07 May Stop fuelling the battle of the sexes. It’s so last year…
I really would like to start a page on my website called “Do you know what grinds my gears?” Those of you that are fans of Seth will recognise those immortal words of one Peter Griffin.
I woke up this morning quite early; the others that insist on living with me (my wife and daughters) were still asleep, and experience told me that they will still be asleep for quite some time. A bit of solitude, what joy!! I thought I’ll make a coffee, sit in silence by the window and read today’s copy of the Times. I skimmed through the article headlines as I always do before deciding which to read and in what order. This process, and all the good feeling I had up to that point, were hijacked upon stumbling on this https://bit.ly/2Yp3VMO. In short, the article is saying that women are the bigger losers during lockdown because the increased level of domestic chores has fallen on the shoulders of women alone and that this is the reason why friction has increased amongst such couples. Why why why why why?
Am I the only one who’s blood boils when presented with such dated rhetoric? Move on for the love of Hitch. Stop dealing with coupledom friction by supplying women with drivel such as the fact that they are treated terribly is down to a ubiquitous thread of sexism that exists in the molecular structure of all men; and stop telling men that all women are closet case feminist devil worshipers whose only mission in life is to ensure that men have no fun whatsoever. The truth lies elsewhere and we all know it. The last thing we need is another distraction from the real issue. Haven’t we given couples more than enough weaponry to use as fuel to be added to the already flaming fire? We need to stop, take a deep breath, and ask how did this fire start in the first place.
If we look at the relationship grievances that are being expressed during lockdown (an unjust split of the increased level of domesticity chores being one such example), we will find that the majority are being aired by those that do not have a healthy relationship to begin with. I’m defining healthy to mean a relationship where both feel that ever since they coupled up, they have received far more than they have given. In fact, if both are asked to make a list (remember this list please) of those with whom they have the most fun, laughter and freedom of expression, their partners will come top. If they had such a healthy relationship, they would not have had this issue because neither partner wishes to see the other stressed. The very reason such partners are together is their love of seeing the other in a good mood; they love sharing banter, warm looks and cheeky smiles. They got addicted to how easily and frequently this happens; so much so that the minute they see their partner stressed, in other words, the minute the drug to which they are addicted stops flowing (the banter and cheeky warm smiles), they get withdrawal symptoms and want to immediately do something about it. Therefore, chipping in and sharing the load of increased domesticity will happen long before the stress reaches a high and noticeable level.
Those that don’t have a healthy relationship – and by that, I mean relationships where both partners feel they give more than they receive, and where on the list above, their partners would not even make the top three – will feel that the increased load is not shared equally. They may also feel a whole range of other inconveniences caused by this lockdown’s exposure of their thus far tolerated incompatibility. They may feel that they were right to think that their partner is not really a good listener, or that their partner is selfish when it comes to injecting fun and mirth, or that their partner spends far too much time on their phone, or doesn’t care enough about their extended families… and so on. These are all symptoms, not the root cause. Picking on one such symptom and blaming one side or the other is not only pointless, it’s being Dennis the Menace in the school playground setting off kids against one another just for personal amusement. In other words, it’s short-sighted and counterproductive.
What is really happening is that lockdown is exposing the truth. The vast majority of couples aren’t great friends, they’re not even good friends. However, they counted on external sources that filled their inner cup of goodness (and patience) enabling them to make playing the game of being careful, minimising friction and keeping up the pretence, tolerable. These sources are things such as work, hobbies, the ability to take a break from one another and all that careful thought editing and of course, socialising with friends. Lockdown has taken away all these sources making toleration far more intolerable.
We need to realise that this lockdown is a great wakeup call. An alarm bell has been set off warning us about the state of relationships. 50% of parents with children under the age of 14 separate, within 5 years, 83% of couples no longer put their partners at the top of the list mentioned above, and the UK budget for family breakdown support has gone up form £1bn in 2005 to over £60bn in 2018 (USA and Europe have similar statistics).
