I learned very recently that I’ve been particularly good at producing the appearance of being a door mat. A friend of almost two decades was comparing his marital situation to mine (though I contend there are very few overlaps) and mentioned how yielding I was to my wife, how I bent over backwards in order to please her. It was only then that I realized that my friend, for all the time we’ve known each other, didn’t know about that core aspect of my personality: I am an asshole.
I’ve always been an asshole. I’m sure, if you pressed her, even my mom would agree (heck, she might not even need pressing ;-). I used to be a largely insufferable asshole until I got a chance to be homeless and destitute (my career didn’t go as expected after graduate school, and I am hard headed (part of that asshole bit, I’m sure)) and I am quite sure that if you asked any of my friends (my very few friends) from before-homeless they would all agree without any hesitation. While I didn’t attribute my homelessness (now, to be fair, I did have a good friend provide a carpeted floor, pillow and blanket, not to mention he fed me, so I didn’t have to live like a troll under a bridge) to being an asshole, I did have a lot of the rougher elements of my personality smoothed off by that experience. So, when my life had stabilized enough to start looking for love again, I was more thoughtful. My first post-homeless relationship was, to put it mildly, stressful. It was emotionally abusive. Not in the overt sense, but she grew up in a very emotionally abusive household and that carried over into her private life. Until that point I never understood how people could stay under such conditions, but while the lows were pretty low, the highs were quite high indeed. A veritable roller coaster of emotions, though I was glad when I was able to break free. We stayed friendly for a number of years, just a little distance allowed the emotional stuff to move to the background. Anyway, that first, post-homeless, relationship also caused me to realize that being a straight-up asshole was counter productive. This is not to say that the roller coaster was entirely my fault, but to make plain that I was a full contributing member to the angst, though I suspect even the most mild mannered guy would be sucked into that whirlwind.
During the period where I was on my roller coaster relationship I also attended something called the Landmark Forum (http://www.landmarkworldwide.com/). It is a self-educational seminar sort-of thing (it’s hard to describe) that forces (honest) attendees to peel back the layers of stories they’ve developed for themselves so they can pull them out and examine them. Though, objectively, I’ve always known I’m an asshole, I had the story that it was an integral part of my personality, thus immutable. Well, one of the things they teach so well at the Forum is that nothing is immutable about your personality, the way you are is due to choices you make, either consciously or unconsciously. I was able to accept that I was an asshole by choice, thus could choose to be something different.
It was after I’d had these series of experiences that I met my wife, so she only knows the ‘current’ me, she doesn’t know the old, full-time asshole me. Because I now realized that I have an abrasive personality, most of the time (and why I thought to write this post) I strive to be the opposite of an asshole. However, the ‘default setting’ of my personality is asshole, and when I get tired, hungry or frustrated it has a tendency (to put it in its most mild term) to come to the fore. As a case in point: last weekend I was getting my wife’s help to put leaf guards on our gutters. Anyone who knows me well knows I get frustrated easily (an understatement 😉 and I was having problems putting the leaf guards in according to my expectations. My ‘default’ behavior immediately leaped forward and I started yelling in frustration. When my wife reasonably tried to help and offer advice, I, in my ‘charming’ asshole way, made it clear I didn’t want her input. This escalated quickly. Sad to say, but I believe my wife has, after nearly 20 years, begun to assume some of my bad personality quirks and now aggressively pushes back against me when I’m being an asshole. I don’t remember what I said, but she stormed off and later told me she let loose a primal scream or two (I don’t think I heard anything over my rage). I later apologized. Doing so, though, is not something that comes naturally for me and I am generally not free with apologies. I don’t like to say things I don’t mean (though I say mean things when I’m upset, it is because I’m upset; sort of like a drunk), so when I wasn’t feeling apologetic, I didn’t. However, as I have grown older and hopefully at least slightly wiser, I started to realized that there is more to the universe than me and even though I wasn’t feeling sorry that I’d been an asshole again, I was sorry I’d upset my wife again, so I have learned to apologize for the result of my anger, even if I still can’t apologize for being angry (I term myself a ‘recovering’ asshole, so just like the alcoholic, I’m always going to be an asshole, but I hope to be one less and less often as the years go by).
