I’m standing at the reception counter after a dental cleaning. My last one at the practice, since I’m in the process of moving to Texas. We’ve overpaid in the past and are owed some kind of refund. Probably. They’ll bill insurance for this cleaning and see what happens, but we’re probably going to get some money back once that happens.
“Where do you want us to send the check if we still owe you?” the receptionist asks. “Do you have your new address?”
“Umm… I think so?” I say. “I’m not sure.”
“Maybe it’d be safer to send it to the house here in Ohio,” she says.
“Well, maybe,” I say. “Although I don’t know when you’re sending it and when the realtor wants to list it.”
“Hmm,” she says. “Okay, well, how about we call you and ask you which address you want us to use when it comes time for us to send it?”
I say that sounds like a good plan.
“I still can’t believe you’re moving,” my hygienist says. “Why are the good patients always the ones to go?”
“Good patient?” I ask. Because my mouth has been kind of a mess, especially in the past. When I first started going to this practice, I hadn’t been to a dentist in 10 years. It had started out when I lost my health insurance working multiple part-time jobs with no benefits. And then even after I finally got a steady gig, I’d been away for long enough that shame had kept me away a bit longer.
“You and your husband are wonderful patients,” she says.
“But it’s taken so much to get my mouth in a good place,” I reply.
She tells me that that’s not what makes a good patient. Perfect teeth. Good patients are nice and they try. They show up for their appointments, they’re pleasant during them, they pay their bills, they make an effort to follow advice — even if they’re not stellar at it at first, or have a lot to learn (like I did).
I relay this info to my husband Justin later, that they’re sad to see us go. That they consider us “good patients.”
“Really?” he says. “Good patients?” Says roughly the same thing I did. That his mouth was a disaster when he first came in.
Later on, we’re standing out with our neighbors in front of the house we’re preparing for sale. It’s a rare occasion where the entire block seems to be out and about.
Our neighbors tell us that they’re sad to see us move.
“You were awesome to have as neighbors,” the couple next door says. “So quiet.”
Justin and I trade a confused glance. In our friends circle, we’re the people with the “party house.” Several times a year, we’ve had 50 people over and haven’t given a single thought to the volume.
“Sure, you throw a party every now and then,” they continue. “But so do we.”
And as I think about it, they’re right.
A Lot of People Only Tell You What They Really Think About You When You’re Leaving
I’m thinking about both conversations later as I’m putting a fresh coat of paint on the dining room wall. It’s so easy to get a picture of ourselves in our head that is so strong, so clear that we assume it’s what other people see of us.
In my own mind, I was a hassle as a dental patient. A loud neighbor who throws wild parties.
But that image wasn’t true outside of my own head. And instead, I’m apparently a delightful patient who is sweet and responsible. A person who is good to live next door to.
I’ve been having a lot of these kinds of conversations lately. And it occurs to me that a lot of people only tell you what they really think about you when you’re leaving. That’s when the honest assessment comes, at the end. Especially if that parting isn’t due to bitterness (like in a falling out or contentious breakup) but in a natural drift, a parting due to logistics (like a move).
True, it can be frustrating to only hear these things at the end of your time together. But that doesn’t take away the fact that they thought that the rest of the time.
Just something to keep in mind.
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