IRRITANTS ARE A FORM OF LIFE RAGE served in fun-size portions. Often the most irritating things are only irritating because they’re habits. For example, you wouldn’t mind if people did that little flicky movement with their hair once. It’s just that they do it five thousand times every time they speak to you, and they don’t even realise they’re doing it.
However, pointing out something that irritates you is always a difficult and dangerous thing to do – especially when the person knows exactly what they’re doing, likes doing it, and is not going to stop doing it. This means that whenever they rub their feet together in front of the TV destroying their slippers in the process, you’re going to be irritated that they’re doing it, they’re going to be irritated that you’re irritated, and you’re going to be doubly irritated that they don’t care that you’re irritated.
The biggest irritations come from the smallest things. Divorce cases often cite mental cruelty as grounds for separation. But what this generally boils down to are a host of small things, such as; leaving the milk out overnight, intrusive positioning of elbow in bed, and wagging of finger in conversation. Some irritants are so small that it seems churlish to mention them. Many a ruby wedding anniversary has been slightly spoiled by Cyril admitting that he found Violet’s way with a fork irritating since the 1920s.
Irritants aren’t irritating per se. For instance; one day you can like someone a very great deal and find them congenial in every respect. A year later, when you’ve decided you don’t like them, you find everything they say, wear and do, intensely irritating. Familiarity breeds irritation in the same way that armpits breed bacteria. For example; you have to know someone pretty well before you can start finding their habitual towel dropping on the floor irritating. A complete absence of irritants isn’t love, it’s a coma.
Irritation is a rather handy emotion when there aren’t any really big things to hate. That’s why you can find nice people irritating without any real excuse for disliking them. It is of course possible to irritate yourself. You can acquire things that you hate about yourself, little verbal tics like saying, “Howdedoody!” when you answer the phone. That one can sicken you almost to the point of insanity.
Some people have a face that’s naturally irritating so they’re already on a bit of sticky wicket the moment you set eyes on them. Likewise having an irritating voice, hair or general manner can be injurious to smooth social interaction. But remember that one person’s irritation is another person’s stimulant. You may find Dave winking at the end of every sentence fantastically annoying, but Dave’s wife married him for it. His first wife, that is.
© GUY BROWNING IS AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.