“What was that face for?” he says.
“What face?” I ask, legitimately confused.
“You were scowling.”
“Was I?” I say. I can’t remember what I was thinking about a few moments ago. My mind was wandering… I comb my memory for what it could have been that flashed across my face. Whatever it was, it wasn’t about him.
“And now you’re not even listening to me,” he says, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“I’m here,” I say. “I’m listening.”
“You don’t have to take that tone with me,” he says.
“What tone?” I say. Because I’m so confused.
“Woah, calm down,” he says.
“I am calm,” I say. “Do you want a soda? Maybe we should take a breather here.”
“Like hell you’re calm!” he says.
I sigh. Okay, now I am starting to get a little frustrated. But nothing I’m feeling is coming anywhere near close to what he’s projecting on me mood-wise. How can I prove this to him? And then it comes to me.
“Yes, I am,” I say as gently as I can. I extend my wrist to him. “Feel my pulse. You’ll see that I’m not upset.”
“Oh my God, Page. Feel your pulse?” he says, his tone cutting me. “You’re such a fucking lawyer sometimes.” Before fleeing from the room.
I walk over and grab a soda. I return to the couch, sit down. Crack open the soda, sighing. I take some deep breaths. Try not to cry. I know he’s disappointed in me and that he’s going to need a minute.
But what then? I wonder.
I don’t know what to say to him.
Because yes, in some ways, I am a lawyer. But not the kind he thinks.
Growing Up on Trial Turns You Into a Lawyer
I don’t complain about things in a relationship — any relationship — unless I have some evidence. Something needs to happen multiple times and have been documented. At least by me. Ideally, documented in a form that’s accessible to the other person, too.
And the reason for this is that I grew up in a home where I wasn’t listened to. Where my opinions weren’t valued.
While other people’s parents defended them to the death at parent-teacher conferences, mine were amazed that other children tolerated me, let alone liked me. That I even had friends.
And instead of being grateful that my teachers thought I was a good student and didn’t complain, my parents would express surprise.
I’d boggle when I’d hear other people say things like “a face only a mother could love” (implying other people’s mothers told them they were beautiful when they weren’t, instead of picking them apart when they looked perfectly fine). Or when I’d see commercials where a mother-daughter pair gleefully proclaimed that they were best friends. Or witnessed how supportive my friends’ parents were of their own children (and often of me, when I’d spend time at their houses).
Because my parents were my harshest critics.
They never let me forget that I was acting as their representative. And I was to be on my best behavior at all times. Work my hardest. Never do anything to embarrass them. Be happy. Tough and resilient.
So I’m a bit odd to date as an adult.
Proving a Different Case Than He Thinks I Am
I don’t expect my lovers to believe me, even about small things. I always have proof ready, that I’m on the level. That I mean what I say. That I care. And that I’m trying my hardest.
So yes, he’s right, I am a lawyer. But I’m not arguing the case he thinks I am.
I’m not arguing that I’m right and that he’s wrong. Not trying to win a judgement. I don’t care who’s right or wrong. Usually I just want to know the most accurate truth I can about what really happened with any given incident (usually we’re each a mix of right and wrong, when I check our intuitions against the evidence). And if I have a vested interest, it’s that I mostly just want him to know that I love him. That we’re actually on the same side of the courtroom. That we’re in this together.
I could explain this to him. Try to argue. But a lawyer would argue. And that’s the last thing he seems to want right now.
So I slowly drink the soda I’m holding instead, staring out the window into the street. I distract myself for a while by reading random articles on my phone, saving a few for later.
After about forty minutes, I text him one of the only things that I know will work, when things get like this: How do we get back to okay? I want to be okay, but I don’t see a path to getting there.
And within seconds he comes bounding down the stairs. Within seconds, he’s holding me in his arms, smoothing my hair, while I squeeze him as tightly as I can.
And in those seconds, I’m building the best case that I love him that I can without using any more words.