How do I love thee? Let's count

February 14, 1997|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

Quick question, men. Why are you giving your wife or girlfriend flowers today?

Because you love her, right?

That's the story, anyway, and you're going to stick to it. It may even be true. Is it the whole truth, though? Are you showering her with chocolates and pinkish greeting cards (was that a smirk on the cashier's face?) and "I love yous" just because you love her? Or, are you just doing it to tip the balance, to alter the equation, to reduce the debt?

Are you doing it for the chits, man?

Don't play dumb. You know what we're talking about here. Keeping score. Who's up, who's down. It's the American way. Not just in baseball and politics. In relationships, too.

Hey, I did the laundry last night. So what? I made dinner. I wore that dress you like so much. Yeah, but you wore it to "Sleepless in Seattle," the girliest of girl movies, which you wanted to see.

This way of perceiving a relationship is not what you'd call altruistic or romantic. It's not admirable. It is human, though, isn't it?

Bouquet of roses in hand, I meet my wife at the airport at the end of her 10-day business trip to Holland, a trip that has necessitated her separation from me and the kids. I am thrilled she is returning for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that I'm exhausted. And as I stand outside Customs, I can't help congratulating myself for the gratitude points I've accumulated for being such a trouper during her absence. The flowers? I'm just running up the score.

The next day, a woman friend disabuses me of this notion. "Your wife has been in labor three times," she explains unsympathetically. "You will never be even."

Some months later, I make sure she is right by stupidly, inexplicably joining the kids in outvoting my wife on the matter of getting a dog. Each time I discover a new wet spot on the living room rug, I see my chits disappearing like morning dew. I see a lifetime of Meg Ryan movies ahead.

The marital therapists actually call this behavior of chit collecting "score-keeping." They say it is common and easy to fall into. They say it's none too healthy. They have other words for it.

"Adolescent," is the one husband-wife marital experts Amy and Charles Miron choose.

"Inside each one of us, there is an adolescent," say Charles, a psychologist. "There may or may not be an adult."

Meaning, he and Amy explain, that keeping score in a relationship, while understandable, is none too grown-up. "It becomes, 'I did this for you, why don't you do that for me?' " says Amy. "It's, 'I love you more than you love me.' "

In other words, says Shirley Glass, another therapist, score-keeping turns marriage into a competition.

Exactly. Haven't any of these people ever heard of the battle between the sexes?

Apparently not. Anyway, they start pelting me with all those relationship words: cooperation, trust, communication, understanding, sharing, and on and on. And just like that, I'm feeling awfully sheepish about my asset-debit ledger, about my romantic one-upmanship. It is pretty juvenile, I have to admit. Childish, really. That's not the way to regard a relationship with someone I love. As a contest. I don't have to live that way. I can be selfless. I can be generous-hearted.

I CAN BE A GROWN-UP, BY GOD!!

Suddenly, I'm feeling righteous. I'm feeling empowered, free to be a better man. Suddenly, I can't wait to rush home to my wife to unveil the new giving me, the new noble me.

But first, a stop into the drugstore for a pinkish Valentine's Day card. A little insurance can't hurt.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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