A girlfriend storms into my house: "I've bloody well left him," she yells, "and this time, there's no going back!" I switch the jug on - it's obvious we're going to need something hot. I wait for the sugar to dissolve, nod my head, and keep one of those 'I'm not judging' expressions while her tourettes thrash about the room, fighting for air space.
"So what happened, why are you leaving?" She takes a deep breath. Oh no, this isn't good, I tell myself. I worry more when she nestles into a chair and an aura of complete calmness starts purring at her feet.
"Well, the other day, right..." She pauses, takes another deep inhale. "I was cleaning out the linen cupboard...(Oh no, you fool. Everyone knows, you never clean out a linen cupboard let alone with someone who may have an opinion on how to put all that shit back)... and I asked him to pass me the cotton sheets. Not the linen ones, the cotton ones...(I nod cause apparently there's a real big life altering difference)...but no, he hands me the linen ones and that's not all... (I'm starting to feel like I'm in a real cheap info-commercial - there's more?)...he looks at me as if to say, screw you, take the linen ones you bitch. I tell you, I'm over it, him, everything!"
"Cotton sheets huh?"
This is probably about the time she realised I'm the one on the end of this conversation and by all accounts, she doesn't look that impressed. "No! It's not about the sheets! It's about him!"
"Does he think it's about the sheets?"
She's loosing patience, I can tell - I am a very perceptive person, you know and besides, she just let out a massive groan, and there's not mistaking that.
"Look, forget the sheets. It's not about the sheets. It's about him. He's a control freak."
I have realised when people talk about their partners that the argument they think is responsible for the so-called break up is rarely the real reason why they feel like stringing them up to the nearest tree. The last argument, if you like, is symbolic of the underlying problem - the real issue that's got under people's skin is only masked by those little nagging scraps. They serve a purpose though, cause without them, people would actually have to deal with the matter at hand - in this case: control.
Now the real problem as far as I could see was, my girlfriend was an accountant. Not that the profession of juggling numbers and balancing books is a problem but for her it was a wonderful release. Everything had its place and there was no room for error. To top it off, she was rewarded handsomely for being so ...anal. Unfortunately, those same skills cannot be taken into a relationship. When she left work to start a family, the whole accountant thing was really thrown out the window. Now there was this little 'thing' she had to 'deal' with and no love nor money would make this little rug rat slide into one of her routines. The problem for some people is that when things cannot be controlled, they assume it is out of control, and that causes huge levels of anxiety. To counteract that horrible feeling, some people take to controlling things that can't fight back. Like dusting every day or cleaning out linen cupboards because there's a sudden cross contamination between cotton and linen. God help the person who tries to help.
Some wise person once said to me: "You need to pick your battles." Initially, I was defensive. Does this person think I fight too many, that I shouldn't, am I being overly defensive, what a bitch... you know, just the usual response kind of thing. When I had a child, I finally understood. I used to get my knickers in a real twist when my young daughter attempted to make her bed. I never went off at her but I would go in and straighten it up after she finished. There was something really annoying about having all four corners of the sheet ruffled up under the duvet. What I never saw was the undermining I was doing or that "I have failed" look on my young child's face. The days he spilt her juice on the floor and went out of her way to wipe it up with a clean towel, my jumper, and her favorite teddy bear, I smiled and said "Thanks hun." I will never forget the look of pride she had on her face and I smiled as she sat down and apologised to her teddy about the sticky juice on his face.
Letting go of control can be as liberating for those with the reins as it can be for those being strangled by them.