• Black Facebook Icon
  • Black LinkedIn Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black Pinterest Icon

© 2017 Created by Warren Stribling

The Infamous Sulk

What You Must Know About a Sulking Partner


Oh my… this kid already has a keen sulking face.

Sulking. This idea. This happening. This absurd natural tendency we find ourselves in can really take up a disturbingly large portion of our lives if we aren’t too careful.


They can be triggered by the smallest of things:

  • The organization of the cabinet

  • Whether or not to cross the street

  • A small comment that shouldn’t at all be taken inappropriately

The trigger may be small, but the consequences are anything but.


A sulk can start on a Tuesday evening and not be done until Saturday afternoon. They can travel with us to weddings and holidays, and even show themselves to innocent bystanders at the office or in front of concerned family members. And they almost always seem to make an appearance on a vacation or small getaway.


I know we spent a lot of money flying across the Atlantic to be here, but you gave me a face when picking up our luggage at the airport. So, now I’m going to ruin the first few days of this trip in a pleasant sulk.

It’s amazing, considering how prevalent sulks are, that they seem to go unnoticed in the era of ‘self-help’. Maybe even those of us that write are a bit too ashamed of something so unreasonable and lowly as sulking. I suppose I’m not. Though if it wasn’t relevant at the moment of writing this, perhaps even I would have trouble recalling the last sulk I went through or had to tolerate. Sulks - they are as stealthy as they are ever-present. Crafty devils.


What a sulk is ultimately about is a combination of two very intense emotions:

  1. A fierce anger

  2. A bitter desire to not say what one is angry about

It’s a fantastic conundrum of needing to be understood but unwilling to explain oneself.


The very fact we have to explain ourselves is the problem. If we have to explain ourselves, it is proof that the person is not worthy of having anything explained to them.


I know, right?

And so… we sulk.


In a small twist of events here, let’s see this extremely odd and infuriating behavior as the highest compliment:

We only sulk with people we feel should get us. Someone we respect in that sense. An odd and truly infuriating gift of love.


Exciting, right?

So we get upset. We take it personally. We sulk because this other person we hold in such high esteem and endearment should just know that:

  • We don’t want to talk about our day.

  • We were upset by the 20-minute phone call that just ended with our mother.

  • We hate having to cook with a shitty pan.

  • We had bad news at work.

  • We are feeling overwhelmed by too many life changes happening at once.


Of course, we haven’t made any effort to spell this out for our partner, but they should just know, right?


We can write articles about our issues. We can tell our employees how they are failing to meet expectations. We can tell our kids how they are misbehaving. Yet, these small things that seem to be the final straw for us on certain days should be evident to our loving partner without any form of communication other than a headfirst dive into our stingy sulk.


Leave me alone...

Yet, a sulk is an awkward sign of hope. By storming out of the room with a slammed door and calling the other a ‘bitch’ or ‘pussy’ to go hide in a different room in solitude is, ironically, a sign that a person deeply loves the other.


You can pretty much see a rise in the usage of the word sulk about the same time (early 19th century) as poets started romanticizing and popularizing the idea that true love allows one to know the soul of another without normal communication. This age of Romanticism gives us great writing (and horrible movies and pop music), but it also gives us horrible expectations in the reality of romantic relationships.


[The Great Depression caused the greatest spike in the history of the word 'sulking'.]


‘Love ends loneliness, and we are understood without explanations. Proof of our ‘true love’ lies in this equation. We are just understood without speaking. It’s what makes staring into each other’s eyes so magical and special.’


It’s a lovely, yet disastrous, romantic ideal of love… inarticulate comprehension and appreciation.


Before the Romantics came along with their desperately optimistic ideas of love, people didn’t really sulk much before. It was just kind of a given they wouldn’t be really known and accepted by others.


Literature was about the only way people ever felt understood before 1800.

We can’t entirely blame the Romantic writers for our desire to be speechlessly understood though. We can and will blame the usual suspects: our parents.


Starting in the womb, we were literally given everything we needed without saying a word. Food and comfort came before we even realized we needed it. It was good times.


And if we had decent parents, this sort of care and understanding probably continued into our first years. Even if we weren’t really sure what we were upset about, be it hunger or fatigue, somebody was there to guess our needs and do their best to fulfill them. We could cry and break things and in response, we received the greatest kindness in return. It was a true effort of love, and we never had to explain ourselves verbally.


Who's hungry?

