Here’s the thing about loving people: They are annoying. I tell people this regularly and they laugh, sometimes a nervous laugh, but more often a knowing laugh. We laugh together out of relief too, it’s not just you, or me, but lets face it, collectively we are all pretty annoying. A recent study of thousands of couples sited the most frequent cause of breakups and divorces were rarely about big issues, but rather the build up of small gestures or lack of them that caused people to leave their relationships. Certainly a look back through our collective human history is nothing if not a testimony to how incredibly annoying we all are-and how little things can turn bad and ugly on a big scale.
Even within our own tribes and families, our similarities and genetic ties are challenging to grasp and hang onto. With both partners and children, appreciating how we are related is something that we have to learn and re-learn. It takes separating the essential loveliness of the people around us from all of the incredibly annoying traits that fill the din.
Overwhelming our sense of connection are the small things-how people chew too loudly, or swing their knees in their sleep, or drip food from the corner of their mouth, or talk while they are chewing—the noises we make when we brush our teeth, or the crumbs we leave on the counter, or the socks we can’t turn right side out. In my house these lists are infinite and trivial and weighty. Learning to sustain our relationships and choosing to stay happens in all the small moments of the everyday mess of life.
I write this at a time when I am struck by just how often and how hard I have to work at loving people and accepting them as they are even when they are so annoying. This coupled with almost a continuous chorus of people I know who can’t quite commit to their relationships, the old one foot out the door syndrome, because living with them is so excruciatingly trying. We all want our own space, and order to prevail as we would have it, but rarely is that the nature of living with other humans.
It all comes down to admitting just how annoying the whole business is and realizing that I am just as annoying as the people who annoy me. These issues surfaced frequently in the early years of creating a family and the most important takeaway lesson of our years in marriage counseling was this one-that if you can hold what is deeply loveable about someone in one hand while holding what is most annoying about them in the other-side by side; balance, patience and choosing to forgive and love in spite of the difficulty is possible.
Taking that lesson to the world at large is in some ways more challenging because strangers by definition are well, strange, (at least to us), and so holding what is loveable about them with what is annoying about them can sometimes be hard to imagine. Last weekend I was in the midst of some 30,000 of them, which even under the best of circumstances is a lot of strangeness. As a vendor of love products at the Natural Products Show, I strived to see the loveable, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that I was frequently faced with the dilemma of how annoying we all can be.
Among strangers we face a different list which separates us- how people dress, or smell, ignore us, talk over us or interrupt (one of my big weaknesses as a stranger) and here again the list can be lengthy. Yet, the results are universal – all of these annoying qualities make it easy to make these unknown people “other” than us, and taken to the extreme, it is not that big a jump to seeing how many of our serious social ills are the unfortunate and increasingly disastrous consequence of our inability to see past what is annoying in all of us.
So here’s my proposal, let’s just go forward admitting to how annoying and flawed we all are, so that we aren’t surprised that living together is so challenging. We all go in knowing that we choose to get over it, so that we each can find these brief yet life changing moments of holding on to what we all want the most- each other.