I had a chance encounter with a grumpy woman a few days ago. As I exited the local bakery I could see her through the glass door. She was well dressed with pants, and a sweater, both beige and expensive looking and a long asymmetrical bob. She had deep penetrating blue eyes and I would imagine she was in her late 50s. I pushed the door outward and held it waiting for her to grab the handle. She didn’t but made eye contact. I thought perhaps my timing had been sloppy and I made a second attempt. Push the door to within her grasp and wait for her to grab hold and walk through. Again nothing. I assumed she was either waiting outside the shop for someone who was inside or that she just happened to be standing at the door but had no intention of coming through. I pushed again and this time walked through the door to exit the bakery. As I passed her I was met with a hissed “Young people are supposed to hold the door for older people”. “Oh…I said- I tried to hold the door to you and you didn’t take it. I thought you weren’t coming in” “You should have held it open as I walked through” she grumbled with a biting glare.
The Canadian in me wanted to say “I’m sorry” but I am glad to say I had enough composure not to apologize for something I didn’t do. The brief encounter kept coming back to my mind through the day causing me to examine behavior and learn from it.
The grumpy lady assumed there was a shared understanding between us that younger people hold the door for older people. My question- how much younger? I would have guessed this woman at 10 years my senior. Perhaps I was looking particularly young that day (doubtful). Perhaps I misjudged her age as she looked spry and not at all feeble. (How old is old?) Perhaps where she came from the cultural ritual is explicit- the one exiting holds the door for the one entering. (Possible but not probable)
Ask for what you want
The grumpy lady didn’t ask for what she wanted- the door to be held while she walked through, but then felt slighted when she didn’t get what she wanted. If something is important to you, verbalize it.
You cannot brace for the UNEXPECTED
I breeze through most of life fairly unflappable. I would describe myself as calm in the middle of chaos. What was different about this situation that allowed a simple interaction to feel charged emotionally? I didn’t expect it. Usually when an interaction with a friend or family member might be contentious, you can be prepared. If politics is going to be a topic, I can take a few breaths knowing that the subject is important and divisive. Or going into a meeting at work or your child’s school where you are going to face opposing viewpoints allows you to prepare yourself both with fact and with a sort of emotional force field. An unexpected hit while your shields are down packs a double wallop of surprise and aggressive anger.
Not everybody has to like you
GrumpY lady clearly didn’t like me much. I’m okay with that. Is important to be loved by everyone? No. What is important is kindness and I am pretty confident that all my parts of our exchange were kind.
You never walk in another person’s shoes so always assume good intention
Maybe my grumpy lady had just lost a spouse, sprained her wrist, or had been treated poorly by her children. Maybe she had a mental illness or a physical challenge that were not visible. Maybe this was the first time in her entire life that she had stood up for herself.
The point is, what someone says to you or about you says nothing about you and everything about them.
Have suggestions that might help others deal with their grumpy ladies (and men)? Please comment. Sharing is caring.