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On fights, and apology tokens

In my wallet I have a coin that can’t be spent anywhere. I had six of these, once, and I can’t remember where I got them from. They look a bit like two pound pieces, but they’re designed as arcade tokens of some sort.

A long time ago I gave half of them to my boy. “These are yours,” I said. “Because you like shiny things, and because I have no idea what to do with them but they’re too satisfyingly pretty to waste, there’s something deliciously symbolic in each of us having a few.”

“OK,” he said, conveniently forgetting to add “why must you always be so weird, darling?”

Apology tokens

Later that week I got pissed. A horrible, ugly kind of pissed, the way I used to get at University when hangovers were just something that happened to other people. I made exactly the kind of fool of myself that you would expect, and that I still blush to remember. Loudly obnoxious, I made inexcusably crap jokes in front of his friends, flirted wildly with at least two of them, and said some thoughtless things to him in casual conversation that gave him a tight hurt deep in his chest.

“I’m so sorry,” I said the next morning. “I’m awful, and I will never do that again.”

“Shit, don’t worry,” he replied, because he is infinitely magnanimous and lovely like that. “Happens to the best of us.” And then he took one of my tokens.

So began a game of give-and-take. When he’d fuck up in some way, or upset me, he’d give me a token. When I fucked up, I’d hand one to him. The actual tokens were meaningless – you couldn’t buy anything with them, and they weren’t recognisable to anyone outside of our twosome. But between us they meant loads: I fucked up, I’m sorry, I love you.

It’s my fault.

Fighting and reuniting

I hate fighting. The arguments I had in past relationships were usually drawn-out affairs, in which both I and my partner would sit in spiky, accusing silence for hours, waiting for the other person to throw the next hurtful comment. When the comment came, so did the knee-jerk response, and the ground of the argument shifted from “you haven’t done the washing up” through “remember how you behaved at my friend’s wedding” to “why have you never truly loved me?” over the space of miserably bitter nights.

Because – especially for an argumentative harpy like me, who sees debate as a matter of both professional and personal pride – it’s hard to say ‘I’m wrong’. Giving ground feels not like a natural compromise between two sensible adults but like – *gulp* – losing.

Hence the tokens: it’s easier for me to give him a token than to admit a mistake. Easier to hold my hand out and ask for a token when I think he’s fucked up. It’s a way of transferring blame that doesn’t mean having to say any actual words that hurt each other.

“You’re a cunt.”

“You’re a bitch.”

“You’re wrong.”

I can just hold out my hand and hope he gives me a token. Or I can pass him one of mine, and meet his eyes, and he’ll know without me having to say it that I mean ‘fuck fuck fuck I’ve done it again and I’m so fucking sorry.’

Your fault/my fault

There’s only one token left in my wallet now, which I think means that on balance I’m a bad person. But I can’t quite be sure because this system died a long time ago. Did we just forget? Were there so many months without arguments that the system fell by the wayside? Or did he, knowing I had just that one left to hold on to, forego the chance to ‘win’ so that I wouldn’t feel too terrible?

One of the heart-achingly wonderful things about him is his power to stop arguments. As I shake and rage on my stubborn high horse, he can step forward, put out his hand and say “let’s stop fighting now.” Never “just admit you’re wrong” or “shut up and we’ll have dinner” – there’s no blame or anger, just “let’s stop fighting now.” A heartfelt desire to be held, and loved, and an understanding that although the problem remains, the fight itself is over. It means no row has to bleed over into tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

It’s one of the best things about him, and a skill that I – as a stroppy and defensive bastard – would utterly love to be able to master. It’s one of the things I boast about when I’m boring my friends with stories about how lovely he is. Relationship diplomacy at its best, and a tactic that has proven valuable during every fight we’ve ever had.

Except, inevitably, this one.


  • Fiddy says:

    My wife just smacks me when I piss her off. Usually an elbow to the stomach or stepping on my foot.

    When she pisses me off? (Or at least she thinks she does), I just can’t bring myself to even spank her. She’s just really obvious when she feels guilty and completely oblivious to when she actually does something that pisses me off that I just always let it slide.

