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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fifty Percent

I've admitted in previous posts to being a busybody snoop dedicated people watcher. And hey, I'm not deaf. When someone is out in public and talking about things virtually right next to me, although I try not to mind everyone's business but my own, I can't exactly just shut off my hearing. I'm sure that you know what I'm talking about. As you're walking through the aisles at the supermarket or sitting in a casual restaurant eating lunch, you hear and see snippets of other people's lives. 

Most of this background activity passes in and out of our consciousness, never to be thought of again. Sometimes, however, you see or hear something that really stays with you. It may be a funny or charming moment, or even an odd one, like when you hear a mom and her son shopping and learn that "turd lips" can actually be a term of endearment. Seriously! She said it lovingly, and he took it that way! At other times, you stew over what you've heard and keep thinking about it for days afterward. 

I recently overheard part of a conversation between two women who were blowing off some steam over lunch. One of them was telling her friend about the latest happenings with her daughter-in-law. DIL does not work, nor does she have any children. Darling Hubby does work. Now here is where it gets interesting. (And if you think I might have shushed my own husband once or twice to facilitate eavesdropping, you'd be wrong. The mother-in-law was upset enough to have a slight power surge to her volume button.) DIL has informed DH that she expects him to do fifty percent of all of the household tasks. 

MIL's friend asked if DIL cooks or does laundry, and apparently she does not. So it sounds to me like DIL stays at home all day reading books and playing on the computer while DH is at his job. When he comes home, he has to either pick up take out, take DIL out to dinner or cook dinner himself. Then he gets to do the dishes, run the vacuum cleaner, do laundry, or whatever. I'm not entirely sure because at this point the ladies had finished their lunches and moved their conversation outside the restaurant and left me hanging.

The wheels in my head really started spinning after hearing their conversation, and Trent and I began talking about the situation. Of course, it's very easy to make value judgements without knowing the full situation. And Trent and I are not the types of people who believe in gender-assigned roles in relationships. Neither of us thinks that one person or another in a relationship should be responsible for certain things based on their gender. But we also don't think that a relationship can be based on some imaginary mathematical formula.

Any relationship, whether it's a marriage, friendship, roomies or whatever, cannot survive based on such guidelines. Relationships consist of people, not numbers. And let's face it, a lot of people looking at the relationship that was just described would say there is something wrong with DIL's math. They'd be likely to say that if DH is working all day and paying all of the bills, then he definitely has his fifty percent covered. And they would say the same thing if DIL was the one working and DH felt like she should come home from work and keep laboring in the home. But is that really the entire issue?

To me, and to Trent (and I suspect to MIL as well), it is about more than that. Love and respect for one another don't resort to quantifying contributions to the work of the home. If people in a relationship are only willing to give half of themselves to make things work, are they fully invested in the relationship? At any time in our lives and interactions, efforts are on a far more fluid and intangible scale. The vagaries of life, all of the events it brings, along with challenges to our emotions, health, and energy, impact our abilities to deal with things as mundane as cooking dinner. A refusal to yield one's ideas and work as a team may be a sign of a far larger problem. A relationship is give-and-take, and sometimes we have to give far more than we take. If we are unwilling to give one hundred percent of our love, energy, respect, and commitment, are we in a relationship, or in the middle of a mistake? 

My Gram, the ever-philosophical one, often said that God laughed when humans made plans. Things seldom go exactly as we'd like them to. Relationships can be the same way. None of the work involved, whether it's the job of nurturing our bodies or nurturing our love, can be quantified by a concrete plan. We have to be willing to bend like trees in the wind. We have to give our all so that the relationship will survive and grow, rather than break. And that's far more than numbers, and way beyond a mere fifty percent.