Last night me and Sung had a little quarrel. The topic was the most stereotypical, timeworn area of domestic contention: dirty dishes in the sink.
How are there so many?
Why have they been sitting there for so long?
Why is there a funnel at the bottom of the pile?
Context: earlier I’d used a small plastic funnel to refill a soap dispenser from a larger bottle of dish soap. Once I finished pouring, I tossed the funnel in the empty sink. The job of washing it was halfway done since it was already covered in soap. But my mind was somewhere else.
Fast forward a few hours, and Sung arrived at the sink to tackle the now-overflowing stack of grimy dishes. He washed his way through them until he found the funnel waiting at the bottom. Only now, it was coated in greasy dinner debris.
“Seriously?!” he called from the kitchen, “I’m scrubbing the funnel you used to pour dish soap?”
This wasn’t the first occasion I’d been called out for creating unnecessary dishes. A spoon from stirring tea. A plate that only held a piece of toast. A water glass. They add up, especially when we’re handwashing everything. What would have otherwise only needed a quick rinse must be scoured once it’s buried in actually dirty dishes.
So we bickered for a bit, and I got annoyed, because even though I was a minor thing, I knew he was right. I stomped off, unable to admit that I could do better.
Why did I have such a disproportionate reaction to something so trivial? All I needed to do was be a little more mindful. But I marinated in negativity. I sat hunched over in bed, furiously sketching a mandala in my notebook in an attempt to calm my turbulent emotions.
I reached for the colored pens I keep in a drawer next to my side of the bed. That’s when I saw my copy of “The Four Agreements” on the bedside table. If you haven’t read this book by don Miguel Ruiz, I recommend you give it a try. His writing style isn’t my favorite but the substance is profound.
In essence, the Four Agreements are a pact you make with the universe in order to live the most truthful life. They come from the ancient wisdom of the Toltecs, who were spiritual leaders from southern Mexico.
The book is suitably subtitled: “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.” I felt a heavy weight lift off my chest when I looked at the cover and remembered the second agreement: “Don’t take anything personally.”
Ruiz writes, “Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me.’ … Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.”
Even my best friend—the man who I love and live with 24/7—views things through a different lens than me. How could he not? We have separate life experiences which determine how we perceive the world, and because our reactions are based on perception, the way we react to an event will never be perfectly aligned. In a way, we weren’t even seeing the same funnel in the sink.
Luckily, “relationship goals” doesn’t require both parties to always be on the exact same page. The only imperative is to be understanding enough to not take things too personally. Or in other words: put ego aside, practice empathy, and realize it’s not all about me.
There’s no room for debate when you make the Four Agreements. That’s why they’re so freeing. I sat up straighter, took a deep breath, and realized I had the power to choose what I wanted to internalize. I could simultaneously accept Sung’s good advice and disregard the frustration in his communication.
Before I could tell Sung I was sorry for taking his words so personally, he walked in the room and apologized for overreacting. Yet another reason why I treasure our relationship: we may both be as stubborn as bulls and a bit on the sensitive side, but whenever we squabble it becomes a race to see who can make amends first.
And I’m happy for the reminder that even the kitchen sink is an opportunity to be more mindful.