“Will you help me?”
My wife’s voice called from the playroom. I turned the corner and saw her hunched over on the ground, surrounded by toys.
She sighed. It was the week after Christmas.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“I just need some help deciding where these things should go.”
“You don’t want my help for that.”
“Why not?” she asked, reaching for another toy.
“Because if I were deciding, half of this stuff would go in the garbage.”
Her hand stopped, but she didn’t look up. My words hung in the air for a few seconds. Then she picked up the toy in silence.
It was on.
I knew I had started something, but I didn’t care. Why should I have to help figure out where all these toys are gonna go? I’m always the one saying we should be getting rid of stuff, and this is why. Our condo is bursting at the seams with junk we don’t need and I didn’t buy any of it but I’m the one who has to put it away and I’m sick of it and it’s not my fault. She’s the one who bought all this stuff, she can figure out where to put it. It’s her fault, right?
Let’s do a little thought experiment. If we were a business instead of a marriage, what would our respective roles be? For the most part, I think we share roles pretty evenly. We’re both revenue generating, and I like to think that we both have equal spots in the C-Suite where we put our heads together and try to establish a joint vision for our family’s future. And there are definitely some areas where I take on a bigger role (Accounting), and others where she does more of the heavy lifting (Logistics).
But there’s one department that I don’t touch, an area that Liz handles all on her own:
My wife doesn’t just buy the presents. She buys everything.
Paper towels, clothes, medicine, toys, vacations, basically anything that breaks… the list goes on. Aside from picking up take-out and the occasional grocery run I basically don’t spend any money. I probably haven’t bought a shirt for myself in over five years.
And nowhere does this separation of duties become more apparent than when it’s time to buy gifts for special occasions.
Last Christmas Liz bought gifts for me, and gifts for the girls. But she also bought gifts for the girls from me, and gifts for me from the girls, gifts from the girls to each other, gifts for herself from the girls… basically every combination you can think of. This applies to extended family as well, her side and mine. When I’m at my worst, she even has to buy gifts for herself, from me.
So why does she do it?
Well, Dave Chappelle certainly has his theory, and I mean… that might be part of it. But it’s a small part. There’s a much bigger reason why Liz does all the shopping, and it’s actually not funny at all. My wife does all of the shopping because she knows that if she doesn’t, it won’t get done.
If I look at it carefully, very often what I pass off as being “thrifty” or “minimalist” is actually just being lazy, cheap and not wanting to make decisions. She probably enjoys the shopping and planning for special occasions to some degree, but she probably wants some help, too. In fact I know she does because she’s asked me for help directly. And I don’t give it to her, and it seems to be getting worse each year.
Special occasions have become a game of chicken, and she inevitably folds and does all the work because she knows that if she doesn’t then my daughter’s birthday is going to look like this:
That’s not a great way for a business to operate. Or a family, for that matter.
I don’t know why I’m like this. Maybe it’s a scarcity mentality that causes me to avoid spending money in any form. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism in response to my own self-doubt… I’m not going to put effort into planning things for other people, because who would ever want to put effort into planning something for me? That excuse is particularly ludicrous considering my wife has planned amazing birthdays for me on several occasions.
Regardless of how we got to this point, here we are and we have a problem. My wife asked a simple question, a basic and essential question to ask of someone you love:
“Will you help me?”
And I started a fight. She made Christmas happen with zero help from me, and now I’m complaining about the results. But none of that matters now. Because it’s 9:30 and there’s work tomorrow and she’s mad and I’m mad and my heart is racing and I’m starting to think about other things she does that make me mad but are completely unrelated to the present situation and the pressure is building and as I’m writing this down it sounds so stupid but when you’re there and in the moment it’s hard.
So what do we do?
That’s a big question – next week I’ll give you the best answer we’ve come up with so far.