I am about to tell you a story, about an emotional experience I had with a young woman, a few years ago.
It is a story about one woman's opinion, about what a woman is, and about what, she believed, a man is supposed to be.
It is, also, a story about a man, and his interpretation, of what, he believes, this woman was trying to help him understand, about herself.
It is not the intent of this letter to suggest, in any way, that every woman feels, or believes, as the woman in the story does.
Her name was Seloua, a beautiful young woman, of the Muslim faith, from the Kingdom of Morocco.
Seloua and I worked together, as servers, at a popular restaurant, in Columbus, Ohio.
Seloua was a sweet, and loving person. Everyone adored her. She was kind and caring, towards every person she met. She always smiled. She was always happy.
I couldn't help but adore her, too.
She and I became best friends. We teamed up, as partners, to better serve our customers. I kept an eye on her tables, and she watched over mine.
Everyone knew that we were a pair. We did everything together. We became inseparable.
Every morning, before work, Seloua and I would meet, in the parking lot, and walk into the restaurant together. We always showed up early, so that we would have time to sit, and drink coffee, together.
Seloua was much younger than I. She was 25 years old, and I was slightly over 40.
We started out just being friends, but as time went on, our feelings grew for one another.
One day, Seloua informed me that she once had an older brother, whom she loved dearly. With tears in her eyes ,she told me that he died from cancer, when she was still a young girl. She told me of what a great brother he was, and how much she missed having him in her life.
Almost embarrassed, she asked me, "Would you mind being my brother, now? Sometimes, I need a big brother to talk to, and you remind me so much of him."
I was deeply honored by her request. I, humbly, excepted, this honorary place, in her life. I was flattered to occupy any place in her life.
I got up, and walked around the table, to give her a hug. She stood up, and embraced me, tightly, with tears rolling down her face.
From that day on, she always referred to me, as, Brother Mark, but over time, I could tell her feelings, for me, were becoming more than, brotherly. My feelings, for her, were growing, as well.
As I came to know her better, I came to find, Seloua, had one slight imperfection, as a woman. When pushed to the point of exhaustion, she would become very irritable. Her whole composure would change. She would lose all of her enthusiasm towards her job, and she would just stop caring about everything. She would decide that it was time for her to go home, and at that point, nothing else mattered to her. She would completely shut down, emotionally.
I was appointed team Leader, supervisor of all the servers, by the management of the restaurant, It was my job to oversee, and supervise, all the other servers throughout the shift. It was my job to keep them motivated, and to keep them working.
One Sunday evening, Seloua and I had almost completed working, a double shift. We were both totally exhausted. It was such a busy day, as Sundays always were. We didn't have time to even take a lunch break that day.
I looked across the floor, over into Seloua's section, and I noticed that she was struggling with her tables. She was too tired to go on. She couldn't concentrate anymore. She was becoming rude, and disrespectful, towards the guests.
I figured I better take her off to the side,, and give her a little "pep" talk. I could see that she was about to fall apart.
I asked her to meet me in the dish room. She excused herself from her tables, and she asked me what I wanted. I gently placed my hand on her shoulder, smiled at her, and said, "Are you alright, little sister? It looks like you're really having a hard time out there. Is there anything I can do to help you? Would you like to take a break, for a few minutes, while I watch over your tables?"
She looked at me, like she wanted to kill me! She slung my hand off of her shoulder, and shouted, "I want to go home! I don't care about this job anymore! I don't care about those stupid customers anymore! And, I don't care about you, either!!!
At that, she pushed me out of her way, and stormed out of the dish room, back out into the dining area, of the restaurant.
All the other servers were watching and listening, the whole time. I felt so embarrassed, and hurt, by the way she had just treated me, in front of them.
I stormed out of the dish room, after her, and demanded that she come back into the kitchen. She followed me back into the dish room, and, disrespectfully, said, "What?"
