The first article I wrote for this column was called “Investing more in my relationships with others.” In it, I discussed my desire to be a better son, brother and friend by putting my all into my interactions with others.
Several people have stumbled across that article and have given me positive remarks. Someone on my dorm floor thought it was well written. Even one of my professors liked it. And an upperclassman with whom I’ve shared many meals and late-night conversations said that the article was the reason he wanted to get to know me better because he valued people who thought deeply about relationships and self-improvement.
However, I haven’t come anywhere close to fully implementing the conclusions in that article. It’s been more than a year, and I’m not even a fraction of the person who I wanted to be. I was wrong to think that just a year of college meant that I had gotten past the bigger issues in my personality.
You see, for the past 19 years, I never got good at dealing with interpersonal conflict. The first friend I made in high school was one of the chillest people I had ever met. He introduced me to the world of video production and showed me how to loosen up a bit.
But in junior year, we had a falling-out, and ever since that cold day in 2017, we never talked again. Because the only way I know how to deal with interpersonal conflict is to just ignore the problem.
The number of times I’ve ignored my conflicts is unforgivable. I still remember the time when I got into a big fight with my dad and aggressively pushed him just because things didn’t go my way. I still remember my mom telling me a few days later to apologize to him. I still remember never actually apologizing.
Every time I get into a conflict, I just hide behind a closed door and put myself in a bubble. I get angry at the person for doing whatever they did and just let all those thoughts of anger and annoyance explode in my head. Pretty much every time, I refuse to be a bigger man. My dad couldn’t sleep for several nights that week, and I couldn’t get past being a jerk.
When I started college last year, a lot of these problems just dissipated. Pretty much all the friends I’ve made here are such good people that I never even had the opportunity to get into a conflict with anyone. But it was a mistake to think that I had overcome my incompetence in resolving interpersonal struggles.
This semester, I had a rather toxic dynamic with a friend. He often made somewhat racist remarks or demeaning comments regarding my personality or appearance. At first, I didn’t take him too seriously, but over time, the incessant insults and comments took their toll. I completely shut him out, refusing to even look at him if he passed by. Yet again, I just ignored the problem.
But at some point, I realized that things couldn’t keep going on like that. I mustered up the courage to have a serious conversation with him about how I felt, and to my surprise, he apologized to me before I even started talking. Over the past week, we’ve slowly begun to restore our relationship. He’s been actively thinking about the impact that words and actions can have, and I’ve been happy to be more comfortable around him.
This was perhaps the first time that I ever resolved an interpersonal struggle without just walking away from it. It would be easy to end this article here and say that I’ll apply what I learned for the rest of my life, but the truth of the matter is that I’m not a better person just because of this one experience.
When I told the upperclassman whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article about all of this, I ended my monologue by saying I was a bad person.
His reply gave me hope though. “You’re not a bad person. I don’t know how long it’ll take for you to realize that, but that’s the truth.”
I guess I’ve just been hard on myself because even though I’ve been thinking a crazy amount about self-improvement during college, I’ve been terrible at it. But like he said, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. I’ll just keep working to be the person who I said I would be in that first article I wrote.
No longer will I let go of valuable relationships just because it’s hard to face conflicts. No longer will I be complacent about my weak connection with my parents and brother. And no longer will I wait on making that apology to my dad.