The Fair is Where You Go to Eat Deep-Fried Oreos

“Friendship is a two-way street.”

I heard this trite old adage today with a mixture of reactions. There is always some truth to these convenient little sayings, but the misuse far outweighs any real wisdom.

Similarly, you could say, “Marriage is a two-way street,” or pretty much any relationship, save that of parent to child, which is most definitely a one-way street.

It’s fairly obvious that every relationship requires some back and forth, “give and take,” if you will, of emotional energy and physical help.

The problem with this catchy phrase is that it implies a sense of entitlement. Let’s just say that I’ve never heard anyone use this as an explanation for why they could afford to be more loving, considerate, or kind. No, almost uniformly take it to mean that our partners, the ungrateful sons of bitches, aren’t doing enough for us, the real and true center of the universe.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. Flashback to a year ago when I was struggling to complete four loads of laundry while adjusting to life as a mother, breastfeeding every two hours, and still somehow trying to come up with a dinner (when even defrosting a pre-made freezer meal is an unbearable challenge). Marriage is a two-way street, I’d mutter to myself angrily. Okay, I don’t actually think in cliche aphorisms. But it’s the same idea.

We always overvalue our own contributions and devalue those of our partners. While the experience was certainly overwhelming for me, it was no less overwhelming for Oliver, who was struggling to complete his homework with a crying newborn as a soundtrack, commuting to school every day, still adjusting to fatherhood, and providing all of our means as a family.

So yes, we all bring something to the table, but we bring different, unequal but valuable contributions based on our unique talents and personalities. Combining these abilities with gratitude and forbearance is what builds and sustains happy, thriving relationships.

Another example: there have been many times in my life where I have huffed angrily to myself that, “Friendship is a two-way street,” and resolved not to contact a particular friend anymore, in hopes of somehow willing them to display some interest in contacting me. It never worked. If I demanded that every friend reciprocate in this particular way– that for every time I asked to spend time with them, they asked to spend time with me– I’d have no friends. Wait… I’d have one. Although it’s one that I’ve never met in person so I’d lead a very lonely life. I can count the number of times other people have actively sought my company on one finger. Okay, maybe one hand. For whatever reason my fear of being rejected is far, far less than that of the average person. If I ignore this advantage– or worse, construe the lack of it in other people as a shortcoming– no one will benefit.

And yet there have been many times I have chosen not to pursue a particular relationship simply because it wasn’t worth the required effort to me. Without the underlying sense of entitlement, however, there was no anger or resentment in these decisions. A lack of entitlement doesn’t necessarily turn us all into doormats.

So yes, relationships are two-way streets, but rarely in the ways that we expect and almost never in the ways that we want.

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