Goodbye Grumblings

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How to accept computer help without a marital meltdown

When my credit card number was stolen this summer, Husband pointed out that since we didn’t know where the security breach took place, I should really change all my passwords. I agreed with him, though I didn’t look forward to the work involved.

I used to be adamant about not letting websites remember my username or password. Then I let Google remember one by accident. How convenient the next time I logged in! I knew my smart friends would judge me for doing such a thing. I was judging myself! At the same time, I was secretly smug every time I didn’t have to try to remember a password.

I had been using a somewhat convoluted system to keep track of my passwords. It was tedious, fiddly, and not very secure. As Thing One pointed out, the clues I left myself were not exactly cryptic.

Here’s where I got lucky: Husband did some research last year on password management software, and found one that he trusted (KeePass, in case anyone’s curious). Since he is both a techie and far more skeptical than I, that was enough for me. A bonus was that he had already installed it on his own devices, so he could help me set it up and show me how to use it.

Did I say “bonus”? I mean bonus in the sense of a stressful and exhausting couple of hours during which everyone else in the house stayed away, except Thing Two who brought me a warm skillet cookie with ice cream (bless her impeccable timing!).

Looking back at that evening with a few weeks’ perspective, I can see that I brought to the office all the right ingredients for an unpleasant stew of emotion:

  • One cup of raw stress from knowing my credit card was used fraudulently
  • Half a cup of a sense of invasion infused with outrage
  • A quarter cup of whipped irritation, from having to spend over an hour on the phone with the credit card company sorting things out
  • A tablespoon of residual kindness from the way the customer service representative treated me like a person on the phone and sounded sympathetic
  • Three-quarters of a cup of crankiness from anticipating all of the work I would have to do to change payment information and passwords
  • A cup of sifted self-blame that I allowed a search engine to remember my personal information
  • One third of a cup of hope because I was turning over a new leaf
  • One know-it-all computer expert Husband
  • Place all ingredients in the office after 8:30 p.m., when my tired brain is not at its best

I started on my own while waiting for Husband. Found the tool. Success!

I got stuck immediately.

There were words on the screen, English words, but they meant nothing to me. I couldn’t even install the app, because the choices offered about where to install it were incomprehensible.

Grumblings twitched his tail in anticipation.

I tried to resist grumbling, I really did. I know what kinds of questions drive Husband crazy. One might even say I’m an expert at needling him after 27 years. But I needed his help.

My frustration got the better of me: “Why can’t the instructions be in plain language? How are non-technical people supposed to understand this?”

Grumblings was stretching his wings and cracking his claws, looking hopeful.

I still think it’s a valid question. Unfortunately, I seem to ask it mostly when I’m stressed out about computers, so it comes out with an angry and possibly accusatory tone.

Husband took the high ground and avoided that rabbit hole. We’ve gone down it many times since we met 30 years ago. For some reason, he dislikes being the representative computer geek.

I do appreciate that Husband does the time-consuming work of keeping all the computers in the house running, and I try not to hold him personally responsible for the industry’s failings, tempting though it is.

That’s partly why I wanted to do this installation on my own, since keeping track of my passwords is my problem. He found me a tool, and I really thought that, as an intelligent adult, I shouldn’t have to rely on him to help me make it work. Discovering that I couldn’t even get started notched up my frustration level up to boil.

“We” moved on with the installation. I was trying to be on my best, most attentive, most adult behaviour. Grumblings was now jogging on the spot, practising a few moves, ready for action.

Husband sat beside me and walked me through all the steps to install and set up the tool. He had me hover over each menu item, click on everything so I could understand how the app worked. I tried to hold onto my emotions, to keep this as professional as an evening computer session with Husband could be. It was getting late, and my stress was climbing with my tiredness. This was all taking longer than I expected.

My optimism got me into that room because I assumed things would go smoothly and quickly. We’d get to hang out, just the two of us! With two adult children at home during the past six months of the pandemic, time alone has been an uncommon treat. By the time I understood how painful it was going to be, it was too late to back out. After all, I needed the tool. And if we didn’t finish this tonight, we’d have to do it again.

Where were we? Ah yes, frustration simmering. I was trying to use a wooden spoon of rationality to stop my mess of emotion from boiling over.

At one point, Husband was reading some text on the screen aloud. I interpreted his tone as one of disapproval. Clearly I must have clicked on the wrong thing! I didn’t think or make a decision: my hand simply moved and clicked the X to make the offending text disappear.

Turns out his tone was from straining to read from a distance, not from disapproval. But now he was frustrated because he’d been in the middle of reading.

When I understood that my over-active emotional antennae had led me to an absolutely false conclusion, I laughed, took my glasses off and wiped tears away, and laughed some more.

Things went better after that. Grumblings slunk away, unable to deal with the laughter. We finished up, and I’ve been using the app ever since.

I felt wrung out afterwards, and thought a lot about why I reacted so quickly to the perceived disapproval. I found it a little embarrassing, but felt better when I realized I write about it later.

This example shows how much importance I place on the non-verbal communication, the perceived emotion in a conversation, without even knowing I’m doing it.

Sometimes, my perception of emotion makes me react very quickly.

Sometimes, my perception is wrong.

If I can keep the following notes to self in mind next time, I think it will help:

  1. When asking for help with computers (or anything, really), be open and humble.
  2. Listen.
  3. Pause and think before reacting. Take time to process.
  4. Set aside any dislike of being told what to do by certain people (see item 1).
  5. Be gracious and thankful that the helper is willing to help, even if—especially if—it’s a family member.
  6. If things go off the rails, try to find some humour to release tension and keep Grumblings away.

They seem obvious to me now, but I’m not convinced that in the heat of the moment I’ll remember. I intend to write them out and stick them up on the wall beside my desk, because I have already asked Husband to help me with some issues on my website.

Am I the only one who gets prickly when close friends or a partner offer guidance? Please comment on the blog or write to me at susan at goodbyegrumblings.ca and tell me I’m not alone in this irrational behaviour! How do you keep cool? How do you remember to pause before reacting?

Oh, and I’m asking sincerely for ideas—I promise not to get prickly if you share some!

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About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

One Reply

  1. Auntie Gwen

    I can certainly relate! We definitely come from the same gene pool!!! Lolol!

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