Note: The "Trooper" in question is not actually in the military. It's a metaphor, people.

December 21, 2009

Sledgehammer of Truth

I work with faculty quite frequently in my job, trying to convince them to do something totally new that will help them tremendously with only a small amount of extra effort. It took me about five minutes to figure out what needed to happen to get them to act.

Let them think they came up with the idea first.

So why did it take me 20+ years of dating to figure out that men are the same way?

Yes, I am talking about the subtle female art of male manipulation. In the nicest way, of course.

Because I grew up without a father figure or much of any relationship modeling in the house, this is an art that was lost on me. I never really saw how couples interacted day in, day out. How they navigated differences in opinions, household chores, or preferences for what to do on a Saturday night.

Instead, what I saw was a lot of my poor mom hollering at her pack of unruly children. And no one to back her up or help her (shout out to you Mama Jack).

So what does that mean for my relationship with Wine Guy? Take a guess. (And yes, you can feel sorry for him--but just a little.) Sure he is often described as the Absentminded Professor. But the way I've chosen to work with this is more like a hollering mom than a clever partner who knows how to work with what she's got (like I do so easily on the job).

But with two live-in relationships under my belt (not to mention 37 years), the whole "I had no daddy" argument has just grown tired and useless. I finally decided I needed to sort this out pretty damn soon or this relationship was going bust.

So I started talked with my friends-- and my shrink-- and realized I had a very unrealistic, immature idea of what constitutes honesty in a relationship. I'm big on honesty. Partly because it's the best policy, but also because I really suck at all forms of deception, whether it be small white lies, or big purple ones.

How I chose to translate my version of honesty into a relationship was this: I am obligated to say everything that goes on inside my head. No nuance. No sideways inspiration. Just say it. Anything else would be less than honest. And isn't that what love is supposed to be based on?

Yeah, that goes over like a nice, soft sledgehammer. Especially with a stubborn man - the kind I usually pick.

So I decided to take a stab at the more nuanced approach to getting Wine Guy to do something I wanted him to do--join my gym. I've been going since October and have had amazing results in my first 6 weeks. Meanwhile, Wine Guy had stopped all forms of exercise and felt terrible about it.

I figured out very quickly that my gym was the kind of workout experience that would suit Wine Guy perfectly. A semi-private trainer, personalized workouts, uncrowded gym, close to home, and the kind of results I know he's seeking. But when I tried the straight-on approach ("You should join too. It's exactly what you are looking for!"), I got a big fat no.

But by this point I was learning. Instead of getting irritated and insistent, I kept my mouth shut and just kept going to the gym. I would tell him about it occasionally, but for the most part just went about my business getting in shape while he looked on from the sidelines. I went three times a week without fail, all the while knowing that the six-week mark was when my sneak attack would begin. See, six weeks is when they measure you again--for inches, body fat, heart rate etc. Then they compare the results to your stats from six weeks earlier.

I was very excited to learn I had lost 5 pounds of body fat, gained two pounds of lean mass and lost 5 inches overall. All without dieting. Sweet!

But instead of rushing home and gushing about my news to Wine Guy, then restating my request that he join, I simply asked my trainer to write down all my stats. If there's one thing I've learned about men (and faculty) in the last few years, it's that they like cold hard numbers. So she wrote it all down and at dinner that night I calmly read him the numbers.

When I was done reading I looked up from the paper and saw a glimmer in his eye that I can never seem to get with my own sledgehammer tactics. Inspiration. Before I could even react, he said the magic words, "That's it. I'm joining."

Freakin' magic.

This is just one of several successes I've had lately and it has made our relationship so much smoother. I know he recognizes and appreciates my restraint and, even though it's more work for me in the thinking/planning ahead department, it is well worth it.

We've also come to an arrangement that, once he signs on to an idea, I then ask permission to "nag" him about it. See, he is a flake and he knows it. He needs help to close the loop. Now that I know he wants to join the gym (and he thinks he came up with the idea himself), he gives me carte blanche in the nagging (I call it reminding) department. Withing 5 days he was signed up and hitting the gym every other day.

Now he comes home and flexes his muscles, proud of what he decided to do. Sure, whatever. As long as he's doing it. (And the 10% discount I get every month for referring him doesn't hurt either.)

Happy holidays everyone!


Loverville said...

Great writeup... it's a win-win for you AND him! Nice!

mimi of sexagenarian and the city said...

You've won me over too: I'm joining your gym.

Or maybe the one three blocks away from my apt.

Yeah, okay, 3x a week. I'm game.

Dishy said...

This was SO helpful. Could you post more examples like this? I also never had the benefit of watching my parents interactions and I have the same hollering mom issues. This was SO perfect. Thanks so much for sharing!