Careless words

I read a post on The Drew Duality that stirred up a flurry of tiny memories.

Drew had a bad night with his partner, not because of some huge fight, but because of a couple of exchanges where his partner hurt him unintentionally.

It’s a post about expectations and saying the wrong thing.

We all have our moments of ‘wrong responses’ to things, and have all been on the receiving end of them also. And when I say ‘wrong responses’, I really mean those ones where we have careless interactions that are almost completely thoughtless in their nature. Those exchanges that we have day-in and day-out with our loved ones that go by without incident 99.99% of the time. But that .01% can really hurt.

There is sometimes an insidious power in those ‘wrong responses’, both when some reaction you wanted wasn’t forthcoming or when something carelessly uttered hits home: you can’t go back and there is no gracious way to recover from it. You know what I mean? Ugh, I hate it.

When I’m the one who lets the wrong thing leave my mouth, I often realise it the second my own ears hear it, and then it’s like watching something in slow motion. It hangs in the air for an eternity even while I’m mentally trying to claw it back, and I can see the very moment it registers, the flicker in his eyes as the hurt hits him, and I want SO BADLY to turn back time, to wish it away, to have a do-over.

But once it’s out there, there is nothing I can say to ‘fix it’: I can’t take it back, I can’t explain it away, I can’t insist it didn’t mean anything, I can apologise, but that doesn’t remove the damage done… it’s unfixable.

One time my boy did my washing for me. I had never asked him to: I came home and he was shyly proud of himself for taking the initiative to do it for me. Instead of being grateful for the sweetness and thanking him, I laughed and said something like, “Did you put my dress through the wash?!” I watched his face drop and I wanted to kick my own arse for saying the wrong thing. I didn’t care about the dress (it was fine), I thought it was kind of funny, but the words came out thoughtlessly, and it was like I’d smacked him in the face for doing something sweet for me. Ugh.

And the moment passed of course. As those moments do.

Sometimes they pass without comment even though you both know what happened. Sometimes you talk about it. But mostly they are small things that will go by and perhaps be forgotten.

But sometimes those small hurts, the paper cuts, are the ones that I am terrified he will remember until the end of time. That he will look back and think “Yeah, that… that’s what she was like…”

Loves: 16
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  1. Wow, First, I am honored that you would write a post based on one of mine and you, yet again, hit the nail on the head with this one.

    I have written a later post about this incident as well taking more of the responsibility myself, but you are very right, it was out there and there was nothing we could do to take it back. That said, as you know, he professionally listens to peoples troubles all day every day and has to respond to them without judgement, so he knew it the minute he said it which and, thought it hurt, I also knew it was just a slip. I was tired and could not mask my face dropping and it did cast a pall over the next day, but, us being us we analyzed it (or, just for you, analised) it 107 times and all is well.

    You are very right though, I am like you that I cannot stop myself once I start to say something like that. I hear myself and can feel my face contorting in anticipation of the horrible comment coming out, but I can’t stop it. Twice, not just once, but TWICE in my life I have asked what turned out to just be a heavy woman when she was due which is probably my best example of this, but…

    As an update, all was fixed in the land of Axel and when I arrived home last night after a week away, his very first line to me was “I don’t think I have been this excited to have you home in forever” – I melted.

    1. I’m so glad that it was a fleeting moment. I do think that’s the best possible outcome (and part of the value and curse of a blog is that moments that are actually weightless are given weight by the very fact that they are recorded).

      If I’m on either end, I often struggle to let go of it (though I guess I should add that I can be extraordinarily insensitive, so often even a direct hit from him can fly over my head).


  2. Oh yes, our words can trip us up so easily! I think there are 3 main reasons for this, at least three that I know of.

    Sometimes we do not succeed at putting them together correctly before they come out. My mind simply grabbed the wrong words because, well, my mind is not perfect.

    Sometimes because we put them together without realizing the ambiguity and misunderstanding that can ensue due to that. We are always telling ourselves “stories” and “filling in the blanks”. In my experience, this is the biggest culprit and the one that causes the most arguments and misunderstandings. And it ends up taking so long to sort it all out,, because those stories we tell are hidden and ferreting them out takes patience. Something hard to have when hurt.

    But sometimes because there is some deep nugget of truth there that we do not want to acknowledge or think is not important. That is a really important, but difficult thing to sort out.

    Great post! Great food for thought. But also so sweet and captivating to read.


    1. I agree that the second is often the biggest culprit, though I guess I’d argue that the ‘story telling’ and ‘filling in the blanks’ implies a level of thought that I think is often missing.

      I think that the thoughtlessness of it is often the cause.

      I’d put the third in the ‘passive aggressive’ basket, which is something else again.


  3. Oh my. This post hit home hard! I’ve been guilty of this myself and sometimes purposely because I knew it would hurt and I wanted to see his soul bleed. It’s like you take out this very tiny sharp knife and know precisely where to slice.

    And I’ve been on the receiving end…painful. But those days in my past were lessons learned of the power of thoughtless comments or well intended weapons. Not worth it and hopefully now I try to temper my words and emotions.

    Now if only the thoughts wouldn’t rise! ::sigh::

    ~ Vista

  4. I’m a person that words matter a lot to me. People say that actions speak louder than words which is true; however, words can really cut (as I so hurtfully was reminded recently). I think we have all said things we didn’t mean too or said things the wrong way not meaning too.
    I can definitely understand about wishing we could rewind things. I was actually sitting here thinking I wish I could rewind something too.


    1. I had Axel read this post earlier (although the context was off slightly because he does not and will not read my blog – which I prefer too)but he agreed you were spot on. We have been together so long that those things are going to happen and we just move on.

      That said, I did it today to some unsuspecting sales woman at the furniture store because I was buying a very large sectional couch and found the one I wanted but during the purchase she showed me some God awful monster no gay man would allow in his house that had cupholders, storage trays, and speakers built into the headrests (and was $5000) and as the words “oh, no, that’s bit trashy” came out of my mouth, she said “I have this one at home and love it”.

      We just stared at each other as I realized I was an ass and she realized she had a trashy couch. It was awkward but I got an extra $200 off of mine just so I’d leave faster!

      1. “…as the words “oh, no, that’s bit trashy” came out of my mouth, she said “I have this one at home and love it”.”

        *laughs and laughs* Oh god. I’m imagining that moment where you were both looking at each other. Too funny!

        On a more serious note: I think if you have a relationship where you can easily move on without the hit causing any long lasting damage, it’s the best possible outcome.

        For me, I think I most remember those moments when it feels like something careless I said had a profound impact on him (honestly, I have no idea if that’s true for HIM but *I* felt it as true).

        On my side, I remember a couple of comments by my partner that profoundly hurt me, and they signalled the beginning of the end, so I am probably more sensitive to it than most.


  5. A fair proportion of my life has been “that” moment. Of course now I’m old I do it out of spite knowing people will just say “ah isn’t it nice she’s still so sharp”

    1. I look forward to being a completely inappropriate old lady who can blurt out terrible things a la *every Betty White character EVER*!


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