(If you know me and you are tempted to say, "Hey Adam, you are single now, What's with the advice for partners?" Yes, I get it but first is not my written advice but I do agree with it 100% and I wish I knew it back then. Secondly, I've had three long term relationships and numerous Short term ones. I got the experience to give advice on important things and regrets of what I did wrong and kudos for what I did right..my dear reader, who knows me...). 💗
Anyone who’s been in love should know by now that occasional relationship discord is inevitable. Smush two people together, add romantic chemistry, time, and external forces like job stress or family tensions, and there’s bound to be some turbulence amongst all the lovey kiss-making and such.
I am not good at math, but this much I know is true. Another thing I know? Communication is key in any relationship—trust, even your expensive Upper West Side therapist and your expensive Lower East Side dungeon mistress would both agree. And sometimes conflict is a necessary byproduct of real, honest communication—c’est la vie authentically. But the good news is that conflict can be a massive opportunity for growth and connection once you move past the uncomfortable tension and onto the sexy rewards waiting in the resolution.
On your way there, though, allow me to re-route you away from a common speed bump—one that appears to be only a minor pothole but wields enough power to derail this whole love train. Of all the well-meaning phrases you can say to your dear one, please, I implore you, never, ever, ever ask your mate, “Are you mad at me?”
AYMAM is love’s most forbidden question and will curse your relationship with the eternally vexing, ancient spells of unsent chain letters. Every time someone reacts to a dip in their partner’s morale by asking “Are you mad at me?” not only does an angel die, a flame of rage simultaneously ignites within their lover’s heart.
Remember that part in The Mummy (1999) when Rachel Weisz mutters an incantation from the #BOTD (Book of the Dead), accidentally awaking the vengeful spirit of Imhotep, and that one archeologist dude who knows all about pesky book curses shouts, “YOU MUSTN’T READ FROM THE BOOK!!”
Just in the same way, you mustn’t ask your lover “Are you mad at me?”
This utterance too will awaken a vengeful spirit within your partner, potentially manifesting as even more confusing or annoying behavior on their part. (And you really don’t want that when you were just expressing concern over what you felt were iffy vibes interrupting your otherwise fun time.) Even if you are genuinely curious if they are mad at you, even if they haven’t spoken to you all day or week and are giving you the cold shoulder (in fact, especially then), even if they are behaving like a passive-aggressive, bitch-ass mope—restrain yourself. I know, I know. It’s hard! But this distinct combination of five words will undoubtedly exacerbate whatever troubles are already in store.
You may have had the best intentions, sincerely wishing to know what the hell is up, but you you you oughta know that thoughtlessly distributed good intentions can often expire before their benefits can be reaped, much like Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupons.
If none of these tracks, let’s unpack this centuries-old hex. The cadence of the phrase squares itself like some soft accusation: “Are YOU mad at ME?” You’re making yourself the subject here, ostensibly prioritizing yourself and your feelings over your partner’s. It is passively selfish and aggressively annoying. It is as though your ego stumbled out of your maw, and asked in its best Steve Urkel's voice, did I do that? It is emotional self-centeredness masquerading as a concern, and it serves mostly to alienate and enrage. It implies that your partner’s feelings break down to a yes-or-no binary, and feelings are in no way binary—which, if you’ve slogged through any Noah Baumbach film in the last year, you are not allowed to feign ignorance of this fact any longer.
The last thing anyone wants to do when they’re upset is more emotional labor. So asking your partner to assure you that you’re not in trouble first undermines their feelings by prioritizing your fragile ego over them. And when it comes to feelings—the most inelegantly earnest, tender, and therefore shame-filled of all human vulnerabilities—a feeble gesture such as AYMAM is an intimate disappointment. It’s enough to burn down the churches of one’s heart while Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” plays in the background. I understand this all sounds rather dramatic, but if you are the type to break down such intricacies into binaries anyway, allow me to do the same.
If you really want to know what’s up with your partner’s weird vibes, just ask that. Don’t assume—ask. Look deep into their troubled eyes, and ask:
“Is everything OK?”
“Am I right in sensing that something’s on your mind?”
“How are you, really?”
Those are just some viable options, but feel free to go off-script if that’s not your style. Truly, whatever method you choose that expresses how you’re not only capable of respectfully handling someone else’s emotions (even the ones that have nothing to do with you), but that you are also genuinely invested in their feelings, is way, way attractive. Like, Bonnie Tyler “Holding Out For A Hero” attractive.
Giving your partner the floor to elaborate may reveal that it’s actually nothing ominous at all; let’s not rule that out. Or they may not know what those feelings are exactly at the moment you’ve asked. (Again, feelings are clever devils often contradicting one another and require a buffering period like the old computers that our brains are.) If that’s the case, give them space to process their feelings and come back to you once they’re ready. There’s no situation where you can go wrong by giving someone the generous gift of listening. I assure you: Your loving, patient support will eventually be rewarded with juicy deets. Patience is not only a virtue—it is also an aphrodisiac.
Here, now, is your golden opportunity to pave the road over future potholes for a smooth cruise towards relationships bliss. It is so simple! It doesn’t have to be dramatic at all! Despite the big fuss I’m making about it now! Just remember that all feelings are valid, but not all behaviors are. All you can do is show up for your partner the way you’d want them to show up for you—even if and especially when they’re mad at you.