When our children were young, my husband and I often struggled to make ends meet on just one income. As much as I wanted to stay at home with our children, I felt guilty about not working and so I tried to help out by working as a free-lance writer. I sold a lot of articles to local newspapers and magazines, but I never made much money from any of those sales. So I was very excited when I signed a contract with a book packager to write a short fantasy novel for an educational publisher for a one-time fee of $2,100.
The book was going to be used in high school English classes, even though it was supposed to be written at the fifth-grade reading level. I had both a word list and a mathematical formula that determined how often the words on the list had to be used in the book, and they wanted the finished manuscript in their offices in a little over three weeks. It wasn’t easy, but I met the deadline, mailed in my manuscript, and eagerly waited for the first check I had earned from my writing that would actually be in the four digits.
A few weeks after I had thought I would be paid, I was still waiting for my check. I called the book packager’s office a couple of times to enquire about exactly when I would be receiving my payment, and the answer was always “soon.” To say I was unhappy would be an understatement. I was very worked up about the whole situation, brooding and fuming, and often complaining bitterly to my husband. Finally, he told me to just quit worrying about it. He was sure that I would be paid eventually, and even if I wasn’t, “It’s not as if that amount of money is actually going to make a big difference.”
I was so stung by that remark that I couldn’t even reply. I had been so proud of myself for taking on a difficult writing assignment (I had no experience using formulas for word lists or writing fantasy novels) and managing to actually write even a short book in three weeks time while watching two young children. And although $2,100 is not much for the sale of a book, I had honestly thought it was enough to make a difference in our current household budget. How dare he just dismiss my hard work? But I didn’t want to have a big fight, so I just swallowed my pride and pretended that his remark hadn’t cut quite so deeply.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how completely I had misunderstood my husband’s words. Even though I what I had heard was that my measly little $2,100 check didn’t mean very much, what he had meant was, “Please stop stressing about getting paid. It’s making you very unhappy, and it’s not worth it. That check won’t make or break us financially. We’re going to be okay.” I had thought he was being dismissive and unfeeling, while he thought he was being supportive and helpful.
It’s sad how easy it is to misunderstand what people say to us, even when we know someone very well. I think the problem is that no one, even those closest to us, can ever know exactly what we are thinking and feeling, unless we take the time to tell them. My husband had no idea how much emotional baggage I had riding on that check (which did eventually arrive), and I had no idea how much my stressing about it was bothering him.
These days I try to take the time to find out what people really mean when they say something that hurts my feelings, because so often that’s all it takes for me to realize that the other person wasn’t trying to be hurtful at all. And now I realize that I could have avoided a very painful misunderstanding if I had simply asked my husband just exactly what he’d meant when he told me that whether or not I got paid for my book wasn’t that big of a deal…..