Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Nature of Relationships

We need relationships in our lives to the point where we will put up with a lot to maintain them.

One of the best ways to save on money is to have a partner or spouse.   "Two can live as cheaply as one" the old song goes, and to some extent, that is true.   When Mark and I both moved to Alexandria, Virginia, we were both spending about $650 a month each on an apartment.   Moving in together saved us $325 each a month - a lot of money back then, and even today.   It cut our housing costs in half.   And as we saw from previous postings housing costs are the single highest expense for most folks, even exceeding food, cars, and health care.

There are other savings as well.  If each of you has talents and abilities that compliment and not compete with each other, you have someone who fills in the holes in your life.    Mark likes to cook, I like to fix things.   He's creative, I'm more logical.   He has ideas, I have ways of making them work.   We don't always agree, of course, but the combined power of two makes more than the sum.

And in the best scenario, a relationship should be like that, where 2+2=5 or maybe even 6, as your combined powers amplify each other.   You give each other confidence and build each other up.   Your ideas and dreams are expanded by a point of view you never thought of.

In other scenarios, 2+2=4 or worse, it equals 3.5 or 3.   In the worst cases, 2+2=1.5, which means that each partner is worse off for the relationship than without it.   And sadly, this is where a lot of people end up, in a relationship where they would be better off being alone.

For example, you are in a relationship with a drug addict, an abuser (physical, mental, sexual, financial, or whatever) or someone who is tragically mentally ill.   You end up giving and they end up taking, and your life is worse off for the bargain.   There should be some advantage to you in a relationship.

Of course, one sign you are in a bad relationship is where you start tallying up the advantages and disadvantages and "keep score" so to speak.   It is a sign that maybe you aren't happy with what is going on.

It is funny, but often you don't see your relationship the way others do.   A friend of ours has a precocious 8-year-old who once asked me, "Why do you let Mark boss you around like that?" which generated a "shush" from his Mother.   I never thought about it, but he does like to control things, as I guess we all do.   But to some extent, it is good to have direction now and then.   Out of the mouth of babes.

On the other side, Mark's brother once (cruelly) remarked, "You're lucky to have found Bob!" as I guess he thought Mark was a gold-digger or something.  And Mark rightfully replied, "No, we were lucky to find each other!" which is true, because without him, I would still be driving a Chevette, at least metaphorically.

People on the outside might not see the whole picture,

Nevertheless, some relationships are "race to the bottom" relationships, where each spouse tries to outspend the other in retaliatory purchases.  Or relationships where the whole family wants to ride Dad like a cheap mule, until they extract every penny from him.   Or relationships where the husband abuses the wife, cashes his paychecks in bars, hangs out with his drinking buddies from high school, while expecting the misses to have the trailer clean and dinner on the table when he gets home at 2 AM.

What got me thinking about this was a reader thanking me for one of my most popular postings, Husband sends money to Brother, which gets a surprising number of hits, telling me it isn't just me that is seeing this go on.   The reader is in a relationship, but not married, and her partner sends off hefty sums to relatives who are not really in need.   When someone owns a vacation home, they don't need your money.  Meanwhile, she struggles to make ends meet.

I somewhat flippantly said, "Well, maybe it is time to look elsewhere" which is sort of a cruel and stupid thing to say, not knowing the whole story.  But, on the other hand, they are not married or have kids, so maybe she is still young and has options.   And if he is sending money to relatives before marriage, do you think this will stop afterwords?

The problem is, of course, that finding your "soul mate" is damn difficult to do.  Statistically, you are going to marry or live with someone you work with, someone you know from childhood, a friend of a friend, or someone nearby where you live.   This is pretty obvious, if you think about it.   Sometimes lighting strikes.  A friend of mine came to Jekyll 30 years ago on vacation and met a local boy and fell in love.  30 years later, well they are married with two kids.   It happens.

Others use dating services or computer matching setups.   I am skeptical of these as they try to match interest for interest instead of looking for complimentary matches.   If you are both marathon runners, you won't be supporting each other at the next marathon, but competing instead.   My personal opinion is that matching interests one-to-one is not a good idea, as you will not be exposed to different experiences and different ideas, but rather be arguing all the time over who is right.  Then again, as I noted, marrying an alien isn't necessarily a good idea either - someone whose life experiences are completely alien to your own.

But it seems - at least to outsiders - that some folks "settle" for less than they should, or at least might be better off being single than ending up with the partners they do.   And I'll give you some real-world examples of folks who made odd choices in partners that keep their friends and family scratching their heads - and often end up in divorce court.

For example Joe and Mary are living in sin together.  I say "living in sin" as Joe is a devout Catholic and has a wife and two children.  He met Mary who was 20 years his junior and decided to move in with her and have a child (which came first, I do not know).   He refused to divorce his wife as he was a devout Catholic and that is a sin, but adultery I guess isn't.   People do like to compartmentalize their religious beliefs!

