He walked in to the cafe with his mop.
"Can you do my floors?" I joked. "I live just down the street...they really need it."
"Yah, you know, my wife's making me do the floors."
"Wow," I said, "How does she do that? Good woman!"
"Nah, it's a partnership. I just got back from surfing for 10 days, or sometimes I'll go off to Montauk overnight..."
"And then you come home and mop?" I asked.
"Yah, it's what you do if you want to stay happily married."
His philosophy on relationships was so pithy, so simple: he mopped so he could go to Montauk. Of course, it was a little more complicated than that. She was pregnant, he said, despite him not really wanting a third baby. Again, though, as long as he got to go surfing, it was all good... He was so nonchalant, so chill. He was a surfer after all. I hoped his wife was just as relaxed and happy about their compromises. I hoped it worked for both of them. He deserved a gold star for trying either way, for recognizing and saying aloud what he gets and what he is required to give. The shrug he gave as he left the cafe with his coffee and his mop in hand said it all: it might not be perfect, but it was the choice he made when he signed on for a partner.
It is no easy feat, maintaining a relationship. We all get stuck in our camp, often asking for more than we offer in kind. But relationships are, by their very nature, interdependent. That's the point. If you don't want to be dependent or don't expect that someone will depend on you, you can't engage. Or you can, but people will be angry, and you should at least see their anger coming.
I have a friend who is always swearing off relationships once the anger ensues.
"That's it, I'm going to be celibate," he proclaimed one day, tired of the ire he inspired by claiming independence while demanding intimacy. I looked at him, confused, he whose sexual needs were no secret to anyone.
"Really?!" I said. "You are going to be celibate?"
"Oh, not sexual celibacy," he said, correcting my clear misunderstanding. "Relationship celibacy..."
Right. Wouldn't that be ideal? It made sense for him, if only it were possible. What most people are looking for in even the briefest of brief physical intimacies is some sort of closeness. If that's achieved, people who like the experience might actually call or text or expect something from you. Voila, relationship begun, like it or not.
I gave a woman a gold star today for trying to move past a disappointing relationship, one that had looked for a brief time like love. She had expected something from someone who pulled the ol' bait and switch, playing with her desire for a partner by proclaiming it a possibility, then deciding instead on his own brand of emotional celibacy. She was sad, angry. Rightfully so. She said sayonara and he, surprisingly, was surprised. He had imagined, like many people do, that he could dabble and dally without deciding. She wasn't playing, wasn't in it for the week or two a year he wanted. I didn't blame her. Good for her for getting out early if she wanted more than he could or would give. She wants someone who is at least willing to wield a mop after he gets what he desires. Her search continues.