I’m not saying I don’t have a mean streak.
I’m absolutely capable of saying unkind things. Being insulting, cruel.
And when that mean streak is activated, I’ve been known to wound with words. The same mental systems that write love poetry or give grand compliments can easily be turned into a kind of war machinery. They can churn out insults, too.
But it doesn’t happen very often. And not without reason. Usually this ugly part of me rises up to defend someone I love. When I think, rightly or wrongly, they’re being unfairly attacked.
And one thing’s for sure: If I’m insulting you, if I’m being cruel to you, I don’t like you.
I’ve noticed that other people don’t quite work that way. Instead, they’re able to be set off when they’re tired or stressed — and when they’re set off, they’ll snap easily at even people they love.
It’s always been confusing to me as the person on the other end of such an outburst. When I’m with someone who says they love me and they have a moment where they say something incredibly mean out of nowhere.
I’ll find myself wondering if they hate me. Sometimes I’ll ask them exactly that, “Do you hate me?” Or even, “Did I do something wrong?”
And at times like these, they’ll either tell me to go away because they’re too fired up. Something like “just leave me alone” or “don’t” or “shut up.”
Or they’ll explain their behavior quickly, if they’re able to. Something like this, “No, I’m just tired.” Or “Sorry, I’m just stressed.”
When they feel better, they’ll let me know that they didn’t mean what they said. They just said it.
And I’ll walk away from such an interaction, struggling to understand them. Struggling to understand what it’s like to say mean things to someone I love by accident.
Because I’m not saying I don’t have a mean streak.
But apparently it’s well trained. Because it doesn’t want to lash out at someone I love, no matter how stressed or tired I am. It seeks out different targets. Tends towards them with a force stronger than fatigue.
And this makes it profoundly confusing to me when other people’s mean streaks seem a little more free range.