Anger was the topic of discussion in adult study at my temple. The timing was excellent because I had been feeling incredibly angry lately. There were many reasons why, and isn’t that how anger works? One thing sets you off, and that makes you irritable about something else, and something else, and so on. Certainly my 4-year-old misbehaving during service that morning didn’t help, but it was much more than that.
My anger came to a boiling point earlier in the week.
The scene: a long day of work, softball practice with my team, cooking dinner, putting kids to bed, and me standing at the kitchen sink at nearly 10PM doing dishes. It was another night where I’d go to bed without doing anything for myself. Another night I’d stay awake doing chores with no father of the children to be found. Another night I’d get to talk to myself or maybe put on a podcast to keep me company. I took a break from the dishes and scrolled through pictures of Kobe and Vanessa and cried, knowing intimately what it was like to suddenly and unexpectedly lose your best friend and partner. Your ally. That person in awe of you no matter what you look like first thing in the morning. The person who knows you better than anyone else. Your rock.
I hated my late husband at that moment, scrolling through my phone, standing over the ominous stack of dirty dishes.
“That’s not fair to be angry at Kenneth,” my friend told me on the phone later in the week. “He’s dead. He didn’t want to be dead.”
I know, I agreed. It doesn’t make logical sense to blame a dead person. I KNOW. But I’m still angry.
When our Reverend brought up anger, I was eager to hear what he had to say so I could get rid of mine. I needed a blueprint for expunging it from my system. Anger was distracting me. I had things to do; I did not need to be preoccupied with negative energy.
I was angry about the dead husband, yes, but it was more than that. Politics. People at work. Too many things on my plate and feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Naughty preschooler. Morning commutes. Sure, all of that.
A week before, this guy really disappointed me.
It’s already crazy in the wild west of single life, but to be a widow with scars from grief, three young kids, no time, and high expectations for herself, it’s a precarious game with the odds not in my favor.
Speaking of odds.
On Superbowl Sunday I found out from Instagram that this particular guy–who I liked, whose children I loved, and who I told a hundred times before that I wasn’t interested in a casual relationship with– thought it was okay to disappear for a few days, with no future date in the schedule, and let me find out from social media that he had been partying it up in Vegas all weekend.
Yes, I felt ghosted. And very casual. Very, very casual. Less than casual. And after all of the times I made it clear that I wasn’t going to market myself as casual, I felt extremely disrespected.
Was it something I said or did? I always do that to myself. I find a reason why it’s my fault. I wasn’t desirable enough. I wasn’t cool enough. I wasn’t _____ enough.
Jesus Christ, Teresa, I say to myself. You’re almost forty years old and still stuck in this girl thinking.
No, this MAN CHILD has no business interacting with a grown ass woman. This is not how mature adults interact.
Or is it?
If that’s the standard for the modern man, I think I’d rather just stay single.
You know, apps weren’t even a thing when I met my husband 13 years ago. We didn’t do our main communication through texting or social media. I also didn’t have children and I was in my mid-twenties and still optimistic about life with a lot of youth on my side. Times have certainly changed.
Call me crazy, but I felt like finding out on Instagram about a Vegas trip when I was wondering when I would be seeing this person again was kind of a crappy move. And pretty inconsiderate.
I mean, I would tell my dentist about an upcoming Vegas trip. I certainly would tell the person I spent last Saturday night with that I’d be out of town.
You know, that same woman who this unnamed un-gentleman left his kids with numerous times before, who had his children’s art projects on her counter and their socks and clothes at her house from their last playdate.
Did I mention his kids and parents belong to the same temple as us? Or that our kids go to the same daycare and school?
I know I’m a hypersensitive person, but I never thought someone with so few degrees of separation in our lives would make a move like the one made on Superbowl Sunday. If I wanted to find a guy like that who would care so little about me, I could have randomly picked a stranger from a bar and brought him home to meet my kids.
He might as well have put “Teresa, who?” on our kids’ school marque board.
Maybe I’m being too particular about what constitutes a casual relationship and what doesn’t.
But I kind of think I’m right on this one. (I polled a dozen people just in case, and the consensus seems to be that I am not overreacting.)
At any rate, whether I am right or wrong, it still happened. And I still feel this way. And it sucks. (Life lesson number 456481322: don’t shit where you sleep. Certainly don’t shit in the sandbox where your children play.)
It’s so frustrating, guys. I’m still learning. Apparently I have a lot of learning to do. And I need to just let all of this go and meet new people.
But that’s where the dead husband comes in. It makes me feel so angry at Kenneth. I could be in yoga pants right now with unshaven legs wishing my husband would go away instead of wondering if I will ever find another decent partner in my life.
