Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

What Other People Think


Yesterday I was riding in the car with my husband, and we were talking about me. Specifically, we were talking about what I’m like as a stage manager (that’s how I met him – he was cast in a show at the theatre where I was the staff stage manager). He said something along the lines of “Well, you’re totally dedicated to the good of the show, and if some people think you’re overbearing, that’s just because they don’t understand.”

What! Me? Overbearing??

Yeah, ok, yes, I can be. I try not to, but I’m wired that way. I’ve mellowed out some in my old age, but I can still be quite frightening if you push me too hard. I’m not mean and I would never belittle or bully someone (having been bullied myself in my life), but if I’m in a position where I’m accountable for your actions (completing tasks, being on time, etc.) and you let me down, you will hear about it. Hopefully in a constructive way, as in “I know you didn’t mean to screw this up so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, but make no mistake, if you do it again I will be VERY PUT OUT.” Something like that. I’m not the sort to hold a grudge. I’m not one to smile in your face while complaining about you behind your back. I’d much rather have it out in the open, deal with it, and move on. I think that’s more respectful of you – it means I think enough of you to tell you if you’ve done something to disappoint me, or to make me angry, or to hurt my feelings, and I want to give you the chance to tell me your side of things and to make it right between us. It’s the grown up thing to do.

Not everybody handles conflict this way.

I’ve been struggling with deciding if and/or how I should respond to a person I inadvertently offended last year (for clarity we’ll call her “B”). Until recently I didn’t know what I’d done to upset B; all I knew is that one day things were fine between us, then the next day they weren’t. A mutual friend finally told me what I had done to cause this rift, and I was stunned. Apparently, I said something to B’s colleague that the colleague took offence to and then immediately reported to B. The comment took place at a bar at an evening social function. I have no idea what I said. I can’t imagine it could have been that awful – I wasn’t intoxicated, and I know where the line is when you’re conversing with people you don’t know well. Anyway, instead of coming to me about it, B immediately began to distance herself from me. Not knowing why, I imagined I was getting the cold shoulder because of something I’d done to her, but no amount of gentle questioning revealed what was going on, and for a year and a half I was totally in the dark.

Situations like this really upset me. I can’t stand the thought that somebody out there is holding a grudge against me for something I’ve done, because I would never intentionally inflict pain on anyone. If I have done something to piss you off or hurt you, I’m pretty sure I didn’t mean to do it, and I would really like it if you told me about it and gave me a chance to fix it. B never gave me that chance, which has made me question myself. Does she have so little respect for me that she didn’t feel she could confront me with my misbehavior? What is it about me that made her feel this way?

And then I realize that the whole thing isn’t about me at all. Yes, I obviously said something to upset someone, and for that I am genuinely sorry. But good grief, don’t we all sometimes make mistakes? How bad could some random comment in a loud bar have been, anyway?  And it’s entirely possible the person I offended may have misheard what I said. So, in this situation, where the reaction was completely disproportionate to to the crime, I realized there’s more going on here, and what’s really going on probably has nothing to do with what I did and everything to do with B’s own hang ups.

But being me, I keep gnawing this old bone.

I’ve thought about sending B a note to tell her I know now what happened and to offer an apology. In this message I would also like to point out that because she didn’t tell me herself what had happened, she has denied me the opportunity to apologize to the person I actually offended and to try to make it right with them. Then I think I won’t do that, because the only reason I’d point out her behavior is to make her feel bad (and part of me really does want her to acknowldege the crappy way she treated me).

Sometimes I think I’ll just let it go. It’s been a year and half. I don’t care if B and I ever repair our relationship – obviously it wasn’t a very strong one, based on the speed with which she ditched me. My only concern about that is that I don’t know if she’s running around badmouthing me to other people. I don’t think she would, but you never know.

And then, finally, I realize that I don’t have the slightest control over what people think of me. Never did. I can’t do a thing about people who think I’m overbearing, or unprofessional, or anything else. Trying to force someone to have a good opinion of me is a complete waste of time and energy. It’s hard not to try, though.

I make mistakes all the time. I say and do the wrong things. I accidentally offend my friends and relatives. We all do. It’s part of being human. All I can do is to apologize when I become aware that it happened and do my best to make amends. I wish B had given me that chance. I may not have assuaged the hurt feelings of the injured party, but at least I would have known I tried. After that, it’s on them. But now, it’s been so long I’m not sure that digging it all back up is the right thing to do.

What do you think, gang? Apologize, or let it go? I’m taking a poll, and I’m very interested to know how others have handled similar situations. Thanks for your participation.

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc


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