In Some Relationships, So Much Energy Gets Wasted on Debating About Who Is Right or Wrong Instead of Learning to Manage Differences 

a black cat sitting on a stepstool
Image by Laura LaRose / CC BY

When I first moved into the house I’m living into now, there were three other people living with me, one woman and two men. And they were all taller than me. A lot taller than me.

Now, I’m not exactly a short person. On a good day, in flat feet, I’m somewhere between 5’5″ and 5’6″ depending on how much I’m slouching. Since the average height of an American woman is currently about 5’4″, this means that I’m actually a touch on the tall side.

But not in this house. All three of my housemates were over 6 feet tall.

Predictably, this caused a lot of minor annoyances. Used to being able to just reach up and pull whatever they wanted down, they all had a habit of storing things we all used up on the highest shelves. Spices, baking supplies, pasta.

Hopelessly outnumbered and quite a bit meeker back in those days, I’d try to handle it in the most non-confrontational way possible. I’d get up on my tippy toes and lean forward on the cupboards, straining my arms, willing them to extend Go Go Gadget style to grab a container of flour.

When that didn’t work, I’d become frustrated and give up. Or sometimes ask one of my tall housemates to help me get something done. This request was usually met with a laugh and gentle chiding regarding my height, or lack thereof.

After the first few times this happened, I had an idea. I ordered a pair of garish platform boots, selected more for their height and stability than anything else. In them, I was a shade under 6 feet tall, and for the most part, this worked.

“Look at me, I’m one of the tall people now!” I exclaimed obnoxiously when I first put them on. “I’m gonna take everything down from the shelves.” I began to do pretty passable impressions of each of my housemates, pretending that I was them now that I was tall.

They laughed. As I had done before with their short jokes, they took the silly imitations with grace.

And then one of them did the most sensible thing of all: They bought me a stepstool. One that I could carry around the house and set up whenever I needed to get something down that was up high. Because as much fun as it was in short doses, it wasn’t really practical for me to spend all of my waking hours trouncing around in platform moon boots.

It’s Not a Perfect Solution, But It’s Something, and It’s Workable

I still live in this house, although two of the three other people who used to live here (Hilda and Seth) have moved out. And nowadays, it’s just me and Justin.

Justin is still a lot taller than me. And he still puts things way up high where I can’t reach them.

The stepstool also still lives here, although it’s eight years old now and has seen better days. Also Justin tends to swipe it to do projects since sometimes he does work that requires even him to be temporarily taller. And unfortunately when he does, sometimes he leaves the stepstool out in the garage or something. Even when it’s cold outside, and it’ll be a pain for me to go get it.

Justin doesn’t do it to be mean or anything. It’s reasonable for him to borrow the stepstool. I don’t need it very often. And not on a regular basis or anything, only at the odd time that I need to be up high. To get something off a shelf. Or to get up high enough to dust the corners of the ceiling and the tops of window frames (which, let’s be honest, I don’t do as often as I should, although I’ve been working the past few years to become a better housekeeper).

And he means to bring the stepstool back in. But it’s easy for him to get distracted by the complexity of whatever DIY project he’s engrossed in (car repair, fixing an appliance, painting something, furniture making, etc.) and forget about something as small as my rinky dink little stepstool.

It’s frustrating to go to look for the thing when I need it and find it isn’t there, but if I ask him, “Have you seen my stepstool?” and he realizes that he’s left it out in the garage, it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside, the next thing he does is immediately go out and bring it back in.

True, there’s usually some element of inconvenience, especially if it’s freezing. Since I typically have to let it warm up a bit before I unfold the thing and step on it (primarily out of comfort concerns, although it’s worn enough that I’m starting to worry about structural integrity even when it’s not in extreme temperatures).

But it works.

In Some Relationships, So Much Energy Gets Wasted on Debating About Who Is Right or Wrong Instead of Managing Differences

The way that my housemates and I have managed the height difference has always amused me. Because it was deeply frustrating for me but not so much for them. It was really only my problem, and for them, my difficulties were largely a source of amusement.

A lot of times when this is the case, when a problem is only affecting one person in a group, it’s easy for the other members to ignore it.

And yet we still came to a reasonable solution in this case, even if there was a bunch of (good-natured) mocking and silliness (from all of us) at some point, on our way there.

I think it’s because height is one of those things that’s easy for people to understand that we don’t choose. Where with behaviors, people are more likely to assign elements of choice and because of that to assign responsibility.

Everyone agrees we can’t be short on purpose (not without radical surgery), but many people think we can be sensitive on purpose. Or anxious. Or apologetic.

And when we start thinking of people’s differences from us as willful, as choices, it becomes easy to start considering those choices right or wrong. Once this happens, it’s easy to get sucked into a cycle where two people who just happen to be different from one another are expending all of their energy fighting about whose way is right or wrong — rather than actually working on ways to manage the differences that are there.

Sure, it can be inconvenient when you’re different than your partner, but that doesn’t make either of you defective or wrong.

There are relationships where so much energy gets wasted on figuring out which person to pin the blame to. To prove in a kangaroo court who is in the wrong.

When really we should just get stepstools. Find a way to bridge the difference.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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