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Sunday, 25 March 2001

How Do I Love Thee Let Me Count The (Little) Ways

Written by  Michaela Russell

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I told my husband the name I came up with for my column. "Trenches?" He looked a bit hurt. "Is this combat?" Hmmm, no. But it is sometimes a battle -- to keep the wonder from slowly leaking out of our union, our own identities afloat, and our feet firmly planted on the ground, all at the same time. Hopefully, though, we'll never be bored if we are in the foxhole together.

* * * * *

I must admit that I was never a great fan of Mr. Rogers. I could never get into the trolley or the revolving museum, for starters. But he did have at least one great piece of wisdom (in the form of a rather annoying song) that I have carried with me since childhood.

"There are many ways to say I love you," began the song. And it went on to enumerate: The Cooking Way, The Hugging Way, The Telling Way, and many more which have I have since forgotten. In a nutshell, though, the song is about doing a bunch of seemingly insignificant but thoughtful little things which add up to one big "I love you." And that's the way to show someone you care, according to Mr. Rogers.

In other words, it's the "trivial" things that ultimately make - or break - a relationship. I think more men and women lose each other on this point than on any other.

This was brought home to me last week in a striking conversation I had with my husband.

It began with my telling him that we needed to talk. (Uh, oh, right?) My central concern? I wasn't sure we had the same 'vision' of what it meant to be married, to be sharing a life, partnered.

While guys may ask, "Why pick on stupid details if things are OK in the big picture?" - or, in simpler terms: "Why are you making such a BIG DEAL about THIS?", women see all the small details as the very building blocks of the whole relationship.

After this ponderous introduction, he later told me, he dug in for what he assumed would be an earth-shattering and momentous conversation. It seemed that this was to be the annual decathlon marriage talk, with lots of angst, yearning, and unfulfilled dreams. He was ready for the worst.

What I proceeded to tell him, however, was how I wanted him to do more around the house, more with the kids, and with more team-spirit. His "Do-I-really-have-to???" affectation in relation to so many home-related tasks was getting to me, I told him. I asked him to understand that things he does for the FAMILY are NOT a FAVOR for ME.

Like any woman who has read a few good (and not-so-good) self-help books, I knew to make things as concrete and example-rich as possible, and not to talk in fluffy, amorphous terms.

So I did. I made my points brief, and gave plenty of examples.

When you worked at the computer every minute of last weekend for the third time in row...

When you actually complained that you had to drive Ariel to practice because you had stuff to do, when I was doing thirty-two things at home at the time...

When you left all your dinner dishes for me to take care of the next morning, when I, too, needed to leave to work...

The list was not short, but it was also not complicated. Things had been sliding, but in mundane ways.

And at the end of this discourse, my husband said, "OK. I'll do my best to mend my ways - I see your points. But the way you started - - I thought it was going to be something major! It's just a bunch of little things, really, stuff that you need me to do. It's just that I'm not sure I can scoop up the little stuff without dropping the big stuff. You know, I'm trying to focus on what's really important."

What, I wanted to ask, was the "big stuff", if the things I mentioned were little? What on earth was "really important" if not being part of things at home, and by that I mean: involved in the minutiae?

And then it hit me - the answer to my question and the secret key to He Said and She Said, Mars and Venus, Jamie and Paul, Maddie and David (remember them?).

And here it is:

While guys may ask, "Why pick on stupid details if things are OK in the big picture?" - or, in simpler terms: "Why are you making such a BIG DEAL about THIS?", women see all the small details as the very building blocks of the whole relationship.

To most of the women I've spoken to, the small, everyday, mundane things ARE, when "scooped up" all together, the big things.

That's why socks on the floor, coupled with dishes in the sink, and sprinkled with a bit of snippiness or whining, can equal huge marital dissatisfaction for a woman before they even register on a guy's radar. Commissions of unthoughtful gestures, or omissions of thoughtful ones, seem to be interpreted by women in a variety of ways, none of which, in most cases, were the intention of the clueless guy.

The man, for his part, is just keeping his eye on "the ball" - the big things: love, sex, commitment, dedication, providing for the family, general kindness, having fun together, etc.. If he drops a few socks along the way, who cares, right?

Well, I do, dammit.

Don't ask me why women pay so much attention to - and write inner dissertations on - details and nuances. Don't ask me why these many little things are so important to us, why we tend to collect - hoard - the nice things men do for us like treasures in our hearts. Why we can't just accept the broader vision thing, and let the "trivialities" go.

I don't know why.

I'm still searching for this answer, because I think it is the Holy Grail of relationship science.

I'm also not exactly sure why men don't see things this way, why, in fact, they often resist the idea that little things matter with great gusto.

Other, of course, than good old Mr. Rogers. He's right there, keeping his eye on the ball AND scooping up all the little stuff.

Lucky Mrs. Rogers. If she can get past the sweater and shoe thing, that is.

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 18:59
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Michaela Russell

Michaela Russell is a pen name.

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