Lost in Perception

If I had to pick only two things The Sweetheart and I are really good at, it would be sex and misunderstandings. I’m grateful the sex is so good; it’s kept me around to learn and grow through the misunderstandings.

I used to believe that I volunteered for this life in order to learn, then later realized that life is also supposed to be fun. I certainly get the best of both with The Sweetheart. He’s taught me scads about patience, perception, the beauty of admitting our mistakes, how to apologize, how not to apologize, and so many other things. He balances my intellectual focus by dragging me outside on days I would forget to go. I often say that if it weren’t for him, I would experience life through the dining room window while I spent my days wrapped up in thought, writing, and meditation.

Ironically, one of our longest-lasting misunderstandings was about a day that I chose the outdoors as a way to soothe my own frayed nerves.

To give a little history, and bias you toward my side of the story, the outdoors was my refuge for most of my life. When I was married to my second ex-Ray (science agrees that enough x-rays will kill you), I used my kayak as a way back to peacefulness. We lived on the Wekiva River in Central Florida, so the route was easy.

As is common in freshwater Florida, gators were plentiful. I knew the statistics and alligator attacks outnumber shark attacks three-to-one. I also knew the statistics about health. The stress of that relationship was going to kill me anyway, so I took my chances with the gators.

When the stress got to be too much, I would drop my kayak in the river and paddle against the current until I wasn’t upset anymore. It was quite efficient. I got a good workout and mind clearing all in one, then enjoyed a peaceful drift home. Though I often arrived home after dark, my then-husband never seemed to mind. The neighbors expressed concern, though I dismissed them as alarmist. I didn’t see many gators on the river.

Fast forward to Valentine’s weekend 2016. The Sweetheart has a teenage son. Need I say more? It wasn’t pretty and I made it clear that I wasn’t about to take that from a child. I dug in my heels and refused to spend time in his presence. The Sweetheart just couldn’t understand as he’d been at work for most of the weekend and hadn’t been privy to the interactions. I felt he should have taken my word for it, as the boy does have a history.

Needless to say, I was upset. They went to the beach, and I dropped my kayak in the canal to run a 7-mile route I have done many times. The only flaw in my plan was that the tide would not turn until after dark and I might not be able to make it back during daylight against the current on my way home. There are no lights on my kayak, so I would be invisible to boaters after dark. Not safe. Also not sorry. The perceived danger of boats in the canal was even less than the perceived danger of alligators in the river, and I know what stress will do.

Besides, I had a backup plan. I called the neighbor and arranged for a pick-up if I couldn’t get safely home. (Yes, it was the neighbor who drinks, and yes they were incapacitated when I called. My bad.)

Meanwhile, back at the story in The Sweetheart’s head… he knew the tide chart, too, and was certain that I wouldn’t get home before dark. He called to offer a ride home. I declined. He called four more times and I wouldn’t answer. I called him back and stubbornly refused to let him come rescue me and my kayak. Instead, I told him to go to his friend’s birthday party; I wasn’t going anyway because the teenager would be there. He went, but wasn’t really present because he was worried about me and kept calling to make sure I was ok.

He and the other couples at the party talked about how terribly selfish and manipulative I was, creating drama by taking my kayak out when I couldn’t get back before dark, refusing his help, and making them all worry about me. I singlehandedly ruined the whole evening and his friend’s birthday party.

Oh, boy.

There’s a whopper of a difference in our stories.

My story said he was being controlling by insisting I let him come get me and drive me home. I didn’t answer the phone for four of the calls because I was paddling against the current while dealing with the wakes of large power boats. I did pull into the closest cove to call him back. By that time, I was more steamed than when I left the house and desperately needed more paddle time to find peace! I don’t remember the details, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I suggested a fiery destination and hung up on him.

In his story, he was worried about me and trying to help while I was being manipulative by running away and endangering myself.

In my story, I was taking care of myself and he was being controlling.

Misunderstanding much?

I got to the critical point in my return, a narrow passage 1/4 mile from home, before dark and tried to pull myself through as I had done several times before. This time the tide was too strong. I let the boat turn back with the current, and parked myself under a dock. As I watched the powerboats go by, revving to full throttle to get through the passage against the current, I felt better about not being able to make it through under my own power!

As the night darkened, manatee came to examine my boat. I snacked on fruit and energy bars I had prepared for the trip. Other than calls from The Sweetheart, checking to make sure I was safe, mine was an entirely magical experience.

When the tide finally completed its turn, I waited until there were no boats as far as I could see in either direction and navigated the dark passage. Yes, I made it through completely unscathed, exactly as I anticipated. In less than 20 minutes, I was home and dutifully called The Sweetheart with my status.

Afterward, he kept insisting that I apologize to his friends for my behavior. As all I knew I had done was avoid interaction when his son was around, I couldn’t see the need to apologize. In retrospect, it would have been a good question to ask. Inquiry leads to answers so much faster than defensiveness.

We did argue about perceptions of safety. I kept telling him that I was never more than 100 yards from shore, he knows I’m a strong swimmer, an experienced kayaker, I wear a life vest and emergency whistle while kayaking. He kept trying to tell me that anything could have happened, including flipping my kayak and hitting my head on a piling while pulling myself along that passage.

I didn’t find out for three-and-a-half months that it was the kayak incident, not the altercation with his son, that set him off. At the time, I really couldn’t see the big deal. I knew I was never in danger. He saw it entirely differently. Both perceptions were due to our histories. I have a history of successful kayak adventures and his history includes drama and manipulation.

He was completely unaware of my marital kayaking habits (and rightfully receives it as a compliment that I’ve only had to kayak to peace ONCE in our relationship!) while I forget about his marital history and how clouds his perception.

Who was right? Who was wrong? Why do I write this? Because perception is clouded by history, no matter who we are. Think of a story from your life, and I guarantee there is another perception that is entirely different than yours. Right or wrong? They are simply perspectives.

I write this to let you know that it’s okay, none of us can possibly do it wrong. It’s okay to have misunderstandings. It’s okay to have different perspectives. It’s okay to have every single one of the human experiences and emotions. It’s even okay to be uncomfortable. Growing happens faster in the uncomfortable.

And, listening will help. That’s what we did this weekend. We were finally able to really listen to each other for the first time in months. We saw different perspectives. We reached deep into the uncomfortable and we grew.

No matter what you’re going through, give yourself the time and space to listen, and please listen to yourself first. Be gentle with yourself as you grow. Just like us, you haven’t done it wrong. You’re just deepening the experience so you won’t lose the lesson. At least, that’s my perception. You get to choose the one that works for you and you can’t do that wrong, either.

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