When my husband, Pete, and I were first dating, we laughed when we discovered each other's favorite Winnie the Pooh characters. Mine is Eeyore: the sweet, sensitive donkey, quietly munching on thistles and bemoaning the loss of his tail—again. Pete's is Tigger: the scene-stealing, eternally bouncy, silly orange tiger.
Clearly we'd chosen each other wisely.
As with all analogies, this one's not precise. Pete doesn't mope around saying, "Woe is me." He's just the guy in the corner, keeping his thoughts to himself, watching the world with his big, soulful eyes.
And I don't bounce into every room singing (unless I've had an extra cup of coffee). But I am goofy, and I feel things deeply, and I let the world know about them. Rather loudly.
I adore Pete's Eeyore-ness. It settles my heart, much like a warm cup of cocoa at the end of a cold, windy day. And apparently he's fond of my Tiggerish traits. Either that, or I heard him wrong when I thought he proposed, and he was too polite to correct me. I wouldn't put it past him.
But here's the tricky part: when we were dating, and through the first few years of our marriage, I relished his quietness, his ability to let things slide without pitching a fit, his careful decision-making. So why do I now complain about his "silence," his "lack of assertiveness," and his "foot-dragging"?
It seems to me that every trait has a flip side. Just as a nickel has Thomas Jefferson's profile on one side and Monticello on the other, Pete's gentleness is inseparable from his hesitation to make waves. I can't have one without the other any more than I can take Jefferson's face and leave Monticello behind.
When I first started this article, I sent Pete an e-mail at work and asked him to tell me the flip sides of my Tigger traits. In my email, I explained the concept, told him not to be scared of telling me the truth (it's not like I don't annoy myself plenty, thank you), and signed off with "Thanks—and hurry if you can."
I didn't expect him to come up with much—can you imagine Eeyore telling Tigger to pipe down? Pete's eventual response: "All I can think of right now is impatience."
Shall I remind you how I closed my original email? Hurry. There was no way for me to deny the obvious, so I laughed. Then I followed the laugh with a few moments of deep sadness, since impatience truly is the worst thing about me, leading to impulsive (stupid) decisions as well as temper tantrums that hurt the people I love.
Before I started thinking about this concept of flip sides, I might have been angry that he had come up with only one thing. I had asked him for examples. Plural. But Pete is Pete. He's not going to write out a comprehensive list, sorted from most annoying to least.
Of course, it could be that I have only one annoying trait. Maybe. Okay, no.
The reason Pete struggled to come up with even one example (and an obvious one at that) is because he doesn't have as many annoyance nerve endings as I do, and even when one is triggered, his immediate reaction is not to yelp in protest. Thank goodness, or there'd be a whole lot of yelping around here.
My high-speed, intense way of life can morph quickly from exciting to overwhelming for a sweet Eeyore like Pete. My impatience, as I mentioned, leads to ridiculous temper tantrums—I blurt out horrible, cutting remarks, sending Eeyore to huddle in his little twig house. And I worry that my silliness overshadows Pete, robbing our friends and family of getting to see and know and enjoy him for who he really is.
So has this concept of flip sides taught me to never be put out with my Eeyore again? Let's remember: I'm the Tigger in this scenario. Tigger never learns any lesson for long. But I have managed to pause every now and then, mid-yelp, and consider the situation. If something that Pete is doing (or not doing) has me frustrated, I handle things much better when I stop to consider the flip side.
Is he hesitant to raise a hand to get the waiter's attention after we've been ignored for half an hour? If he were to snap and wave, he wouldn't be the man I married. The man I married is more concerned with giving people room to blunder than he is with getting his way.
Is he taking so long to decide on a paint color that I'm afraid our favorites will be discontinued and we'll have to start over? First of all, it's just paint color, so Tigger needs to chill. But truly, I love that Pete is careful and resists impulse buys. We've been burned by my own impulse buys so often that I'm practically on a first-name basis with the return-desk clerks at the mall.
When I stop bouncing, take a breath, and consider the flip side, I realize that if I were to rid myself of whichever trait of Pete's is frustrating me, I'd lose a part of him that I adore. It's much easier to accept every bit of him in the first place. To slow down, let Eeyore go at his own careful pace, and be glad there's something about Tigger that makes him smile.
Mandy Houk is a freelance writer and creative writing teacher who lives with her husband and children in Colorado.