I’ve been thinking lately about how tiny slices of our lives add up. The stacking of little experiences one upon another eventually adds up to something concrete. Whereas each individual experience you may have may be good, bad, or neutral, sooner or later there comes a critical mass that has meaning. This can happen at your job, at a particular store or restaurant, or with any number of things.
This is of significant importance in personal relationships. You meet someone, you experience them over and over and over again, and at some point there becomes a greater meaning to it all. Perhaps you become good friends. Perhaps you fall in love. Perhaps you become mortal enemies.
Of course, there sometimes is “love at first sight,” but the depth and the truth of love (or hate, for that matter) can really only come with the recurrence of positive and negative experiences. When you make the tally, what is the sum of the experiences you’ve had and are having with this other person? These stacked experiences can become like a real-life game of Jenga. How stable is that tower right now?
People like to say that they “don’t keep score” in relationships. These people are lying, both to you and to themselves. There is nothing wrong with keeping score, so long as it doesn’t interfere with you actually living your life. We all do, and should, be monitoring the results of the emotional investments we make in other people, just as we would monitor our financial investments.
The trick is finding the proper amount of monitoring to do. Early on, you’ll want to monitor a lot, to make certain that this new person is someone who pays dividends in your life. It sounds a bit cold, perhaps, but I don’t mean it to be so. I just mean that, in a relationship’s infancy, if the negative experiences are tallying too high relative to the positive ones, you’d be a fool not to work to change it on a fundamental level into something that benefits you more, or maybe simply jettison the whole thing.
With a long-term relationship, as with a long-term financial investment, it’s probably best not to monitor things too closely. If you are watching each day’s mutual fund prices of your retirement accounts, you may see too many little slices of negativity, while over the long pull the thing is performing just fine. Every so often though, you do need to assess whether the performance is actually there. Same thing in relationships. You can forgive some here-and-there negative slices when the big picture is serving your needs. When here-and-there negativity becomes here-and-here-and-here negativity, though, that might be a sign that it’s time to step back and assess that big picture again. Looking at it from the other direction, if your big-picture needs aren’t being met, no matter how well you may get along with someone, it may—may—be time to “sell.” Depending on the type of relationship you have—friend, hairdresser, coworker, spouse, whatever it may be—you’ll have to do the math and factor it through the gravity of the relationship. It’s easier to drop a cleaning lady than it would be a best-friend-gone-bad.
No matter the size of the investment, though, you must check the score and make that assessment. It’s more difficult, yet more important, the bigger and longer the investment. Back in the heady days of the recent recession, pundits and politicians liked to throw around the phrase “too big to fail” in regard to some financial institutions needing to be bailed out by the gub’mint. There may be some relationships in your life that are too big to fail. Ones in which, at some point, you’ll accept nearly any sliced indignity/failure/missing ingredient in order to preserve the institution. Only you can judge whether that is right for you. “You” is what all of this comes down to in the end, anyway; you and your scorecard that you may claim that you don’t have but really do. Or if you somehow miraculously really don’t, you should.