|You Say Tomato... - Tomato 2|
Perhaps only in theory can we observe our partners dispassionately. Perhaps our mindful gaze could rest upon our partner's inherent temperament and think: Hmm, never wants to try a new food. And if we ourselves like only the tried and true, the same old turkey meatloaf, then we might just feel a cozy camaraderie sitting at the supper table, eating the turkey meatloaf, with its sweet baked-on layer of tomato catsup. But if one of us should say "I'm tired of it, I'd like to add spinach and cheese"—well, we're asking for a more complicated relationship. Could we talk the meatloaf lover into trying something new? And would that be a good thing? Or would it be a good thing to let the meatloaf lover have the comfort and pleasure of the accustomed meatloaf? And which is an act of love—the acceptance, or the challenge? I can't tell you.
What I can say is that here's the lip-smacking moment, the ripening temptation to make the partner into a problem: for example, the problem with Matty is that she never wants to try new foods. She lik es her routine. ("Too much," we add.) All this judgment would be innocent enough, except that it seductively verges into right/wrong, good/bad. It seems the problem with Carla is that she gets anxious if she's running late, and she makes Dennis wrong for not knowing the route into town. Then Dennis experiences in Carla's rigorous observance of time a stubbornness about compromising—especially about compromising with Dennis, who's sure that if Carla loved him more, she wouldn't be so stubborn, etc., etc.
So there's the rub: the vagaries of temperament between you and your partner can become part of a story you tell yourself about the lack of respect and love in your relationship. You are the belabored, long-suffering helpmeet, while Bozo over there is indifferent to his or her impact on you. Just this last week, I witnessed a big turnaround in a wife's story of her own long-suffering labor with her husband. Talking with Toni about her husband two weeks before, I'd said, "Sounds to me like Joe has attention deficit disorder," ADD being an example par excellence of the iron kismet of temperament.
Though Toni is a conscientious schoolteacher and has been married to Joe for 34 years, she was taken aback. She'd never considered that. But she immediately went out to buy one of the good books on adult ADD, read it in a couple of sittings, and then passed it on to her husband. "I want to thank you; it's revolutionized our relationship," she said. "All my anger just dissolved. I'd taken it all so personally—his disorganization, the way he gets overloaded, how he can't stop himself when he's deep in a project. He has a lot of trouble shifting gears." This was the man who only two weeks before had been lambasted as hiding himself in work rather than taking care of a serious health condition—a chronic condition, involving frequent emergency care. Meanwhile the lonely responsibility for doctor appointments fell to Toni, unsung, unappreciated, all the while abandoned in a gaping fear for Joe's life. "Makes me furious," she'd said back then. "I've just about given up caring."