I raised my voice, aggressively, towards her, and said, "Don't you ever push me, or talk to me like that again! Do you understand me, Seloua? I don't care if you're my little sister,, or not! If you ever act like that towards me again, I will have you fired, and I'll never speak to you again!"
She said, "Yeah! Whatever," and then she snickered, as she walked back out into the dining room.
I couldn't believe she was treating me this way! My feelings were so hurt. My heart was crushed.
What did I do to deserve this?
We didn't speak to one another, for the rest of the evening. It seemed like an eternity, to me.
Every server is required to have their section checked out, by the team leader, before clocking out, for the day. Seloua did not check out with me. She half cleaned her area, and then just exited the building, without saying a word.
I yelled out to her, as she was leaving, but she ignored me.
It was the first night, since I met her, that she didn't ask me to walk her to her car.
The next two days, Seloua was scheduled off work. Usually, she would come in and visit with me, on her days off. This time, she didn't.
I tried calling her, at home. She wouldn't answer the phone.
Finally, Wednesday came. She was scheduled to come in for work, at 4pm. I was miserable, without her. I missed talking to her. I was afraid she may quit, out of embarrassment, for how how she treated me. I wanted to tell her not to worry about it, and that I forgave her. I wouldn't be able to do that if she didn't come in to work.
I was really worried. I may never have the chance to speak to her again.
I anticipated her arrival all day. Finally, at 3:55pm, I saw her car pull up! My heart skipped a beat! I was so happy to see her.
Did she come to work, or to turn her uniforms in? I still didn't know. I was still worried.
I watched her get out of her car. She was dressed for work! I almost leaped with joy! I wanted to run out in the parking lot and embrace her, and tell her I forgave her, but my feelings were still hurt. I still needed an apology.
I had to be strong, and wait on her. I was sure, that after 3 days, she had come to her senses, and that she was probably feeling pretty bad, about now, for the ways he treated me.
I watched her walk in the front door of the restaurant. I watched to see if she looked for me. She didn't. She walked straight to the time clock, and clocked in, for work.
I was really starting to get concerned.
I knew she had to speak to me. I was her team leader. I was the one who appointed each server their section, for the night. She didn't know which section to work in, without asking me, first. I hadn't written it on the board, yet. I knew she'd be coming to see me any minute now.
Finally, she did.
"Where do you want me?" she asked. I smiled at her, and tried to be friendly, before answering her. She would hardly look at me.
In a more irritated tone, she asked again, "What section am I in?"
The smile left my face, and I answered her, "Take the front of non-smoking. I figured that would please her. It was her favorite section.
She showed no reaction. She went straight to her section, and started working, without saying another word to me.
I was really confused. Why isn't she apologizing to me? Why is she acting angry at me? I did nothing wrong to her. She's the one that attacked me! Why is she behaving like this?
I really didn't understand. I never said another word to her. I was still waiting for my apology. I waited 3 more, long, miserable days, and the apology never came.
She never spoke another word to me.
My heart went from feeling hurt, to being angry, with her. I was starting to not like her any more. If things were going to be like this, between us, I'd rather her not be here, anymore. I couldn't work like this.
I went to our boss, as Team Leader, and requested her termination. I explained to him how she had been acting, towards me, and explained to him that I could not work with her under such, disrespectful conditions. She was showing me no respect towards me, at all, and she owed me an apology, and she refused to give it.
I requested she be transferred to another location.
I was sure the management would take my side on this. I was their star server, and team Leader. They wouldn't want to lose me, for sure.
The manager smiled at me, and said, "Don't you think you're over reacting, a little bit, over this, Mark? Yeah, she pushed you, but she wasn't trying to hurt you by doing it. She was just frustrated, and exhausted. She needed to rest."
I didn't want to hear it. I expected more than that, out of Seloua. We were all tired. She had no right to treat me that way, in front of all the other servers.
I insisted she be relocated.. I didn't want her there anymore. All the other servers were laughing at me.
The manager called her into the office. I was already sitting there, waiting on her. She seemed surprised to see me there.