Instead of giving couples more ammunition to hate each other, we need to increase awareness to those that have yet to commit and tell them that the habits society promotes as being smart and kind are actually extremely harmful and we have the statistics to prove it. Society’s perceived pearls of wisdom aren’t doing anyone any favours. Two examples: ‘somethings you tell your friends, but not your partner’; and, ‘respect is more important than humour’ – this second one is my pet hate. I really respect my postman, does that mean we can live happily together? Respect is step one of one hundred; it should be a given. It’s like saying if you want to be an Olympic athlete, you need to buy the right shoes. Yes, that’s true, but the checklist is far from over. Humour is an exponentially more telling gauge than respect. ‘Are you each other’s number one laughing partners?’ is one thousand times more revealing than ‘can you not swear at each other and always maturely respect each other’s opinion and agree to disagree?’ If you have the former, you will automatically have the latter; the opposite, however, is not true.
I hope this all too common genderism crusade stops and instead, we start to tackle the problem at source. If we want our children to witness two fun friends who love doing the dishes together because of the banter, cheeky looks and nicknames that more often than not accompany this mundane activity, then we need to increase the provision of awareness to all, pre commitment. Carrying out any mundane cohabiting activity functionally, maturely and void of banter and fun nicknames is a tell-tale sign that these two are faking; they have sold out. (Talking of nicknames, I don’t mean the abhorrent generic ones such as ‘babes’ or ‘darling’, I’m referring to ones that came about due a memorable experience shared between the two).
Awareness pre commitment translates to pre having children, pre getting married and pre deciding to live long term together. That’s not all, we need to insist that couples keep checking on their relationship regularly. We do this annually to our cars to make sure they’re still roadworthy and won’t cause harm to anyone, why not do the same to our relationships? They affect ours and our children’s wellbeing far more than our cars do. How wonderful would it be to introduce an annual check to see if the two are still each other’s number one on the aforementioned list and if not, are there things they can do about it instead of just silently sweeping under the carpet for years until they finally seek counselling as a last resort before separation? Even further, how amazing would it be to recommend that a couple should only have children if they are still each other’s number one fun and freedom of expression partner after say three years of being together.
This idea that any two people can just work at it, get on with it, …etc. is failing miserably. If 83% are unhappy within 5 years, that means that the percentage that are happy is 17% maximum. Yes, there is no such thing as 100%, however, surely we can raise our ambition to the lofty highs of 18% or higher. In my opinion, anything less than a 70% success rate is a crime towards our children.
We need to understand that some people are simply not meant to be together. Maybe they can be good friends, that does not make them compatible cohabitants. Compatibility means you love doing the mundane together. Whether it’s mopping or taking the bins out, whatever the activity, 4 out of 5 times, it is sprinkled with a generous dose of banter and warmth if done with a compatible partner. The burden is lightened BECAUSE the mundane is being done with each other’s favourite play partner. Compatibility is not about putting up a picture on Instagram of the two on a beach smiling with a Margarita in their hand. In such a setting, I can have a good time with my Uber driver as well as Kim Jong Un.
In conclusion, if your relationship’s irritation level has increased during lockdown for whatever reason, DO NOT IGNORE. This is a message from your brain, it is screaming the words, “STOP SELLING OUT”. This does not mean you are not good together; you could have what it takes to be each other’s number one fun friends. But how can you begin to find out if you’re not even willing to speak to each other exactly as you would with your closest friends? Show each other your dirty jokes, reveal all your fantasies and mischief past and present. Get your relationship to a level of nudity where if you are in a bar with your partner and two lifelong friends, there is nothing, NOTHING, no story, feeling, or thought, that your friends can say about you that your partner wouldn’t already know. Even if your partner didn’t know a particular story your friends decided to recount, it will not cause you any uneasiness because it will be just one more example of the multitude of similar personality revealing stories you have already shared with your partner. Such a couple will not stoop to a lowly, pathetic, pitiful level where one is complaining about the other’s domestic chore input, mobile phone usage, or frequency of getting parking tickets when deep down, they know very well that the real problem has nothing to do with the irritation itself.