In the outside world, with polite acquaintances, I am not a confrontational person. But most of my ex-boyfriends would tell you that in romantic relationships I am a scrapper. I always loved that Phyllis Diller quote, "Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight." One old flame complained that I never accepted anything less from my opponent than complete and utter surrender, and while I'm sure I argued the point, I was secretly pleased. Why should I apologize for standing up for myself? I believed — and still do — that it's one of the most important abilities a woman can possess.
But that summer, even I had to admit my penchant for battle was wearing thin. Here we stood, squabbling again, the breeze ruffling the curtains of our open windows and our voices probably disturbing the neighbors' peace. It was late afternoon, and while I wasn't ready to capitulate, I just didn't have the heart to stay up and fight. The apartment was too small for me to escape into another room. So I left, quietly closing the door behind me. For the first couple of blocks I expected my husband to come running after me. When he didn't, I thought for a moment about turning around and going back to battle. But I had already started to forget what had caused our fight in the first place. It felt so nice to be out walking, by myself, not racking my brain for the next winning point. I stopped to window-shop outside the bookstore and noticed a neon sign beckoning from a few doors down: Nail Salon. Those two little words took the fight right out of me, and I decided to get myself a pedicure.
While I sat there in the lovely, artificial cool of the salon, soaking my feet, my calves massaged and my blisters pumiced away, I thought about all the times I'd refused to budge until my opponent — my loved one — conceded victory. What, exactly, had I ever gained? And why did I feel this imperative to win? From almost the moment I'd walked out of that apartment, I had felt calm and peaceful. Like myself again. Maybe standing up for that self didn't always have to involve a fight. Maybe sometimes it required a concession. So I left a tip I couldn't afford and headed home in a glow of contrition and forgiveness.
When I got home, I found my husband giving off the very same glow. He jumped off the couch and spread his arms wide. "Where were you?" he asked. He didn't seem to notice my toes, beautifully painted "I'm Not Really a Waitress" red.
I told him I'd gone for a walk, he hugged me, and that was that. I didn't feel like I'd lost — in fact, just the opposite. Who knew that laying down my weapons could be so gratifying? Some battles, it turned out, just weren't worth staying up for — a lesson that granted me peace that night, and for all the nights that have followed.
Nina de Gramont is the author of Gossip of the Starlings.
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