Annoyances and Endearments

It can happen that another person’s annoying tics or habits can become, in the eye of the viewer, terms of endearment. Puzzlingly, the person may have done nothing to modify her behavior, may not even be consciously aware of such tics or such a disposition, and nothing observable may have happened in the life of the percipient, yet somehow the percipient’s feelings have changed. Is this not a mystery?

I doubt that there are any general explanations that fit all such cases, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if something structurally similar were at play in all such cases. If nothing has changed about the quality that annoys you, might you have begun to pick up on other qualities in that person, qualities that begin to appear to you admirable? Here we have a clue.

My hunch is that three related moves have occurred, occurring possibly at once or in close succession. First, you begin to observe other features of that person’s character, features with which you were hitherto unfamiliar, ones that, as I say, appear to you admirable. Second, you begin to value those other qualities more than you disvalue the annoying quality (or qualities). And, third, you can begin to tell a story in which the annoying qualities “fit into” a completer account of that person’s life.

And what has happened to you? In the process of paying such close attention to this other human being, you have come to believe in redemption and in accepting love. Once annoying qualities are redeemed in virtue of their being aspects of a beautiful and imperfect human life while love becomes an expression of letting be, of letting be as is, of seeing the other as dear to you. Because of this, you have grown larger, more able to “contain multitudes” (Whitman), and sweeter.

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