First off, I admit, I love The Bachelor (and Bachelorette). Go ahead, you can pooh-pooh reality shows all you want and when you fall off your mighty high horse come on over to my house for some wine and some wild and crazy television fun.
I will also admit that I am a big fan of Juan Pablo and Nikki. Not because they are awesome human beings (how the heck would I know?) or even cuter than George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence (sorry, my two current celebrity faves, but no they should never get together because of the age difference and George I hope you’re listening ….).
I like them because they chose to respond. Not react.
Okay, I know they sound like the same word and we all probably mix them up daily without a second thought. But tonight I ask you to put down that Pinot Grigio and give a second thought.
Are you a responder or a reactor?
And just in case you’re scratching your scalp, wondering if I’ve galloped past the first glass of wine and am just a little tipsy, allow me to offer up my own personal definitions:
Respond: To listen, then think first, weigh options, calculate results and then act (or speak).
React: To knee-jerk without thinking and act (or speak or yell or slam the door) upon the first impulse you feel.
Now I ask you – which do you think will yield the most favorable results?
I used to be a professional reactor. A word which by golly, when examined closely, contains the word “actor”, which by golly I also was. Dramatic, histrionic, LOUD. Whatever feelings and emotions were inspired by any given situation, those were the feelings and emotions that influenced my reaction. There was very little (if any) thought involved. Just gut reaction. And I can tell you from first-hand experience that gut reaction rarely leads to a positive response. What it leads to is the other person’s gut reaction to my gut reaction and then defensive behaviours and loud voices and ultimately fighting over shit that happened a long time ago, shit which has nothing to do with the present conundrum. It leads to chaos.
However, when you actually pause to reflect upon the situation, by golly your response becomes measured and controlled, lead by level-headed reasoning as opposed to hot-headed backlash.
Here’s a story that might illustrate this point:
My beau and I had been together for about six months and during the last two of those six, I had on occasion quite casually thrown out the “I love you” phrase. You know, in a light-hearted, what I hoped was non-threatening, non-prodding way. More in a “statement of fact” way. Because, indeed for me, the words rang true.
Then one evening shortly before our first Christmas we were engaged in a somewhat argumentative conversation about how and where we would spend the holidays and I blurted out (in frustration) “Do you love me?”
My query was greeted initially with silence and then with those three little words every woman longs to hear –
“I don’t know.”
Yep. Talk about a romantic nightmare come to life.
So … let’s look at what my reaction would have been:
I would have calmly (yet icily) got up, grabbed my things, stomped to the door (we were at his house) and coldly announced “Well tell ya what, honey? When you figure it out, give me a call.”
And I would have left in a huff, driven home in tears and either held him hostage to a declaration he wasn’t prepared to make or ended our relationship completely.
See, this is why I so get Juan Pablo and Nikki. I love that couple. I love them because they didn’t subscribe to some Disney-fied version of what their love story should be. They didn’t subscribe to what the producers of The Bachelor define as a “happy ending”. They didn’t react to their weirder than weird circumstances.
They chose to respond. With integrity, honesty and hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, if they did this their way, in their own time, without succumbing to audience reaction and Chris Harrison’s charming yet very real bullying, they might actually be able to build a real relationship.
And that’s what I did with my beau. I chose to respond.
I asked calmly if he didn’t think six months was long enough to figure this one out? We weren’t, after all, teenagers? How long did he think he might need?
He then replied that he also didn’t know that he didn’t love me. He just didn’t know. And he thought it best that he not utter a single word until he was 100% sure.
And wasn’t that a good thing? he added. This way I could be absolutely certain that he meant every word that he ultimately might say.
Okay, thought I (and thought is the operative word), what’s really going on here?
And I realized immediately it was a battle against vulnerability. For whatever reason, he was not yet ready to be vulnerable. And saying those three words would lay his heart defencelessly on the line.
So I asked myself some questions.
Did I want this relationship to continue? Yes.
Was I willing to be patient? Yes.
Could I just shut up and leave it alone or would I feel compelled (as in the past) to flog this horse to death? Um … I would try.
And so try I did. Christmas came and went (we spent it apart) and the new year brought a renewed closeness to our relationship. We skated fairly effortlessly through almost 5 months, a time during which he started to sign cards with “love”. But he still didn’t say those magic little words.
Until he finally did.
And here is the moral of this story: Had I reacted instead of responding, I’m quite sure we would not still be together. My gut-level, knee-jerk, entirely emotional countercharge would have blown up in my face. As it turned out, my measured and impassionate reply lead to further discussion, increased trust and … love.
And yes, well over a year later we are still together.
We still have discourse, sometimes unpleasant, and we still – both of us – sometimes react instead of respond.
But if I remind myself that I know the difference and if I remind myself (even after lapses) that responding is always better than reacting, well I think we have a really good shot at making this work.
I am really really really rooting for Juan Pablo and Nikki. I’d love for them to get married and have two babies and be together forever. Because yeah, I wish them happiness but really I want them to totally stick it to those silly starry-eyed romantic reactors who didn’t get their Neil-Lane-ringed sunset-fading Hollywood-Harlequin ending.
My guess is, kids, very few of us gets a Harlequin ending. But what we can hope for and aspire to (with hard work and regular reality checks) is real, solid, messed up but worth it, everyday love. Which in my opinion is pretty damn nice.
So remember, to react or respond, is always your choice.
All you have to do is make the choice that will get you where you want to go.