Context for Cranky

We’ve now been together for nearly ten years. In June, it will be ten. A whole decade with Handsome.

I remember in the beginning, he stopped emailing me daily once. The first day I didn’t hear from him (understand, he was in NY and I was in London so email was a really BIG DEAL to me), I was mildly curious and didn’t think much of it. Day two, I was concerned – had he bailed? Had a supermodel turned up in his IT department and sat on his lap? Was he mad? Day three, my turn to get angry. Dude, what are you playing at. So I didn’t write him. For a couple of days. Finally, geek boy got a clue and wrote a nice long email.

He is naturally quite a quirky creature, as a lot of technology people are. So he gets grumpy. When we were dating, I would go into a flurry, smoothing anything around him that might be the source of the grumping. This could involve anything from a nice cold beer for Mr. Stress to TUMS for Mr. Tummy Ache to making him cut our date short to get some rest.

Then we shared a home. And the grumping really freaked me out, because now we have context and no easy escape hatch. Cue elaborate dinners, spotless home (hard with a toddler, even harder by the time we had four toddlers). Attempts to iron work shirts.

Somewhere around the time I finally got a ring on my finger – without making any threats or veiled threats or doing anything silly, just my ex finally decided to sign papers he needed to sign – my confidence levels increased. I realized, actually – he’s just grumpy. I probably didn’t do anything to cause it.

For a woman who has lived with domestic violence, this is gigantic and headline-worthy (for the rest of you, probably not such a big deal). Newsflash – if the dinner was slightly less cooked, or the wife was slightly skinnier or the kids were quieter or the house was cleaner, he would PROBABLY STILL FIND SOMETHING TO GRUMP ABOUT. This is just how he is wired. There’s no monthly schedule, there’s no clear statistical relationship between bad day at work: grump, there isn’t even a pattern that 10 years of data will bear out.

There’s just a high strung, high energy dude who hasn’t quite grown up in this area and sometimes, he grumps.

Well, I’m sure he misses the Southern Belle in its un-corrupted state, the one who used to fly into a frenzy of caretaking every time he looked even slightly disgruntled. Lest anyone feel sorry for him – he is not neglected and he is very well groomed, fed and pampered. However, with ten years of grumping data, I know – he just has to deal with it. If his grumping veers into unacceptable ranges, then he gets told – another trick that a domestic violence survivor has to learn despite a lot of trepidation.

I’ve also learned my grumping freaks him out a thousand times more now than it did in the beginning. In fact, my grumping causes the same kind of reaction his used to generate. Not that I’m going to abuse this piece of information, but it is empowering – I grump, he doesn’t leave. I grump, he fixes things. This is good information.

Grumping with context has a totally different meaning and ethos to grumping combined with new. Grumping with some security is just grumping. The lesson for me is that I wouldn’t ever want a girlfriend or a child of mine to be in a relationship where there wasn’t a little grump space – respectful grump space – allocated. No one needs to be on pins and needles as long as I was (and it wasn’t his fault, it was the DV). No one needs to nurse that kind of insecurity. If he keeps you insecure, you leave. That’s not fair. If he lets you grump, and responds with the right kinds of noises, that’s a good sign. If you respond to his grumping with a totally secure, okay what do we need to do here? kind of reaction, that’s a sign you may be in a reasonably adult relationship.

The other huge piece of news in this area is that grumping and rage are not the same thing in normal, healthy men. In abusive men, it’s a trajectory and one leads to the other (quite rapidly). Whatever triggers grumping will (sometimes but not always) trigger rage, and it’s the lack of ability to predict when those dots will connect that makes abuse so damanging. You can’t prevent and you can’t halt.

What that means for women who are single or thinking about getting involved with some one – the line between grump and rage SHOULD be very dark and very thick with clear triggers and none of those triggers should involve you. Period.

Now back to wondering if Mr. Grump got over it before he got to work today, or is he going to be eating his dinner by himself in front of the TV?

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