When Can I Stop Being Afraid of the Plumber?
Rediscovering how to interpret the actions of strangers as a newly single woman
There comes a time in nearly everyone’s life when they are outmatched by a clogged toilet or a leaky pipe or a dishwasher that floods the kitchen overnight. For me, this time came shortly after I left my now ex-husband. Plumbing seemed to be the downfall of my new home. After just a few months, there was one toilet that wouldn’t stop running, another that leaked out the tank every time it was flushed, a showerhead with a slow drip, and a pipe that kept coming loose under the kitchen sink.
While I was married, my then-husband, who was extremely handy, would usually just fix anything that went wrong around our house, sometimes with my assistance if it was a two-person job. On the rare occasions when we needed professional expertise, he would deal with hiring and interacting with anyone who was helping us. Now that I was on my own, I wasn’t all that excited about handling these duties myself, but on the other hand, I didn’t feel especially nervous about it, either.
The plumber who came out was a friendly guy somewhere in his thirties. He told me about his wife and kids within the first few minutes, probably prompted by seeing my own kids playing in the house. As he worked on the first toilet, he kept asking me to bring him towels and checked in with me repeatedly about the repairs. I was a little flustered by all the back-and-forth between interacting with him and keeping track of the kids. So, when he asked if my husband was at work, I blurted out that we had just gotten divorced, wishing right away that I hadn’t given him any real information about myself.
Suddenly he grew overly solicitous, telling me that he would be more than happy to take care of anything I needed around the house and writing down his personal number so that I could “call him anytime.” All I wanted then was for him to leave, but I pretended to be grateful. Social conditioning is strong. When he did leave, he told me he was ordering some parts for one of the toilets and that they would arrive within a few days. He never came back, though. About a week later, I called the company to check on the parts. The receptionist told me in a disapproving tone that he no longer worked…