have learned to calm, soothe, and reassure the scared child in us. That is, after all, why we love them. That love brings with it a source of strength and courage. However, it also attaches to a more underdeveloped part of ourselves that needs that childhood hero who can control the external world for us, control it in order to comfort us from it.
Though they would never truly wish to hurt us, we put too much faith and trust into their ability to keep us from getting hurt.
On Being the Scapegoat
So yes, we understand that sometimes we treat our partners unfairly due to something that they were never truly at fault for. Now knowing this and why, if we should ever find ourselves faced with unjust cries from our lovers, we should try (our damnedest) to take the blows while remembering one really important and quite nice factor of it all: that we really matter to this other person.
We should strive to remember that this other fragile human has become deeply reliant on us to help them endure all the nonsense, the unfairness, and sometimes nastiness the world throws at them.
Love is not some perfect agreement that is only sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. It carries with it a lot of ugliness and conflict. Rather than seeing this as a sign of everything falling apart, realize that this symptom of being the responsible hero for someone is truly one of the most intense investments someone can make in another person.
We push and pull and attack each other because we have made the mistake or promise or beautiful gesture of entangling our most profound desires and dreams and anxieties with this other person.
It is because we are so close to the eye of this hurricane we call our lover that we are so exposed to turbulence and distress. This sometimes unbearable side of our partner, that everyone else is protected from or has simply ran from, is really a strange gift to receive from the one you love.