Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Coming Together or Coming Apart

He’s an extrovert. She’s an introvert.

He’s outgoing. She’s more retiring.

He likes to go out all the time. She’s a homebody.

One might say that they complement each other. Don’t opposites attract?

That’s what they think. They find each other charming. Each is thrilled to be attached to his or her polar opposite.

Until they aren’t.

In time, she resents being dragged out every evening to meaningless events. He does not like being pressured to stay in and miss the party.

Are they falling out of love? Have they developed what the psychologists call a “fatal attraction?”

The label feels far too dramatic. Why classify this loving couple as psychopathic?

In truth, they and some psychologists have missed the first lesson of living together: the need to create couples routines.

When they were singletons each member of this couple could do as he or she pleased. Each developed single-person habits and routines. The routines were comfortable; they felt like second nature.

And then came the disruption. When the couple decided to build a life together they might have believed that they could each hold on to their old singleton habits. Unfortunately, that is far more difficult that it seems.

If she stays home while he goes out, he might feel that she does not want to be seen in public with him. If she stays home while he goes out, she might feel abandoned. If he stays home when he wants to go out he might feel that she is imposing her will on him and stifling his personality. And she might feel that the presence of a grumpy and resentful man is not such a good thing.

Such was the case of Laurie Davis and Thomas Edwards, reported by Elizabeth Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal.

One day Davis turned the dislocation into a conflict:

One Friday, Ms. Davis, 32, decided at the last minute to opt out of a weekend trip to the Hamptons the couple had been planning with friends. "Thomas, you go out way too much," she told Mr. Edwards.

He was completely shaken. "I felt like she was attacking the very nature of why she liked me," says Mr. Edwards, 29.

Truth be told, this has nothing to do with who liked whom how much. It had everything to do with Davis’s reneging on an agreement. By going back on her word Davis manifested the kind of bad character that makes relationships much more difficult, regardless of how much anyone loves or does not love anyone else.

Apparently, no one noticed this detail, so the couple did the next best thing. They tried to find a compromise, one that would allow him to go out more often, that would allow her to have more time with her girlfriends and for the two of them to have some date nights.

I would note in passing, that there is a significant difference between being a homebody and wanting to hang out with your girlfriends.

Bernstein explains:

Then they sat down and talked about what they wanted in a relationship, why they craved it and what it would look like. Ms. Davis said she wanted Mr. Edwards to set aside time and space so they could be alone together. Mr. Edwards told Ms. Davis he would like her to hang out with her friends more, "within reason, of course."

And so the couple, who wed two months ago, worked on their differences. Mr. Edwards scheduled regular date nights. Ms. Davis held sleepovers for her girlfriends and joined entrepreneur groups where she met new friends. When socializing together, they planned more outings with couples than with large groups, because large groups drain Ms. Davis. And while they were out, they would thank each other for going.

"That support and validation were good for us because they taught us to be more aware of each other's needs," says Mr. Edwards, who is a dating coach.

"Above all, we realized that we never want the other person to feel like they need to do something," says Ms. Davis. "It's just most important to us that we're both happy, even if that means spending a little time apart."

Happily, the couple has now taken some positive steps toward creating routines in which they can both participate.

And yet, having sleepovers with your girlfriends is not the same as being a homebody. Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that a married woman would want to have regular sleepovers with her girlfriends? Evidently, there are aspects of this relationship that we know nothing about. Thus, it is difficult to analyze what is really going on.

We were led to believe that Davis liked to stay at home with her husband because she wants to nest. Perhaps, she wants to have a family and wonders whether her peripatetic husband will be able to stay at home enough to help her out.

Surely, that is an important issue. Bernstein’s account does not address it.

Nor do we know anything about the nature of the outings that Edwards plans. Since he is a few years younger than Davis, she might find his friends to be puerile and childish, overgrown frat boys. The information we have does not address this issue, though the mention of “large groups” suggests as much, to me at least.

If that is the case, then clearly Edwards is doing well to abandon some of his partying in favor of dinner dates with other couples.

Interestingly, this solution represents the golden mean between his wish to go out and her wish for more good conversation.

The moral of the story is that in order to understand or to conduct a negotiation you need to command all the relevant details and even a few irrelevant ones.


Sam L. said...

Now having the whole story makes it difficult to analyze, so let's all jump to conclusions based on our own biases.

You've shown admirable restraint!

Lastango said...

Got. To. Link. It.