Then we did learn to speak. It wasn’t easy, and truthfully, we did it mostly to try to be better understood. Unfortunately, even as someone who is fairly clever with words, language proves to be a huge disappointment.


Even the most clever wordsmith can have a hard time expressing themselves within the dynamics of a relationship. Beyond that, it feels like a lie to true love to have to form a sentence, much less a whole paragraph, to be understood.


We sulk, and in a sense, we are hoping to teach our partners a lesson. Sulking is probably the worst of teaching methods as anybody that has experienced it on either side can tell you. There really isn’t even a lesson at all, much less a lesson plan.


A good teacher doesn’t put too much weight on what their student will walk out of the classroom having learned. It isn’t that they don’t care about teaching well, it’s just they have the knowledge of knowing that the best way to teach is to not get too personally invested in what the student will ultimately acquire, however well the material is presented.


The problem in our romantic relationships is we do care. We care too much that the person we love understands what we want them to know. Our life feels like it is in their hands. How could we not care? Given this feeling, how could we possibly react calmly to being misunderstood?


What we wouldn’t give two cents for if a stranger didn’t understand, or even our best friend, we feel utterly disappointed if our partners don’t get it. Slamming doors and leaving the room in blind rage is perfectly acceptable.


F*** off, now.

This reaction seems justifiable at the moment because we are scared:

I mean, my God, I may be wasting my entire life with someone who is completely incapable of getting me.


As in many cases, a bit of Stoic realism is the remedy for such a disease: a healthy dose of expecting disappointment to happen.


Time also helps as it does with most things. In this case, with enough time we can look around:

  • To online forums

  • Our friends and relatives relationships

  • My online articles like this one (where I often write from personal experience) *wink-wink - follow me, please.

And see that there are millions of other people who just don’t seem to be understood by their lovers.


The good, yet bad, news that everybody in the world goes through these same troubles and heartaches takes a little pressure off of our own woes.


Even more than that, with the right mindset, we can see that our partners are probably actually very kind and caring towards us, even if they do, without malicious intent, misunderstand one of our many moods. Even if they manage to see we are in a mood, they may not know the gravity of this particular mood to the whole structure of our well-being.


It’s a beautiful ceiling until someone pulls out the wrong keystone.

If we are unfairly sulking and giving our partner grief for it, we should try to calm ourselves with a reminder that a true sign of love isn’t to be unexplainably comprehended in every aspect of our souls. If our lover doesn’t quite get us the way we think they should, we shouldn’t take it as a sign of their heartlessness. It could, as painful as it is to admit, be due to our sentimental intolerance.


In other words, our romantic ideas about love, and perhaps our ability to take for granted how often they do get us, we have grown a little too complacent in our role to teach them about who we are. I get it. It isn’t always easy to see when we ourselves are sulking. We are in a mood after all.


Yet, perhaps when we see our partner in all their rage pointed at us, we can see the poignant contradiction they have trapped themselves in. They may be a war hero, a feisty femme fatale, a champion wrestler, or a CEO of a major broadcasting network, but the truth is, they are still a child inside. A child that needs us to be their parent and love them as the baby they used to be where they originally learned what love was.


It’s okay to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

It is quite funny when we think about it. Sulking is a bit insane, albeit touching. Having a little chuckle at this insanity doesn’t mean we don’t care. It just means we see and understand that not only our lover, but the entire species, partakes in this backward way of showing love and weird form of respect.


We aren’t unlucky to get this crazy person as our partner. We all have one. Given, they may say some pretty ugly things and act even worse in this tirade called sulking. But if we are able to find a moment of breath in the middle of it and see them as the toddler throwing a tantrum desperately trying to be understood, we will be doing a tremendous favor for them and for ourselves.


Puppy kisses always work for me.

We are so sensitive to being patronized as adults. When in truth, it should be considered an act of love and kindness. A right allowed to us by the one that loves us.


If we can see past the nasty words and acts of vicious aggression when our partner is sulking, we can see the suffering that is the cause behind such horrible symptoms. Our greatest enemy, our lover, is not an ‘evil bitch’ or a ‘pathological psycho always trying to hurt us’ (although it may seem that way at times). They are hurt. They are the victims of just another natural oddity of being a human.


If we can begin to digest this information, we may be able to stop being horrified or outraged when they act out. In fact, their insane delusions wrapped around their sweet optimism will make us smile a little, at least on the inside.


And at that point, we can kindly knock on the door and ask if they are ready to talk.