Last Saturday I gained some insight into how I use my relationship energy. To steal Dick’s analogy, I run our life on an on/off switch. From the moment I wake at the crack of dawn, hitting the ground running with my endless plans and to do lists, I am switched on all the time. Then there’s Dick, who operates on something akin to a dimmer control, slowly working his way up to task as the day goes on, usually hitting the bright setting somewhere around 1 p.m.

First there’s me, operating on the on/off switch: My alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. set at this early hour on purpose so I can have time to tidy the house before the babysitter arrives at 9. Why am I tidying my house in my nightie at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday for “the help”? Well for two reasons. First of all, the kids are up anyway and I might as well do something. Second, I don’t want the sweet, reliable, clean-looking babysitter it took me so long to find seeing how we really live – like crack addicts, but with more toys.

Then there’s Dick, operating on the dimmer control: It’s 6:30 a.m. and he’s asleep. Oh sure, the kids keep trying to jump on him and wake him up, but stubbornly he remains passed out in our bed, snoring softly. At 7:15, Dick rolls slightly to the left and coughs. By 8:30 he’s still in the same relaxed position, snoring through the sounds of me yelling at the children to keep their hands to themselves and threatening time outs. Sweaty and no longer able to tolerate his insistence on staying unconscious, I finally stormed into our room around 8:45 and insisted that he get up. If I could have walloped him over the head with a frying pan, screaming at him to get the fuck out of the bed, I would have. That’s how annoyed I was.

When we finally made it out the door at 9:45, I was still mentally and physically in the on position, chattering a mile a minute and harassing Dick to cast his vote for a dining establishment. Still looking sleepy and a bit disheveled he asked me, “Why are you planning out every moment of our day, dear? Can’t we just groove into it? It’s a Saturday. We’ve got a babysitter. You’re supposed to take it easy.”

My initial reaction was to think – where’s that darn frying pan when you need one. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he’s right. I should be embracing the laziness of the weekend and allowing the day to unfold at will. Do I even remember how to do that? Note to self: Must stop constant planning and learn how to relax.


Like most parents, nearly every weekday is about getting up to speed as quickly as possible. Dick hates it. His natural resistance to what he calls “rushing” was instilled in him by his parents, particularly his father. In fact, I think it’s a genetic trait. My in-laws are, perhaps, the slowest risers I’ve ever seen. Many a weekend is spent lounging in pjs until the early afternoon, before the shower, snack and late afternoon naps begin. Mind you, my in-laws are extremely hard working people, but once the weekend hits you’d be hard pressed to see the difference between them in a rush and them relaxing. They operate on a dimmer.

My family, on the other hand, is a bunch of early risers. Farmers made up of whatever rare minerals they put in the food in southern Ohio, it’s not unheard of for my 80 year old grandmother to be up at 4 or 5 a.m. Mind you, she is a widow who lives by herself in a retirement community so what she could possibly have on her to do list that’s so critical it needs to be started when it’s still dark outside, is unknown to me. Me, my mother, and her mother before her – we’re all operating on the on/off switch.

Undoubtedly, my mother (and her naturally conspiratorial nature) would chalk up the fundamental differences in our approach to life as completely related to our upbringing. Dick’s background was the more privileged, white collar one and mine, the less-privileged blue collar one. He was raised with the comfort that only a feeling of entitlement brings to the educated middle-class. But our family was far too poor, oppressed and overworked to embrace the joys of sleeping in or being unproductive for the pure pleasure of it. We had farm animals to feed, socks to mend and laundry to beat against rocks. In, reality, I grew up in a trailer park in Southern California, but we would’ve been beating our laundry on rocks if our trailer hadn’t come with that fancy washing machine in the kitchen.

I don’t think our different philosophies are a simple case of country mouse vs. city mouse. I think it’s something I, and many of us, are guilty of. I’m almost never able to switch off because I am firmly convinced that I am indispensible. Serving as the collective memory and task manager for an entire family is daunting and exhausting and someone’s got to take control! And that someone is me.

My conviction in my own sense of importance allows me to believe that being dim is not a luxury I can afford. Chalk it up to falling victim to gender role stereotypes or chalk it up to our dysfunctional, whacked-out relationship dynamic, but somewhere along the way I took charge and by doing so, afforded Dick my tacit approval to be only as dim or as bright as he wants to be because he’s got me for a partner – always picking up the slack, taking care of the house, the kids, and even the babysitter. He doesn’t need to think of all those annoying little details because I’ve made it clear that his contributions are inferior.

A well-paid therapist once told me that your loved ones only have the power over you that you grant them. It’s true. And when I think about how I’ve channeled all my power into maintaining a constant state of readiness, I also have to admit that I’ve duped myself into believing that all this sacrifice is a requirement of me because of my obviously stunning readiness for the task. Anyone who’s ever lived through a lay-off at the office knows that no one is indispensable. Who am I kidding? Heck, even you who’ve, perhaps, only known me through my writing for the past 6 months would have to agree that I’m far too self-absorbed to completely buy in to the belief that self-sacrifice is its own reward. That’s so not me.

So rather than continue to whine about my lazy husband, I’m going to channel some energy into reclaiming my lost power by refining a more robust power-sharing agreement with my partner. Power sharing will only get me so far, though. I’m going to have to try a little harder to find my inner dimmer switch from time to time and explore the less talked about side of being dim – the bliss that comes with ignorance.

Thanks for being dimmer than I am, Dick.

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