I have a confession to make: I’m seriously arachnophobic.
Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I’m seriously bug-o-phobic. If it creeps, crawls, or flies and has more than two legs I’m probably not a fan. I can, with some focus, allow a ladybug to crawl along my hand and let a butterfly land on me. But if I don’t have a chance to mentally prepare myself I will probably flinch. Or maybe flail a little. Or a lot. Ok, I may run away screaming.
I asked my husband this morning to evict a small spider that I found hanging a couple of inches below our toothbrush cup. It was a small ickle one, about the size of a 5 euro cent coin. Small enough that I didn’t have any problems still brushing my teeth and finishing up my usual morning routine. My husband actually swooped it up with his bare hands before taking it outside.
And that was it. No fuss, no comments, no jokes. I thanked him and we moved on.
So why am I writing about it here? Because every time he does this for me it reminds me how much I love the guy and how lucky I am to have married someone who understands what it means to respect another human being. The thing about phobias is that they’re not rational or logical. I know I overreact when I unexpectedly come face to face with a creepy crawler. I once sat in ever-deepening twilight in our living room, waiting for my husband to come home, unable to turn the light on because there was a giant spider on the wall that had the light switch. I don’t even like to touch pictures of bugs. Sometimes I can bring myself to trap them under a glass like in the photo here and leave them like that until my husband comes home to deal with them. (The photo for this post was taken a couple of months ago, incidentally at the height of the first travel ban storm.)
And my husband not only takes this in stride, but he accommodates this particular irrationality. When I ask him to remove an offending creature from our home, he does not roll his eyes, or make fun of me. He definitely doesn’t taunt or prank me. If I find a bug anywhere in the vicinity of our bed, he will patiently help me take off all the bed linen and shake every single item thoroughly before helping me to remake the bed so that I will be able to lie down in it later.
Maybe he rolls his eyes when I’m not looking or maybe he’s having a rant about me in the privacy of his head as he helps me, but if that’s the case then he does a great job of hiding it and I’m ok with that. We’re not all perfect and we don’t have to love and adore all of each other’s flaws and imperfections in order to have a good marriage. It’s what we do or don’t do about them that matters.
Did you know a guy in your high school class that just didn’t know when to quit a joke? Or maybe someone in your circle of friends who thought it was funny to put a beetle into your backpack to see how you would react? Sadly these kinds of guys (and you know what? They don’t have to be guys. There are certainly women who are like this too) are not limited to your early schooling years. They grow up and get jobs and make their way through adulthood delighted with their own sense of humour and not interested in acquiring the empathy that would show them how poorly their “jokes” are received. They are grown ups on the outside but really they’re boys on the inside.
I realise that I am being indulged when my husband complies with my insect-related requests. But by doing so he also shows me that he respects me enough to not poke fun at my weakness. I trust him not to take advantage of it simply for his own amusement. A good number of years ago I agreed to let him show me all of the Alien moves and he spent a few weeks after that always having to go into the bathroom before before me to make sure all the corners were clear of any man-eating alien monsters. He may have had trouble keeping the bemused smirk off his face, but he did as I asked each time, and each time he solemnly declared the bathroom to be alien-free. And most importantly, he refrained from finding ways to startle me when I would come out. Maybe it would have been funny to him or any bystander, but it would not have been funny to me.
And that’s what matters. That is what it means to have empathy. To respect another person. It means you take their feelings into consideration and, even if you think that you have the set up and a punch line for the greatest joke in the history of comedy, you bite your tongue, and simply say “yes, dear” before showing the offending insect the door.
As it happens, we tell each other that we love each other quite a lot. But I also know that he loves me every time he takes out another spider from our flat without making fun of me and that matters to me just as much as his words.