Creating unexpected results in any relationship

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Have you ever had a terrible run-in with a complete stranger, where you weren’t proud of the way you behaved? Where you left the ordeal upset, feeling incomplete, and needing to vent? You know… road rage, an irritation at the bank, or, in my case: an unpleasant exchange in the Jack in the Box drive-thru window in Santa Monica. Yikes. This is revealing in so many ways.

On my way to work one morning, I stopped at my favorite JBX to get a breakfast sandwich. Bumping music and feeling good with my windows down, I approached the drive-thru window line. Within moments, the white van in front of me started reversing quickly toward me. It appeared the person driving was unaware he was in reverse. Without thinking, I tapped my horn to let him know someone was behind him. I didn’t think I would come off as an asshole with road rage, but that was certainly how my courtesy “beep!” was taken. Oops.

The guy opened his window and started shouting at me. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but he wasn’t happy. He threw his hands up in the air and mouthed God-knows-what to me. It went on long enough that I became upset, threw my hands up, and said: “What’s your problem?!” I closed my window, shaking my head, and fumbled on my phone as we continued to wait, bumper to bumper, in the line. What an uncomfortable feeling to be stuck, going nowhere, in a line with someone I just had a spat with. Thankfully, it gave me time to think about how to turn it all around.

I could have driven away, casting spells in my head upon this person, irritated that I thought I was doing the right thing, only for him to completely lose it and “ruin” my morning by his negative reaction, effectively passing that negativity onto me… or I could use this time waiting in line in discomfort, right behind the dude, to change both of our days.

I put my car in park and got out. I wiggled myself right between the drive-thru window and his open window, and with fear in my stomach, I said, “Hey, I’m really sorry for how that went. I was trying to give you a heads up and thought you were going to back up into me. I didn’t mean for it to go that way.”

He could have finished saying all those things he was yelling from afar, but to my surprise, he responded, “Yeah, Miss. I’m really sorry, too. I’m not proud of how I handled that. You didn’t deserve that and thanks for coming up here.” Woah. “Thank you. I really appreciate that. I hope you have a great day,” I replied. “God bless you and I hope you have a great day, too,” he said warmly.

I felt a knot in my throat as I walked back to my car. I could enjoy the beautiful beachy Southern Californian morning again, which somehow looked even more gorgeous than before. I savored every bite of my sausage croissant sandwich, hash browns, and from-concentrate orange juice. And when I got to my office, instead of venting about this “crazy dude” who almost backed up into my car and lost it on me, I talked about how awesome my morning was. How something totally unexpected happened. I was face to face with another human in a vulnerable and revealing moment – a moment that led us down different paths than what would be “normal” in a situation like this.

In big cities, it’s easy to get away with “bad” behavior. It’s likely we don’t know the person in the other car, we’re not going to bump into them again, and acting out will likely never come back to bite us. Accountability and integrity can feel so low.

I was terrified to put myself in this powerless position. Going up to his car, with his friend sitting next to him, outnumbered and unsure of how he could react to me getting up close and personal, it could have gone totally different. (In hindsight, he probably thought I was the crazy one coming to finish the argument before he left the drive-thru.) But I think that’s what shook him. That I got up close, and instead of doing what he expected, I let my guard down and apologized. We were both taken aback by each other in that moment.

Doing the unexpected — and for lack of a better phrase — being the bigger person is what allows for growth and closeness. Practicing this with strangers or people I’m less close to makes it easier when the stakes are higher and I have to pull out the big guns with people in my close circle.

Feel bad about a foot in mouth moment? It doesn’t matter if it’s been years. If we’re still holding onto it, let’s own up to it, get in touch with the person and talk about it. All my deep and meaningful relationships have flourished by going to that uncomfortable place, seeking opportunities to grow and learn, and, at one time or another, being the bigger person.

Being the bigger person doesn’t mean I’m any better than anyone, it simply means I let my guard down first. It means dropping the BS and allowing space for healing. I usually find that letting myself go to that vulnerable place puts the other person at ease, allows their guard to go down, and creates connection. Offering this connection often reveals who is open to talking things through to grow closer and is committed to keep moving forward — whether it’s the guy in the Jack in the Box drive-thru, or my husband. Any day of the week, I’d rather leave a situation with a story about how humanity inspires me, rather than leaves me needing to vent to the next friend who will listen.