Since I wrote and published Half-Assed, a mild case of concern has set in. Was I fair? Did I see it from the other side? What have I missed? One known cognitive bias is that we tend to rate experiences not on their overall happiness, but on their peak intensities (good or bad) and on how they end. And that relationship surely had a painful and unpleasant end, which certainly has colored my view of all of it.
Another aspect of my thinking is from watching the video at the Representation Project, about judging men and their maleness. Men are supposed to be the fixers in the relationship, and they are supposed to do a good job of it. When one fails to do so, whether through sloppiness or lack of knowledge, we are (meaning I am) quick to judge.
What if he opened up the electric plug, and understood generally how it worked, but couldn’t quickly come up with a way to shorten the wires and strip the plastic coating? He could have asked — I would have had a suggestion — but men aren’t supposed to ask. There are numerous “How to Repair It” books around the house, all of which I purchased.
What if his access to the resources was reduced, not really knowing the books were there, since those were mine and not his. Unable to ask, because guys don’t ask. Not conscientious enough to really care about doing it right. “I put it back together, and it works, even though it is ugly and doesn’t look right. Good enough. And I don’t really like this vacuum anyhow, partially because I didn’t pick it out and partially because I just don’t like vacuuming (who does?), so maybe we should get a new one.”
I have an advantage of sorts in that I’m a female. I’m not supposed to know how to fix things. I know I can generally learn from a set of instructions, and so I provided myself with sets of instructions. I’m conscientious, which you might call anal-retentive if you are mad at me. If I am going to do a job, and I can do it right, I get stubborn and I will do it right. I’m experienced. I’ve been living alone and I’ve owned a house for over a decade. If something breaks, I’m the first line of defense for fixing it. I might not have started out as confident or competent, but it grows.
And as for the rest, it is one thing to have an attitude or opinion of really valuing communication in a relationship, but it is another thing to know how to do it. How would you learn when your parents never do such a thing? When your previous girlfriend made it impossible to do such a thing? How would you know how to deal with someone who tells you up-front what she needs and wants? Would that be a good thing or a threat? Maybe someone more confident would have been able to make more of it. But maybe this just wasn’t him. Not even when I was the one who was putting forth the effort and trying.
It’s that thing about responsibility. You can’t ever really give someone responsibility. The other person has to take it. You can give all you want, but if the other person doesn’t take, it doesn’t matter.
“What else could I have done,” is the question I am always asking myself. I don’t have an answer, and I don’t think I ever will. A relationship, a good relationship, requires two capable, responsible, willing, and invested partners. I am not sure I had that. I am pretty sure of my own investment, even though there were times I had a hard time holding it together. I know what I was willing to do. The one thing I saw clearly at the end was that if it was going to get better, he had to make the move, to make the commitment toward that happening. It wasn’t there. I think it had been missing in all the earlier conversations we’d had. Maybe it wasn’t neglect. Maybe it wasn’t not caring. Maybe it was just not knowing how or not being confident enough to try.
But once again, here we are. There it is. It is my job to make peace with this. I hope that I am; I hope you can see I am trying; one slow step at a time.
1. For more information on this, I read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. For a discussion on experienced vs. remembered well-being see page 4 of this NYTimes article for a discussion on duration-neglect and the peak-end rule.↩