There are many ways to parse the “repair” in this title.
A repair is the type of statement offered by one of the two people in a disagreement that is supposed to form a bridge back to wholeness. A repair is a minor chore that involves fixing something. A repair is when the cable is out and you’ve got to schedule time to meet the repairman during the work day, so you can get your tv or high-speed internet working again.
There are always a few small repairs awaiting attention in any relationship or house. But when used as a measure or a gauge of the health of a relationship, there is often the aggrieved party and the oblivious party. Or, in the case of marriage, the party who is irritated by the burnt out lightbulb or weeds in the yard, and the party who is generally happy, or oblivious of such tragedies.
In our case, I was aware that there was a bulb out in the hall. But it didn’t bother me and the other two worked fine to illuminate the paths of my loved ones. To the ex-y the bulb was an example of my inattention to her. Why didn’t I care enough to want her, or my kids, to have three working lights in the hall? Why, if I knew it bothered her, didn’t I just fix the fucking light?
I became more aware of the resentment in these little details as time went on and the veneer began to wear thin on the relationship. A dying or overgrown yard was an indication of how I was neglecting her, or showing my lack of love and respect for my entire family. I still get a sad chuckle out of the thought, once voiced in the flurry of an argument, that went something like this:
“If you saw the fucking light bulb was out, why didn’t you fix it?”
“If you were bummed out about the light bulb, why didn’t you just replace it?”
“It’s as if you just don’t care. You’re fine with the whole place going to shit.”
“Um, no. I just wasn’t aware that the lightbulb was that big of a deal. And if it was bugging me it would take less than a minute to fix it.”
“So why didn’t you replace it?”
“It wasn’t bugging me.
“Did you notice it was burned out?”
“Well why didn’t you fucking fix it?”
“Um. If it was bugging the crap out of you, why didn’t YOU fix it?”
“You just don’t fucking care. About me, or anything.”
“No. I wasn’t aware that the lightbulb was that big a deal.”
“It’s not the lightbulb, it’s everything. It’s always like this.”
At some point you either dig in your heels and say to yourself, “I’m never changing the fucking lightbulb.” Or, “She can fix the fucking lightbulb herself.” And even when you know the unmowed lawn is bugging her, you don’t mow it. Not out of spite, but because it’s 2 hours in the middle of your potentially productive weekend, and it’s not that big of a deal. Even when you know she’s seething.
I wonder what it was like when she realized when it dawned on her, that she was going to have to fix the fucking lightbulb herself? Or when she decided she needed to learn how to mow the fucking lawn herself on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Or when she realized, just in the last three months, that working a real full-time job was hell. And that all of those years I was hoofin it off to the cube farm, she might have had a tiny bit more sympathy on a weekend when I just wanted to chill, or nap, or play with the kids.
I remember a point in our final breakdown when I asked her, “How do you think we’re going to be able to afford two houses in this school district?” She wasn’t thinking about me. She could care less if I got to stay near my kids, or near their school. Of course she’d been the one “volunteering” at the elementary school. Because we could afford to have her working part-time or “consulting.”
And looking over the tax return together, the last joint tax return we ever filed, she was pretty self-righteous about the fact that her contribution to the income for the year had actually be a negative. “Do you think financial stress had anything to do with our breakup?” I might have asked her. But I didn’t.
Today we struggle along, affording two houses in the affluent district where we pay for good schools for our kids minds and souls. And I’ve scaled way back and down. I’m happy. I’m not complaining.
But the “honey do” repair on her house, that is now going on six months in its gross state of disrepair, does give me a tiny bit of satisfaction. I met her boyfriend accidentally one afternoon when I was dropping the kids back at her house.
They were tearing the front, mostly ornamental decks, off the front of the house. I shook this sort of pudgy and academic man’s hand, amazed at the lack of his Carry-Grant-ness.
“Yes, they were going to charge us $3,500 to fix the decks,” he said, with some joy. “But I knew we could do it ourselves for less.”
WOW. My first thought was, “Dang, $3,500 seems pretty cheap compared to the number of weekends it is going to take to do it yourself.” She was standing there, satisfied with his statement. She was fixing up the house to sell it. He was saying “us.”
And I realized at that moment that she had found a lover who spoke her love language. All this time we had just been slightly mismatched in what kinds of things represented “being loved” to us. She wanted someone who did things for her. “Do something to help me and I feel loved.”
I’m sure my love language is touch. “Give me a hug or a snuggle and I will feel loved.”
So there we were, the three of us, and it was like an “ah ha” went off in my head. “She’s found her honey do.”
Of course, now, six months later, I’m thinking, “Yeah, how’s that working for you?”
The torn up decks make me a little sad for my kids. They must know it looks like crap to have the front of the house torn up and unfinished. (How’s that $3,500 looking, now?) But I can’t control or change that. So I keep it to myself. But there is some inner smile going on, as I think of his saying, “They were going to charge us $3,500.”
I think it’s best to not be waiting on repairs, in any of the potential situations. If the disagreement is heated, it’s okay to be the first one to go for the repair. “I’m sorry. You are right. I fucked up.”
In the case of my repair I would be looking for a hug or acknowledgement that we were still connected physically For the ex-y she’d be looking for me to replace burnt out lightbulbs with more consistency and timeliness. I know it sounds trivial, but I don’t think it is. I think it is part of what makes her feel loved. And in this repair I often failed. As we were awash in disagreement, I failed on purpose.
“Fuck if I’m going to change that lightbulb,” I thought. “She’ll either do it herself, or get madder than hell. But I’m not going to be manipulated by her control issues. Both of us can change the lightbulb. If it’s bugging you/her then fix it. Don’t sit around bitching about me not fixing it.”
She got mad. She stayed mad. I guess there were always things that needed repair in her world and she was waiting on me to do them.
Of course, today she doesn’t have that luxury. Or that torture, depending on your perspective. Neither do I.
The Off Parent
the story continues…
image: creative commons useage: #4 lightbulb moment