Our Irritating Habits by Richard King

Story type: Essay

Far more than the Big Things are the Teeny Weeny Little Ones which more quickly divide lovers. A woman may conveniently overlook the fact that her husband poisoned his first wife in order to marry her, when she cannot ignore the perpetual example which he gives her of the truth that Satan finds some evil still for idle hands to do–by always picking his teeth. All of us possess some little irritating personal habit, which makes for us more enemies than those faults for which, on our knees, we beg forgiveness of Heaven. A woman can drink in the poetry of her lover’s passionate eloquence for ever and ever, amen. But if, in the middle of the night, she wakes up to find her eloquent lover letting forth the most stentorian snores she, metaphorically, immediately sits up in bed and begins seriously to wonder. And the moment love begins to ask itself questions, it is, as it were, turning over the leaves of the time-table to discover the next boat for the Antipodes. As I said before, more homes are broken up, not by the flying fire-irons, but by the irritating little personal idiosyncrasies which men and women exhibit when they are, so they declare, “quite natural and at their ease.” Only a mother’s love can survive the accompaniment of suction noises with soup. Vice always makes the innocent suffer, but suffering is often bearable, and sometimes it ennobles us; but chewing raw tobacco–even perpetually chewing chewing gum–is unbearable, and has a most ignoble effect on the temper, especially the temper of life’s Monday mornings.

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Even for our virtues do we sometimes run the risk of being murdered by those who, because they think they know us best, consequently admire us least. Virtue which is waved overhead like a banner is always a perpetual challenge, and the moment we seem to issue a challenge–even though we merely challenge the surrounding ether–someone in the concrete bends down somewhere to pick up a brickbat and, gazing at us, mutters, “How far? Oh Lord, how far?” Even the expressions of love, in the wrong place, have been known to hear hatred as their echo. I once knew a man who left his wife because she could never speak to him without calling him “darling.” She had so absorbed Barrie’s theory that the bravest man is but a “child,” that “home” for her husband became a kind of glorified nursery. At last his spirit became bilious with the cloying sweetness of it all. The climax came one evening when, after accidentally treading on her best corn and begging her pardon, she got up, put her loving arms around his neck and, kissing him, whispered, “Granted, darling, granted before you did it!” Soon after that he left her for a woman who, herself, trod on every corn he possessed, and had not the least inclination to say she was sorry. Of course, he lived to regret his first wife. Most men do.

“Tact,” I suppose, is at the bottom of all the difficulty–tact not only to know instinctively what to do and when to do it, but when to realise that a wife is still an “audience” and when to realise that, so far as being completely natural in her company is concerned, she has absolutely ceased to exist. But, alas! no one has the heart to teach us this necessary lesson in “tact.” We can tell a man of his sin when we dare not tell him it were the better plan to go right away by himself when he wishes to take his false teeth out. A wife will promote an angry scene with her husband over the “other woman”–of whom she is not in the least bit jealous–when she will never dream of telling him that he doesn’t sufficiently wash–which was the real cause of their early estrangement. Everybody knows his own vices, whereas most people are blissfully ignorant of their own irritating idiosyncrasies. I would far sooner be told of my nasty habits than of my own special brand of original sin. Sin has to be in very disgusting form to evoke lasting dislike, whereas a “nasty habit” breeds DISGUST, which is a far more terrible emotion than hatred.

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