“There’s no such thing as a fair fight,” my father tells us. “If someone attacks you, pick up the nearest thing you can find and hit them with it.”
A brick will do, a chair suffice. His face has not a hint of a smile as he shares with us the best ways to fell an attacker. The goal of a fight is to live to fight another day and this philosophy has worked for him in the past — a tool to survive a hard childhood. We — his children –don’t face this type of threat — don’t live in a neighborhood that requires it of us –but we fight this way all the same.
In arguments, I reach for the nearest brick — a metaphorical brick, but no less painful. We thrust and parry. We fight like we’re auditioning for WWE summerslam. We wound and then make our escape. Our arguments are small wars, vicious and brutal; always costly. We live to fight another day.
Now that we are adults, we call, we text to break each others’ hearts and then we simply don’t speak again for months at a time. When ready, we’ll simply pick up where we left off before the fight as if none of it ever happened. There is no such thing as a fair fight.
This lives on into my adulthood. My relationships become marked by an inability to resolve conflict. I grow mute and silent with my feelings. Better to swallow the issue, to pretend that nothing is wrong, than to blow up the relationship. Better to live for tomorrow’s fight than perish in today’s.
When I am twenty-six, my bestie and I will get into an epic fight somewhere in Marseilles and I will reach for the nearest blunt object, something that fits comfortably in my hand, but wounds quickly. She will hold up her hand and simply say “no, not like this.” We will go from speaking every hour of the day to not speaking at all and I will vacillate between rage and sadness. In my heart, I began the dirge, chanting my goodbyes to this brilliant, and all too brief, friendship.
But something strange happens. In a brief moment over an olive branch of Starbursts and an Idris Elba movie, she said. “I’m not going anywhere.” And I wept.
What my bestie offered me in that moment wasn’t just the commitment of lifelong friendship, but a different path. Conflict didn’t have to mean the end of a relationship! Speaking our truth didn’t require harming the other person or maiming them so that we (individually) survived to fight another day. Relationships weren’t a zero sum game. Love doesn’t require small wars of attrition and protracted silences. She taught me that relationships could be safe havens where you were free to voice your anger and hurt, even if the other person was the cause, and still be in communion. She taught me that there was a such thing as fighting fair afterall.
Often in our families of origin we learn and maintain all kinds of toxic behaviors because that’s what we grew up with and know best and it’s what has served us in the past. That fight a little over a decade ago was the start of a journey to understanding and learning conflict resolution and the art and importance of fighting fair. I’ve come to see how critical it is to trust and intimacy in relationships.