Relationships, especially long ones, are full of small battles, struggles over whose preferences, or neuroses, will win the day. Couples debate whether lights should be on or off, windows shut against the night air or left ajar to allow refreshing breezes to drift in.
Bedroom doors shouldn’t be agape lest an intruder enter the house, or the dog slip in to breathe noisily, or worse, slurp their private parts. No, you’re wrong, bedrooms should be accessible, so that any untoward sounds can be heard, and to keep the dog from loudly scratching to get in, waking everyone up.
There are no right answers, just poorly contended ones. Compromises must be made.
Arguments in my household often begin with word choice. “We’re not arguing,” my wife, Debbie, might promptly retort, “We’re discussing.” We don’t typically disagree about the big stuff, like money or how to parent our daughter. It’s the small things that trip us up. I drive too slowly, as if bobbing on lapping waves instead of watchfully traversing chaotic streets. She’s overly dedicated to symmetry; even art has to be orderly. Both are true, or false. That’s not what matters.
For some time, the arc of our petty struggles centered on coffee making. For many years, I was charged with the task, even lauded for it. I greeted Debbie at morning light with a freshly made cup of joe, delivered hot to her bedside table. She boasted of the service to friends and family, evidence of the excellence of my husbandry.
Until it wasn’t.
Making java involves daily machine cleaning, a task I attended to imperfectly. I’d wash the various parts so enthusiastically that tiny drops of brown liquid would splatter on the set of white flower vases Debbie symmetrically displayed next to the sink. Which, because I never seemed to notice – or was I subconsciously passive-aggressive? – she had to clean up. I experimented with different types of beans and brands, resulting in an inconsistent product that might have unpleasant – to Debbie – tangs of chocolate, or simply be too weak. I’d mix different kinds of beans together; yes, I did.
Worse, though, was my pathological dedication to “waste not want not” planted by the practices of my Depression Era-raised parents. Unwilling to dispose of “perfectly good beans,” which were actually stale or even already ground, I poured these into the coffeemaker’s maw, more than once gumming up the machine. Which Debbie had to clean.
The slow drip of my unwelcome methods ultimately resulted in banishment from coffee making entirely, left solely to my butler role. Which, truthfully, is hard to mess up.
As with all petty partnership struggles, how one reacts to a disagreement is what matters. I could take umbrage that my manhood had been stripped from me, identified as a person so incompetent that he can’t even engage in basic coffee making, unable to experiment with the daily grind. Or I could sleep a little later in the morning, safe in the knowledge that I’ll be greeted with a fresh pot of consistently brewed coffee, prepared on a timer by Debbie the previous night. What would you choose?