A month or so ago, while we were doing our laundry, Austin made an offhand comment that he didn’t realize how much more expensive it was to dry-clean women’s clothing. I looked up in horror–I had thrown a few things (okay, a lot of things) into his dry-cleaning bag the week prior and had forgotten to offer reimbursement. I apologized profusely, and said I was going to Venmo him whatever I owed immediately.
“No, that’s not what I meant!” he said. “I was seriously just remarking on the difference, because it surprised me. I wasn’t being passive aggressive.”
“I want to pay you back!” I shrieked. “I was going to and forgot!”
“No really, please don’t,” he said. “You’ve paid for a bunch of other apartment-related stuff recently.”
“Are you sure?”
That’s when my eyes lit up with a thought: “If you’re EVER annoyed or upset about something I’ve done or said or forgotten to do, you have to tell me within 24 hours of it happening,” I said.
“I’m being serious! Let’s put a 24-hour time limit on our petty grudges. We have to tell each other within 24 hours, or else…or else we have to drop it. Like an expiration date!”
It felt like an epiphany. By nature, Austin and I are not prone to fight-picking or grudge-holding. We haven’t been in a “fight” since college. Whenever I bring this up, with a mixture of glee and trepidation, he says it’s because we got all our fighting out of the way when we were teenagers–which is honestly probably true, given how much we argued back then. We’re also just different people now, with broader (and significantly less hormonal) perspectives. Tiny annoyances don’t tend to feel as important, especially in the grand scheme of what we’ve come to know about each other and ourselves.
But we recently embarked on untrodden relationship territory: We moved in together in June. Even though it’s been a delight so far, I’m conscious of the fact that living with someone, especially a romantic partner, can introduce a whole new set of considerations: splitting finances, splitting chores, negotiating air-conditioning and sleep schedule preferences, deciding what to share (body wash) and what to keep separate (shampoo), agreeing on furniture, agreeing on a movie to watch, and endless others. No matter how much I want to buy into the idea that we will always handle small misunderstandings with grace and humor and enlightened communication, I know realistically that there will be something that eventually gets under someone’s skin and stews there for weeks like the petty-grudge equivalent of boeuf bourguignon.
As a people-pleaser to the core who panics when there is even a tiny chance that a friend or family member might be mad at me, that inevitability sends a chill down my spine. On the other hand, the thought that someone might be mad at me and not tell me feels even worse. That’s why having a petty grudge expiration date is so helpful: It eliminates the need for guesswork. It also encourages both of us to thoughtfully consider whether or not an irritation is important enough to voice. If it is, it forces us to say something before the irritation has had time to fester and grow. If it isn’t, it forces us to let it go.
Neither of us has voiced a grudge as prompted by the 24-hour rule yet, but I’ve ruled a few small annoyances too insignificant to mention because of it (often realizing that the reason I was annoyed in the first place stemmed from something totally separate and mundane, like a stressful day, or too little sleep). Ultimately, I’m comforted by the simple fact that the expiration date exists. And who knows? Maybe I’ll do something extra annoying on purpose to really test the waters, like clipping my toenails at the dinner table.* Stay tuned.
*Would rather sleep on a bed of scorpions.
Graphics by Kayla Kern.