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Guest Kit: My Turn To Be In a Bad Mood

This is by my friend Lauri Menditto, who writes a column for the Columbus (Ga.) Community News:

There is an unwritten rule in my marriage that my husband and I can't be in a bad mood at the same time. If I'm grumpy he has to pick another dwarf (Happy is preferable although Doc would work if it meant he could write prescriptions). Relationships are a balancing act. Remaining upright requires close attention to pressures coming from both sides of the wire. Give and take, yin and yang - it's what makes it possible for us to, on occasion, act like a selfish idiot jerk/get depressed/get sick/go crazy/ get slam drunk and make a fool of ourselves in front of his old college girlfriend without upsetting the foundation.

In our house a bad mood is claimed on a first come first served basis. It's like calling shotgun except you're the one driving. You've got to be quick though or someone will sneak in with a sore throat or lost iPod and push your drama into the back seat. I once spent all day working myself into a good sulk over a dry cleaning incident just to have my husband beat me to the punch with a story of how the woman at the deli put the wrong kind of cheese (the horror) on his tuna melt sandwich.

The Chinese have a proverb for this that I've seen stitched on throw pillows and cat sweaters in the Lillian Vernon catalogue. Roughly translated from the original Cantonese it reads: She who bitches the loudest gets the last doughnut.

It is possible, however, to pull rank or, as my sister likes to say, pull crank on an already established sulk. It's like playing bridge where a trump card takes the trick. The key is for both parties to recognize a winning hand. For example, a fender bender beats a red wine stain on the carpet but a botched haircut takes the pot over an injured fantasy-league baseball player. You get the idea.

But the principle is not limited to marriage. In every relationship it is important to distinguish who is in greater need and respond in kind. Sympathy turns on a dime. One minute you're walking down the sidewalk with a friend happily chronicling an impending root canal. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the focus is on you, your diseased tooth and how you will manage the fifteen-hundred dollar dentist bill. Suddenly your friend steps in dog poop and the spotlight shifts. You're now scanning the area for sharp sticks, all talk of your tooth relegated to a forgotten shelf with the camping lantern and the Bailey's Bristol Cream.

It's as it should be. Our little personal dramas are a huge energy suck on the people who care about us. When we're down we cling to them like a buoy in rough seas but they can only hold us up so long. It's important to realize when it's time to switch places and offer to keep them afloat for awhile. It's only fair. You don't want to get too comfortable in the grumpy suit. The beard is itchy.


[Now for something completely different: boodler bc's account of his recent vroom-vroom adventures (um, those are car-racing sound effects) in my hometown.]

[Check out some of the other boodler blogs: kbertocci at Read-Think-Live, yellojkt at FOMA, Wilbrod at Wilbrodthegnome, Mo at Den of Darkness ...among others. Feel free in the boodle to post links.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 3, 2006; 2:02 PM ET
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