  • I love this, and may have to try it sometime, though the downside is I can see my husband and I using it as a way to keep score.

    • Girl on the net says:

      That is *definitely* a down side. It’s far from a perfect system. Apart from anything else, what happens when no one’s to blame? We are flawed humans.

  • Alex says:

    What is that last comment supposed to mean?? Have you and the boy had a big one and split?? Oh no!!! I sincerely hope you guys are ok.
    Thank you for another great read, it inspired me to go and cuddle my lovely girlfriend right away.


    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah, we’ll be fine, I’m sure – thank you for commenting and enjoy the cuddles =)

    • rhs says:

      What does that last comment mean?? I really hope you and the boy are okay! Arguments are the worst. We know the defensive ‘you can’t possibly love me anymore’ silences too well. Ugh!

  • Hillary says:

    I am so sorry about your crisis. Almost nothing more traumatic.
    As this blog is as much about communication as it is about unusual sex, I think these Sorry Tokens deserve more thought. As a humble start:
    Although they sound sweet and practical they are flawed.
    As the chinese say “When you must bow, bow low.” A token, like the paper roses in the 1970s pop song, may not be low enough.
    There may never be enough tokens; eccentric genius comes at a price and I can see that the flow of tokens might be mostly one way…. unless you created a mechanism to redeem them.
    Which takes me to my last point. Resolving issues is HARD. It needs skill and patience and wisdom. In an ideal world no couple should ever go to sleep on unresolved issues. If only. At least go to sleep with a commitment to resolve it soon. Always stick ONLY to the issue.
    Then, when the issue is resolved he can give your token back…until you need it again.
    Under this system a ‘kitty’of 6 tokens is probably too many. I would try kissing and making up and then starting again with just two each – that you redeem, not by waiting for the other to make a mistake, but by RESOLVING the issue.
    I hope that helps, I believe you both deserve to succeed.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hi Hillary – thank you! I think you’re absolutely right. Apology tokens are, we’ve discovered, good in some situations but flawed in others. I like your “when you must bow, bow low” quote, as I think that sums up a fair amount of it – it’s hard to be abjectly apologetic (which is sometimes necessary) and the tokens could/can potentially be seen as trivialising this. Your advice is very wise – thank you!

    • Azkyroth says:

      I’m not sure what’s wrong with someone who’d WANT to be “bowed low” to every time someone else made any kind of mistake. I don’t think I’d want to be involved with someone like that. Or, say, leave my pets alone with them.

      • Girl on the net says:

        I think this is probably a difference in how you interpret ‘bow low’ – in this context I think it’s all about expressing proper regret. Whether your partner asks you to or not, sometimes it’s valuable to help them realise you love them, and your mistake is as significant to you as it is to them. Does that make sense?

  • John Codders says:

    I luv reading your blogs..this is a great story and actually really quite sensible in some ways.

    Ohh and I think Pandora Blake is very excited with your coming together….does that sound right to you?

    Ah well……take care


    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you =) And yes – Pandora and I are both v excited about working together- it’s going to be great!

  • the black stig says:

    i like the token system! And best of luck (i guess if thats an appropriate thing to say in this context in resolving the fight ( iwas going to say best of luck with the fight and then either i overthought it or i just thought that was wrong)

  • art_of_serenity says:

    You sum up so eloquently the strengths and weakness we all face within ourselves, in sex and in relationships. You put in words that is it ok to be whoever you are. Thank you
    Also, sounds like things are tough at the moment, I hope it all turns out ok.

  • Janine says:

    Great article. It took me many years to realize that admitting I’m wrong and apologizing was not losing. Our relationship was not a competition with a score board. I thank the universe that my partner is an understanding and patient guy who would put up with my melt downs. We’ve finally come to an understanding that there is probably very little that will be a deal breaker for us and I have finally(though sometimes it is still very hard) learned how to apologize without feeling I’m a failure. In the end neither one of us is perfect and I’m pretty sure no one would want to live with a perfect partner. That would drive you crazy.

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