I have lived the last eight or so years in a state of mild but constant fear. Was it turning 18 and facing the daunting prospect of adulthood that did it? No. It was meeting, dating and consequently marrying a certain person who finds it hilarious to play practical jokes on me when I least expect it.
Once James got into bed before me, waited for me to turn the light off and then silently rolled out of bed and onto the floor so that by the time I had fumbled my way through the bedroom in the dark and got into bed myself, I panicked not knowing where he had gone. When he finished laughing, he said he wished there was some way he could have replaced himself with someone else so that there was a stranger in my bed when I got in. I told him that would be grounds for divorce.
Then there was the time that I got home – after a long, arduous day at work, I might add – and James was at the window pelting me with peanuts as I struggled to get to the front door. Plus there has been a whole host of classic “hiding and jumping out” manoeuvres that are frankly too numerous to mention. You may laugh, and he certainly does, but this is how I live.
The problem is that I have a very expressive face. I can’t hide it when I’m grumpy or happy or scared, which means that I react to these pranks so hilariously that James never tires of doing it. I accidentally shout, “Oh my goodness!” in a very posh voice, or I unconsciously furrow my brow and give such a good grump face that it makes the whole thing worth it for James. And you may be thinking, “Well, if it bothers you so much, why don’t you ask him to stop?” and I have. But, unfortunately, James has found a loop hole.
When I get annoyed at James for jumping out at me, when I have my arms folded and won’t let him hug me, when I insist that this time it just wasn’t funny, he simply asks, “Would it be funny if it happened to Holly?” I don’t know what it is about our friend Holly that made James pick her for this question, but it works. Because as soon as I think about the same thing happening to Holly, I laugh – and then James is off the hook. Strangely, though, so am I.
I do not do well being the butt of a practical joke. It’s not that I can’t take a joke – usually I’m the first to make one about myself – but with practical jokes there’s no getting ahead of it, there’s no chance for a witty rebuttal; it’s just you being made a fool of, and I don’t do well with looking foolish. Except, it isn’t really that. James isn’t saying, “You idiot, you didn’t know I was hiding there!” If the same thing had happened to Holly – to someone else – she would have been caught out by that joke but I wouldn’t have seen it as a poor reflection on her intellect or human competence. So why is it such a big deal when it happens to me?
When something happens to you, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. A stressful day at work, a passive aggressive conversation with a friend or, yes, being the subject of a practical joke can feel enormous. Any situation can have you analysing how it reflects on you as a person, how it impacts your life, how it is the latest in a series of moments that builds and builds until you have a mountain where a molehill should be. And James’s trick (not the practical joke, the trick with the question) can actually help us to gain perspective in a whole host of situations:
Would you feel the same if it happened to someone else?
Imagine this exact same situation happening to a close friend; would it be funny if it happened to Holly? Would it be this annoying? Would it be this stressful? Would the problem seem so insurmountable or would it reflect poorly on her as a person? It’s hard to see a situation for what it is when you’re in the centre of the storm, but what if you were on the outside looking in? Oftentimes, an issue is much smaller when it’s not happening inside your own brain.
So the next time you find yourself overwhelmed and tied up in your own thoughts, remove yourself from the equation and imagine someone else in it. It may not make the problem go away – I have a fear-ridden marriage to prove it – but perhaps a little perspective is all we need to deal with what’s in front of us. Because yes, it would be funny if it happened to Holly. And, now I think of it, it would also be funny if some of these pranks happened to James…