Til Grumpiness Do Us Part

I knew I was headed for a divorce on my 31st birthday. That morning, I was wearing a purple dress with a matching pair of sparkly purple bug-like antennas on my head and a few purple balloons tied to one wrist. The balloons kept bouncing around, so my then-seven daughter and I were giggly as I zipped her coat and pressed her hat on. Instead of joining in the fun, my ex gave a Grinchy frown and grumbled “Are you really going to work like that?” I must have looked at him for a hundred years because after seven years of marriage he should have noticed three constants:

  1. I wear what I want.
  2. I’m a morning person.
  3. Barring death, disaster or somebody dragging me down, I often have a natural high.

That day at work —with the antennas still bopping on my head, the balloons still knotted to my wrist—I got to wondering why my joy bugged him so much he had to say something about it.

Of course, we had other issues that caused me to scribble the occasional pro-and-con list and question our longevity. He was a smoker. I liked to breathe clean air. He thought a hotlink was dinner. I thought not. He said budgets and day jobs were buzz kills. I call them tools to finance dreams.

In his defense, I should mention that I’m like a thousand watt light bulb on my birthday and the days leading up to it, and I’d blasted Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday to You song on auto-repeat while I doing my makeup and hair. But still. Why wasn’t he happy that I was happy on the day of my birth and had his grumpiness been brewing for years and the bug antennae brought it to a boil?

Energy-wise, without a hit of green tea, I start to fade around 7:00 p.m., but during peak hours I dial it down if it isn’t my birthday and it doesn’t fit the situation. I also don’t stretch the corners of sad folks mouths upward or go into fixer mode, peddling the benefits of prayer, meditation, gratitude, exercise, a good night’s sleep or silver-lining mindset. Much.

Like I said, there was other stuff, but most of it not as irreconcilable as the rub that my ongoing ability to pluck positive juice—for myself, him and everyone I knew—out of thin air drove him crazy. Birthdays, babies, love found, good reads, a stellar “aha”, he said he was sick of my happy dances, and the thing is, I have never regretted spending that joy. Never. So, that day, although it was one of the saddest thoughts I’ve ever had, I knew I couldn’t do forever with someone who thought joy was a problem.

Then too, I’m to blame for believing love was everything and missing how we were mismatched in big ways in the first place, which is something you do in your twenties with your first love, but thankfully not so much after that. But you live and you learn and what I’ve learned in the years since my divorce is that, for me, beyond chemistry, values and even love, a pleasing disposition is king to good relationship chi. I mean don’t fake it if you don’t feel it, but if you’re grumpy, have the decency to keep it in your head.

Our lives intersected at our daughter, but since she turned eighteen, we go years without contact. I did, however, spot him downtown a few years back and sad to say the grump lines had him looking a thousand years old and I almost didn’t recognize him. I threw out a cheerful hello and he glared back like I was everything wrong with the world, and although I’m sure I could’ve handled the situation more gracefully, I pivoted and race-walked away.

LEAVE is often still my grump-free relationship strategy and two times in particular stand out now. On a hiking first-last date, this guy scolded me for greeting everyone we encountered on the trail with a smile or a nod. “Why do you have to smile so much?” he said and I thought Those who can do. On the drive home, I took the ding in my windshield as the second sign that another date would bring more bad things—possibly locusts—so when he stepped out of the car and came to my side, motioning for me to roll the window down, I smiled and sped off.

I’d been seeing the next maybe for a few weeks when he called to invite me over. There was a smile in his voice and a promise to cook me dinner so I went, but when I arrived he’d slipped into a deep funk over some football team losing some game and THE RAIN—a Seattle staple. Trying to pick him up was like trying to lift a lion, so when a friend called to chat, she played along while I faked an emergency and I hit the road.

Last week I celebrated another birthday and it was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. No antennae on my head or balloons tied to my wrist, but I did blast Stevie Wonder for an HOUR and decorate my eyelids and nails with metallic purple, rock two-inch long feather earrings, and grin until my cheeks hurt and there wasn’t a grump in sight.


N. Shami

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