Relationships aren’t all 50/50

The relationship advice you didn’t ask for

Quantifying affection doesn’t lead to fulfilling partnerships.

If we’re going tit for tat, I’m owed a lot of tit and I owe a lot of tat.

I cleaned the bathroom, scrubbed the kitchen, mopped the floors, brought the garbage bins outside, giving my roommates the evil eye the entire time. My Cinderella sighs didn’t clue them in, and they stayed on the couch, enjoying crumb-less socks and spotless countertops.

But they also give me their leftovers, drive me to the train station, listen to me complain about work, and in a zillion other unquantifiable moments they let me be the princess of the house.

It’s difficult to say how even we are with each other. Is gas money equivalent to a venti Starbucks coffee? I don’t know, but I shouldn’t keep score. While relationships should be reciprocal, they will never be perfectly balanced at 50/50. Take it from a Libra—I’ve tried.

Instead of attempting to create a ratio of giving in order to receive, my friendships are grounded in the understanding the love will come back around. Love being broadly defined; emotional support, borrowed food, quality time, all facets of friendship.

My friend Maddy is a giver. I use her Nespresso pods in the mornings when I’m in desperate need of coffee. Every time I do laundry there’s a ‘Maddy pile,’ prompting me to return the clothes she lets me snag directly from her closet. I come home from the library to sticky notes on my desk reading “Girl boss, love you.”

According to Maddy, she owes me 150 hours’ worth of advice to make up for the 150 hours where I thought we were just hanging out. I like being the friend she confides in, and it’s not burdensome for me to listen attentively to her problems.

My friend Paige is petitioning to change The Journal’s 150 year-established publishing schedule. With two nights a week spent making a newspaper, Paige has major beef with my workplace. Monday nights used to be spent watching Love Island and distracting each other from doing anything remotely productive.

The loss of quality time forced our friendship to evolve. We’ve adapted to find new ways to show each other our ongoing commitment to our relationship. On weeks my inbox is filled with complaints about news coverage, Paige sends me emails, subject lined “GOOD EMAIL.”

With Paige away on her government-mandated practicum, I’m learning to live without someone who has yinged my yang for five years. In her last e-mail, Paige asked if I could feel her love seeping through the computer screen, and that she hoped it was my computer screen and not phone because we’re working on Outlook setting boundaries.

As my only successful long-distance relationship, our commitment isn’t even, but it is enduring.

I take little leaps of faith every day that the energy I expend on my friends will circle back around to me, even if it takes a little time. It’s freeing to let go of counting every act. I get to take the long way back around to reciprocity stress free because I know I have, and will continue to, earn my friends’ patience.

Though I don’t buy into love languages, I do believe people show their love in different ways, and likewise need different types of love depending on their circumstances. These individual differences complicate measuring the fairness of friendship so much, and it begs the question of why measure at all.

My relationships with both friends and romantic partners are based in commitment. I understand sometimes I’m giving and other times I’m getting, and it’s not happening all at once. These relationships are reciprocal over time, but they aren’t evenly split.

To outsiders, I am a taker. I run around campus changing plans and won’t sacrifice my evening routine for anyone. I once coerced a boyfriend into playing cards with me in a hospital waiting room all day—simply because I had a cold. My philosophy is I can come to your house, but you can’t come to mine because I don’t want to throw off my laundry schedule.

My ex-boyfriend was thoughtful and always doing little things to show me kindness. He’d start conversations about articles I wrote despite me cancelling whatever plans we had to finish writing the story the night before.

The only way I knew how to reciprocate was to open my wallet. All the little things he did amounted to weeks’ worth of dinners, something I couldn’t afford on a student budget. It didn’t matter to him though. He just wanted to spend time together.

It’s not that I don’t reciprocate affection, or even that I don’t think I should. It’s that the way I choose to show my commitment, and the way significant people in my life recognize my commitment, varies from what you expect to see on screen.

I want to give to people I care about, and I never want to feel like my contributions to the relationship, emotional and otherwise, are then. I show commitment wholeheartedly, nothing is held back once I’ve decided a relationship is worth my time and energy.

I wouldn’t sign a prenup, which is an unlikely stance for the daughter of two divorced lawyers. I don’t understand how anyone can pre-emptively decide what their partner will contribute to the relationship. Marriage for me means commitment in sickness and in health, unless you’ve violated subsection 3C.

Unlike your assets, the emotional support you provide your partner is unquantifiable. Weighing the ways you support your partner’s career and sacrifices you make to help them succeed don’t always balance out with how they support you.

A prenup may be your insurance policy or a way of protecting your assets, but for me it limits the value of a relationship. Fitting the entirety of a relationship into decimals and dollar signs—no matter how things are split—doesn’t encompass of the value of my relationships.

Whatever my romantic situation, I have every intention of contributing emotionally and financially to my partner. Rather than being a money grab, my opinion is rooted in wanting to be equally vulnerable, committed, and willing to support each other when life takes a rockier route.

I saw a post on Instagram telling readers to only fill people’s glasses who never leave your cup empty, and I rolled my eyes. Whoever wrote it must be lonely, on a futile search for someone who has unlimited time and unlimited energy to give.

Sometimes your glass will be lighter than your friends’ or your partner’s. The important part is knowing if you stay at the table, your cup will be filled up again. It’s about commitment to each other, not constant give and take.


Libra, postscrict, prenup, Relationships

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