So, what the hell does this have to do with being a door mat? Well, because I now realize that I’ve been an insufferable asshole most of my life, I actively try to not be an asshole, particularly to my long suffering wife. There is also the reality that when I was looking for a life partner I specifically wanted someone who would manage the minutia of things, such as paying the bills, ensuring there was food in the house, I look good when I show up at work, maintenance on the cars is done, that sort of thing. I got lucky with my partner (in so many ways!), not only is she smart (smarter than I am, certainly, when it comes to practical things) and looks fantastic, but she is happy to manage the ‘minutia’ so I can spent my time thinking airily lofty thoughts like how to implement my pie-in-the-sky ideas. She also patiently listens to my crazy ideas and is the practical anchor that ensures I don’t invest too much time in too many different ideas. So, since she is in charge of practical things and I largely ignore them so I can spend more time in my head, when she says certain things need to be done or we can’t afford to do something, I yield to her expertise in her bailiwick (she is generally quick to yield to my expertise, which is more engineering-oriented, so when she has an idea to build something and I tell her it won’t survive the winter storms, she usually goes with my advice, so it goes both ways). So, the combination of my trying very hard to offset my asshole-ness coupled with my avowed desire to ignore the practical things in life, I have been giving all the overt aspects of being a doormat (speaking of which, a good friend and I collaborated and put together this: http://sol-system.com/koxenrider/bok/AViewToMarriage.html). I never realized this until the recent conversation with my friend of two decades, so thought it might be amusing to document here.
Unlike in the above mentioned document, I have no need to work at becoming less of a door mat, indeed, I intend to continue my two decade effort to be even more of a door mat. I try to work very hard to be accommodating to my wife because she sees the default me so often. Hopefully less often as time goes on, but, unlike the alcoholic, there isn’t some specific trigger I can avoid, it is an integral part of who I am. We’ve talked about this many times over the years, it frustrates her a great deal when my ‘default setting’ is exposed. She has stuck with me this long, for which I am hugely grateful, but I know it has not been easy for her. Because I love her so much I try to make the times in between being the full blown asshole (like last weekend) as angst free as I know how (keep in mind that I’m not really good at being a door mat, it is something I have to consciously work at). Thus, if I am successful, I’ll become more and more overt at being a door mat, but, as mentioned in the document above, women don’t need much of the asshole to feel good in the relationship and I’m quite sure I am still way over quota. I naturally push back, that happens without any thought or effort.
Since this is slightly apropos, I want to laud my amazing wife a bit more. Though in my experience, the ‘submissive Asian woman’ trope is total BS (I dated a Chinese and Indian woman in addition to marrying a Filipina (clearly I have a ‘type’), ain’t none of them submissive!), when my wife and I were initially dating she was a lot more demure. The first time I realized that she had a fist of iron inside her velvet glove was on our first trip to the Philippines together (I wrote about that here: http://sol-system.com/koxenrider/trip/index.html). Though we were late and turned back at the gate, she ‘managed’ things such that we got onto the plane (and wound up in business class, though I don’t think she was directly responsible for that). Though in that document I say something about ‘gave him an earful’ to a ticket agent, she isn’t mean, nasty or needs to raise her voice (exactly how I am whenever I get upset). While not quite the same thing, I saw this again a few weeks ago (and a number of times over the years). She wanted a new phone and we were at the store looking into what was available. The salesman was doing his job and pushing my wife into more expensive phones with more expensive plans and though she was totally friendly and open, she didn’t budge a millimeter and pushed right back against him. I guess she got that from her mom, though all her sisters are that way so maybe it is genetic. Though my wife is easy going and accommodating, thus has aspects of the ‘submissive Asian woman’, she has no problems pushing back. Of course, that does mean that sometimes we feed back on one another when I get upset, I have been working hard over the years to simply walk away when I get worked up.
So, to wrap things up, I am a pussy-whipped door mat by conscious choice and work very hard to be so. If that causes some people to think less of me, that is a small price to pay to make my wife happy (or, honestly, in this regard, less unhappy). Since I’ve never really cared what other people think (yet another defining characteristic of the asshole), if they think I’m pussy-whipped, so be it.