Your head is, quite possibly, up your own a**

I reach into the overhead compartment. A silver crutch collapses onto the airplane chair below.

“I’ve been setting off all the metal detectors,” laughs a bespectacled man, two rows behind me.

I pass him his crutches. He tells me that he broke his leg and right arm in a motorcycle accident. It’s given him a new perspective…he got off lightly…it could have been so much worse…

He seems sincere, but clearly relishes having a story to tell. A middle-aged woman with sharp features stands quietly next to me, listening to our conversation.

I’ve caught a last-minute flight down to Durban to see family and some special friends, affectionately known as my bitchas. It’s been a fascinating period back in Joburg, or “an exceptional set of circumstances” as a close friend put it. The Bold and the Beautiful-style dodgy antics of an ex-girlfriend closely intertwining with a bizarre work fallout.

I scrawl a few thoughts in my notebook during the short haul flight…

PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE

True change in people is as rare as dodo farts in winter. Deep-rooted personality traits like insecurity, low self-esteem and the need for external validation — these things don’t change quickly, if at all. There may be room for iterative upgrades to our operating system, but there’s rarely a complete rewrite of the underlying code. Expecting this from a partner is like wearing the emotional equivalent of beer-goggles.

Our best bet is to pick people who already are where we need them to be, rather than buying into the promise of their self-proclaimed transformation.

KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS

I have a close friend who was plainly aware that his ex cheated on him when they were going out. He was upset about it, but not heartbroken. Infidelity isn’t his trigger. He is more concerned about whether or not his partners make considerate gestures. Thoughtlessness is my friend’s main trigger.

Infidelity, dishonesty and a lack of trustworthiness are my triggers. Get drunk, try hook up with a friend of mine from work and then lie about it? You’re out. And if I don’t stick to this rule, it will be hell for both of us.

Don’t pick people who struggle with traits that you already know are your triggers. You’ll be setting both of you up for a clusterfuck. Pick people who have issues that you can actually work with.

SHINE A LIGHT ON YOUR DARKNESS

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.” — Robert Evans

That quote is true, but it needs one caveat. We all screen reality through our own perception, but some people take this further, and actively distort the truth. They do this to support their narrative, affirm their position and to avoid looking at their own darkness. It’s an eery and disturbing phenomenon, especially when it comes from an intimate partner.

It’s easy to assassinate the character of the person opposite you rather than examine your own sins. But there’s zero growth to be found whistling off on your tricycle, blissfully unaware that a fiery mushroom cloud is growing behind you. You might survive the fallout, but it’s likely that you’ll roll headlong into your next shitstorm with little understanding of how you got there.

Play the long game. Own your stuff. Shine a light on your darkness.

YOUR HEAD IS, QUITE POSSIBLY, UP YOUR OWN ASS

“I was lucky,” says the man with the crutches.

The woman standing between us finally breaks her silence.

“You were lucky,” she says firmly. Her demeanour is steely, masking pain. “My son was also in a motorcycle accident last week. He lost his leg and his forearm. He’s 28 years old.”

Mic drop.

The man goes quiet. I feel guilty. I’ve been lamenting the loss of a work gig I invested a lot of time in, and for getting suckered by a real-life Amazing Amy from Gone Girl. But this is just small-fry crapola in the grand scheme of things.

I let the woman pass me in the aisle and then make my way to the exit. The intercom crackles to life as I step off the plane:

“Passengers should remove their heads from their asses before disembarking the aircraft.”