I don’t want to be doing *this*. I didn’t choose this life, and it makes me angry and sad and disappointed. But I also know I can’t change the facts and circumstances, so I don’t want to be angry about it. I want to find a way to be completely happy even if I never meet another suitable partner and have to live the rest of my life by myself. That’s my goal. I want to be happy with my life as it is *right now* instead of worrying about what it doesn’t have.
At adult study, somebody in the class said they thought anger could be an alert system for us to pay attention to, kind of a tool to help us. Our Reverend added that an awareness of our emotions could change behavior, and that feeling angry is a way of thinking. A person in the room suggested passion could help you overcome something.
I just listened and thought about my own feelings.
I felt anger because I know what I want, and being ghosted by a 40-something man who doesn’t know how to communicate is not something I want. I felt anger because I’m frustrated with the lack of quality options I have encountered in the last four years. I’ve had married men approach me. Men too old or too young. Wimpy men. Men who on paper would be great, but their pheromones repulsed me.
We all make decisions about our loneliness. Some of us choose to stay in lonely relationships. Some of us choose to leave. Some of us choose to find people and things to numb the loneliness. Some of us choose to embrace being alone.
I made a choice not to let loneliness guide my decisions. I decided to focus on giving my young children as close to the life they would have had if their father was still here, and so I’m out volunteering at softball practices instead of swiping on dating apps. That’s just the choice I made. I don’t know if it’s the right one. I may regret it. But it’s the decision I made with the information I have right now, and I’ll have to live with the consequences.
And so here I am. Angry. Frustrated. Lonely, Sad. But willing to wait.
I think that’s what we do with our anger. The emotion can tell us that something needs to change. We take action where we can, then we let go of the emotions and live with the outcome– good or bad. That’s all we can do.
The Dalai Lama said, “Forgiving others has an enormously liberating effect. When we dwell on the harm someone has done to us, there is a tendency to become angry and resentful– our peace of mind is destroyed, our sleep is disturbed, and eventually even our physical health is likely to suffer. If we’re able to forgive whoever wronged us, we gain a tremendous feeling of inner confidence and freedom, which allows us to move on.”
He offers a compelling reason why we should let go of anger: to make space for what really matters in our lives– confidence and freedom.
Living the life we want to live.
Making space for our authentic, true life.
In a strange cosmic alignment, my oldest child and I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as I was mulling over anger and feeling disappointed. The entire movie was based on a true story and talks about feelings, particularly forgiveness. Perfect timing.
Mr. Rogers– even though he didn’t like to be called this– was a freaking saint. He came across as kind of weird, but his willingness to love people was exceptional. He was able to express his feelings and draw out other people’s feelings. He could normalize feelings, especially difficult ones, and break it down to a level that even small children– especially children– could relate to.
My favorite line from the movie: anything human is mentionable, and anything mentionable is manageable.
We all experience feelings in our own unique contexts and variations. But the feelings are the same. Why do we pretend like they don’t exist? We post pictures to social media projecting a perfect life, but beneath the surface we are all broken. It seems like we should be able to relate to each other more, but instead we’re often in conflict, living in silos, suffering from a lack of connection instead of realizing our interconnectedness.
I want to be more like Mr. Rogers: less reactive, softer, kinder, reserving judgment, forgiving.
I mean, the man did have a loyal wife of 50 years by his side. I’d like to see him stay calm with a pile of dishes, kids running around like rabid raccoons, and getting ghosted by a man-child.
But still. I’m foolishly reactive and hot-headed. I’m too guarded and believe stupid things about myself, like I’m unworthy of finding love. I internalize people’s criticism. I find it hard to forgive people who disregard my feelings– and this includes family members and acquaintances.
The movie mentioned that Mr. Rogers felt these things too, but found ways to control his feelings. He had a very structured schedule, waking up early and going to bed at the same time each night. Swam daily. Prayed every morning. Took naps. Maintained the same weight for over thirty years. He seemed to have strong boundaries and principles while still being open to connecting with others who lacked the same discipline and social skills. He had a directness about him without compromising empathy. I got the sense that he knew exactly who he was, what he wanted, and that he did not waver from this vision despite leaving an enormous amount of room in his heart to love others.
Yes to all of this.
I wrote in my last essay about feeling like 2020 was going to be my best year ever, and if it’s not I know I will learn a lot.
Yeah, I’m not feeling super hopeful about the “best year ever” part.
But I know this latest round of disappointment has taught me a lot already and it’s only February. I could talk all day about the red flags I need to be better at spotting, but I can’t worry about the crappiness of other people. I have to focus on knowing my own self-worth and letting everything else go. I can’t control other people, but I can manage my own thoughts and outlook on life. I can focus on my choices, sense of self, and vision for the way I want to live.
It takes me time, but eventually I veer away from jaded and move my emotions back to optimism. I’m still learning. Always learning. But I know I want to choose happiness, and I believe happiness is more of a verb than a noun– made up of tiny choices that we make every single hour of our life– more of an average rather than a sum, and certainly not defined by a single moment.