A week or so ago, a woman commented on an old post here on the blog.
Her comment was happy and effusive and contained a question. It came in while I was asleep and, since she’d never commented here before, it went into a queue of comments waiting to be approved (a process that helps prevent spam). When I got online the next day, I approved it and answered. Then I went about my day.
An hour or so later, I noticed a second comment from her, then a third.
While her comment was awaiting approval, the girl had gotten more and more agitated and had left two unkind, borderline abusive comments. When her comment didn’t immediately appear, she assumed I’d deleted it. And responded with anger and cruelty toward a complete stranger.
Now, I get abusive comments now and again and I’ve mostly learned to ignore them. But something about this situation stuck with me.
It was the misunderstanding part. The jumping to conclusions. The assumption that one person knows, immediately, the reason that something didn’t go exactly their way.
She assumed I’d deleted her comment for no reason.
The reality was I’d not been at my computer to approve it right away.
And there are three or four other totally innocent reasons I can think of. Sometimes blogs erroneously put comments into spam (I’ve found comments by another blogger I love and who comments often lodged in my own spam filters). Sometimes there’s a tech glitch and your comment simply doesn’t go through. Etc. etc. etc.
It got me to thinking about assumptions. Because I’ve come up against this situation again and again in my life…and sometimes it’s even ruined my friendships.
For example: For a little while, I lived with a woman who, for the sake of this story, I’ll call D. When I first met D, I was thrilled. She was brilliant and fun and interesting and laid back and we loved hanging out together. We were a roommate match made in heaven.
But D started dating someone who I had major reservations about. After only dating my friend for a few weeks, he started telling her he wanted to get her pregnant. She longed to be a mother, so that appealed to her, but warning bells were going off in my own head. He already had a daughter from another relationship he hadn’t stuck out. Was he going to leave my friend pregnant and on her own to deal with it?
As I always try to do, I phrased my concerns as questions and tried to express that I loved and supported her no matter what she did.
Then, completely unrelated but with terrible timing, I got sick.
After years on birth control, I’d decided to try going off mine. The reason I’d gone on BC in the first place was debilitating cramps. Every month I’d get horribly sick, sick enough (sometimes) to miss classes or work, and the only thing that ended up working was BC.
But I’d been on it for years and I wondered if maybe now things were okay. Maybe that was just the teen and college years. Maybe my body had regained some sort of equilibrium.
So I’d gone off the pills.
And when my first period came, it came with a vengeance. It was like a vicious stomach bug accompanied by sharp stabbing pain in my abdomen. I’d forgotten just how bad it was and I was in hell.
(A few weeks later, consequently, I was in a German hospital begging a doctor to give me a new prescription and nearly crying when she said no at first.)
The only thing that seemed to help was hot baths and I also spent a lot of time laying down.
I told my roommate I was sick, but she wasn’t buying. She assumed what was really going was that I was now avoiding her and her new boyfriend. She decided I was being petty.
And it ultimately destroyed our friendship.
She stopped wanting to talk about things and hang out and I felt hyper-aware of myself in relation to her. Should I force myself to go down to the living room to hang out with the two of them even though I felt desperately ill?
Even after my period, I felt self-conscious anytime I wanted to be alone. And our easy, comfortable friendship just faded away.
All because she assumed she knew my motivations and refused to understand the real reasons I was quiet and withdrawn and often napping.
And this is my point.
It’s easy to assume we understand why something is happening.
But so so often, we don’t.
Human beings are complicated and variable. We have so many different reasons for doing a single thing. And assuming we know someone else’s motivations better than they do, failing to ask what’s going on, failing to ask ourselves if there’s another possible explanation–often that just ends in broken relationships and wounded people.
So, just a reminder: we don’t always know what’s going on behind someone else’s scenes.
The friend who didn’t wave back might not have seen you. The partner who forgot to get you a mother’s day card might have had a near car accident that pushed everything else from his mind. The person avoiding your boyfriend might be debilitatingly ill.
Ask before you punish. Love before you chastise. Empathize before you react.
And, hey, not posting nasty comments on strangers’ blogs is probably a good rule of thumb anyway.