The problem for Mary is that she has nothing.  The house is in his name and his entire estate, including the house they are living in, will go to Joe's wife when he dies, leaving Mary with nothing, other than her own savings.   We are not talking a 50/50 split here, between the two spouses, or even 60/40 or 70/30.    The wife, who Joe has not lived with for over 25 years, gets it all and Mary will have to struggle to get by.

And since she is 20 years his junior, well, it was likely that she would outlive him by quite a spell.  Mary's sister shakes her head and wonders what Mary sees in Joe and why she went along with this scheme for so many years.  And Mary's sister worries that Mary will start asking her for money, once Joe passes away and leaves her destitute.   But the overriding thing is, Mary's sister feels bad for Mary that this is the "marriage" she had to settle for in life, a 2+2=3.5 at best.

Melissa and Daniel come from radically different backgrounds.  Melissa went to private boarding schools and graduated from Swathmore.  Daniel barely scraped though high school and works menial labor jobs.  Why Melissa married Daniel is anyone's guess.   She thought she was "in love" with him, but they were two different people whose interests did not compliment each other.  She was a left-wing liberal and agnostic who smoked pot, he was a right-wing conservative fundamentalist who liked to swill cheap beer.   He cashed his paychecks in bars and came home drunk on weeknights, and on more than one occasion, Melissa had to bail him out of jail for his DUI arrests.  She had to reply on her parents to send her money periodically, in order to make ends meet.

They ended up getting divorced after many years and after having two children, whose upbringing in a chaotic household was anything but normal.   Melissa's family also scratched heads wondering what Melissa was thinking marrying someone who was such a layabout and whose fundamental values were so different than her own.    You get one shot at this in life, maybe two.   Melissa had only one.

This wasn't a 2+2=4 relationship, but 2+2=1 or even zero.

Nancy and Shelia were lesbian lovers.   They shared a row house in Maryland and had been living together for over 20 years.   Every month, Nancy would tally up the bills and send Shelia an invoice for her half of the living expenses.  When I asked Nancy about this, she said "Shelia is a compulsive gambler, and if we had the same checking account, she would drain it dry to go the casino!"

At least Nancy had a realistic eyes-wide-open view of her relationship with Shelia.   But it is sad, to me, that Nancy (from experience) didn't trust her "life partner" and that Shelia wouldn't get help for her gambling addiction and was more than willing to steal from her lover to gamble.

This is a 2+2=4.0000 relationship, but only because Nancy keeps such meticulous books.   Sadly, when Nancy died, Shelia ended up tearing through the money Nancy left to her and ended up homeless within a year.

Bruce and Lillian have been married for years.   For the first part of their marriage, Bruce made most of the money, but didn't manage it very well.   They have enough to get by on, but Bruce keeps sending money every month to his sister, who he is convinced "needs their help" to pay off her credit card bills, even though she has a good job, a pension plan, and a paid-for Condo she is living in.  Lillian is livid that she has to "do without" while Bruce's sister spends their money.

When confronted, Bruce says, "It's my money so I can do whatever I want with it!" failing to realize that in a marriage, there is no "mine" and "yours".

A few years later, Lillian comes into a sizable inheritance.   And of course, you can guess what happens.  Bruce says, "Well, we can finally retire in style!" but Lillian replies, "Well, maybe I can, after all, this is my money!"

Poetic justice for Bruce, but it is hard to feel sorry for either of them.  They are both selfish people wanting to "win" all the time and use very ugly psychological games to control each other.   The last time I checked in with them, they were sleeping in separate bedrooms - in separate apartments!  It makes me very, very sad.

Here is a relationship that isn't even 2+2.   It is a pair of deuces wandering around the planet, never really intersecting with each other but upon occasion.  There is no savings here, not even on rent.  Their skills don't compliment each other.   One wonders why they stay together except out of habit.

* * *

The list goes on and on.  And it is why my posting on "Husband give money to Brother" is so popular.  People are stuck in relationships that are really of no benefit to them or worse yet, are a detriment to them.

Of course, we are looking from the outside-in.   Maybe they get something out of the deal we don't see - wild, kinky sex or something.   Or maybe it is just the needs of one partner to be abused due to low-self-esteem issues from their upbringing.   "This is all I deserve!" they say inwardly.   And often an abusive spouse will reinforce this message.

And of course, Love is a many-splendor'ed thing.   We do fall in love and love people even if the relationship is to our detriment.  You can't argue love logically, it is pure emotion.

But love is also a two-way street, and if someone loves you, they shouldn't abuse you, right?  Or at least not abuse you that much.

Now pardon me while I go hug my husband.   I like the way he bosses me around.