"What's this about," she asked. "Mark feels you owe him an apology," the manager replied. He doesn't feel he can work with you any longer, without it. He has asked me to relocate you to another store if you are unable to do that,"
I noticed the manager had a smile on his face, when he told her this.
"I'm not leaving! Go ahead and fire me, if you want to! I don't care! I'm not apologizing to him for anything. The only thing I'm sorry about is ever having believed he was my friend."
I couldn't believe my ears! What has happened to my sweet, Seloua? Has she totally lost it? Did something snap inside her? Is she having problems at home? What the heck is happening here? Only a few days a go, she adored me. I was her big brother! Why is she so mad at me?
Her and I were sitting next to one another, in the manager's office. I looked like a big bear sitting next to her. She was so tiny, and and petite, compared to me.
Seloua always took great pride in her femininity. She was proud to be a woman. She loved being soft, and pretty, and physically, weaker than a man. She believed that's how a woman was supposed to be.
We sat, in silence, for what seemed an eternity, and finally she jumped up from her seat, and looked right at me. Her body was trembling. She tried to shout something out at me, but couldn't. She was trying not to cry.
After a few seconds, she composed herself, and she looked me right in the eye, with a look of total disbelief. She shook her head, at me, as if I were the most sorry person in the world.
"Brother Mark!, she cried.. "I was tired that night, and I needed to go home. I never meant to hurt you, and I never meant to say the mean things that I said to you. But you never gave me a chance to feel or say anything different. You got mad at me and confronted me like a man, who had assaulted you!"
In her broken English, she cried. "I am woman!" Sometimes I am not strong. Sometimes I get emotional and say stupid things. Sometimes I fall apart, and lose my temper. It doesn't mean that I don't love you, or care about you. I never meant to hurt you, Mark!"
"But you are supposed to be the man, Brother! You're supposed to be strong for me, when I am not. You're supposed to love me, and care about me. You're supposed to understand that I'm not as strong as you. You never gave me the chance to come to you, and feel sorry. You confronted me like I a man."
"I AM WOMAN! I won't respond to you that way. You needed to be patient, and understanding, with me, but you weren't, Mark!"
And now, you are asking our boss to fire me!!!"
"You're supposed to be the man!" she said, one last time, as she sat back down in her chair, depleted of all energy.
It took all she had to say these things to me. I could tell she still loved me, or she wouldn't have even been there. She wouldn't have even bothered saying anything.
I noticed that she said I was supposed to be the man, not just,a man.
In her eyes, I was supposed to be the man who loved her. The man who cared for her, The man who looked out for her, The man who understood her.
That's who she needed me to be.
All along, I was feeling like she didn't care about me, anymore, when it was she that was feeling uncared for.
I stood up to her, like I would've a man, for attacking me, and you can't do that with a woman. They must be handled differently.
In my experience, I have found a woman will not, positively, respond to a man's aggressive behavior towards her, even when she knows it was, herself, that instigated the situation..
Our aggressive response towards them, makes them afraid to approach us, afraid we may strike out at them, and hurt them. So when it happens, they pull away from us, to protect themselves.
It's not easy, guys, I know, but we have to be men about it, and love them through it. Even if they are just co-workers, or a friends.
They are women, and we are men. There is a difference. It's that, Mar's and Venus, thing. We've just got to deal with it.
Seloua was, almost, a total sweetheart. I know, if I would've given her a little time, she would've came to me, and apologized for the way she acted. It would've hurt her to know that she hurt me. because she really did care for me.
At the conclusion of the meeting, in the mangers office, Seloua and I, finally, made up. I told her I was sorry, and she said she was sorry, too. I reached out to give her a hug, and she reached back to me. She laid her head on my shoulder, and cried. I couldn't help but to shed a few tears, myself.
I was afraid I had lost my best friend, and I didn't even understand why.
Now I do.
M Adam Roberts lives and writes from Clearwater, Florida.
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