Are you a good fighter? I don’t mean Krav Maga or MMA style. I certainly don’t mean it in the style of that 1980s movie villain from last week, aka a resident in a Gurugram apartment who came out of the lift he was stuck in for a whole three minutes and hit, actually hit, the security guard and the lift operator (the guard has thankfully filed a police complaint). I mean in a general way, when you are angry or upset, do you know how to have a fight?
I wish they would teach fight-having skills in kindergarten. It would hold all of us in good stead. I think it’s really handy to have fights. With family and friends and colleagues. At this point, you probably think I am one of those why can’t we all get along people who is recommending non-violent communication and green tea and chanting mantras of positivity. Not in the least bit. We should learn to talk about things that upset us in rather un-positive and a little bit violent ways.
Or should we?
Let me confess. My instinct is to avoid confrontations and make jokes. If people have road rage, I judge them. I write little notes about people who annoy me repeatedly in my mental black book and make decisions about the future accordingly. But every now and then, I make myself say what’s on my mind. It’s better than ghosting people or just carrying around resentment for years and feeling martyred.
How has this truth-telling worked out for me, you may wonder. Distinctly mixed results. Mixed but interesting results. A relative with whom I get along for the most part had one default diss I had been hearing for decades. It made me explode a few years ago. Now this was not what any observer would call a good fight. Screaming. Yelling. Feeling like I was a few seconds from hitting them. And then the nuclear option of you will never see me again.
I am sure this relative wondered early on in the fight why this particular insult should have triggered this tsunami of a response when for decades it had only prompted elision or low-key snideness in response. That must have been early on in the fight. Afterwards, I am guessing, they had the feeling of being transported into the middle of a disaster movie, Snakes On A Plane or Sharknado 3. At one point, the relative said, “I am 55 and I can’t change.” And I yelled, “Well I knew you when you were 35 and you were just as hopeless then so you better make some plans.” To the shock of everyone involved, the relative apologised the next day and has in the years ensuing made good on his promise of never saying That Thing again.
This is unusual, I think. For the most part, especially with friends, family and old patterns, fights can only be had with low expectations of change. The only useful thing that happens is the spelling out of the pattern, the expressing of the rage you have been carrying around, and, perhaps, the possibility of crossing the Rubicon of asking, “Do I really need this person in my life?”
It’s so hard to cut people out of your life. It requires so much consistent, hard work. I read advice columns which often instruct you to say bye-bye to people who make you grieve or treat you badly and think to myself, “As if it was so easy.” Here, I am not even talking about full-blown abusive relationships where the heart-breaking data says leaving has very high chances of endangering the victim’s life further. I mean the average mean relationship. But once you cross the Rubicon and start imagining a life without the person, somehow the fantasy eases up reality too. The fish hook in your chest starts loosening.
A friend who has been losing at Fight Club for years recently felt pushed and then let loose. While her sparring partner probably needed to lie down for a few days, she has since been feeling more at one with the world, her partner has recovered, and the shift of the ground beneath their feet has not ended the relationship. It is surprising how much truth-telling your relationship may be able to take if you are not worshipping at the altar to Eternal Sunshine of our Perfect Lives.
Here is another kind of scenario. You have been carrying a grievance in your heart for a long time and then you let loose one day. The other party turns around and says, “Well, I have a problem with you too.” Of course, it is a shock to find out that you are not the long-suffering saint with the crown of thorns. Perhaps you have to take that hit. You really may have to. But I am saying (as someone who is now an elementary student in Fight Club), watch out for the “balanced approach”. The other person may not even know consciously that they are trying to derail you but it is so easy to not have to confront whatever minor failing they may have by saying, “You are just as much to blame.” No cake has been divided in a children’s birthday party as carefully as blame is apportioned in everyday fights. This is a judgement call but in Fight Club you may have to learn to say, “Not today, Satan. Let’s do me and my faults on Thursday.”
How do you make this call? Well one red flag would be if your faults do not come up ever in any other context, only when you confront the other party with the issue at hand.
Mostly, Fight Club can’t be about winning. It can’t be about creating a Snakes On A Plane kind of situation, as I did. It can’t be about defeating the other party. You have to pretend you are governed by an antiquated rule book like the Marquess of Queensberry rules and stick to the matter at hand. You may not want to shake hands afterwards but you have to make sure all hands are unbroken.
The first rule of Fight Club is that you must absolutely talk about Fight Club.
Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.