Putting In Work

I don’t write much here that doesn’t involve writing, or my life with J, and this post will include those things, but it’s going to start out by saying that I have a little brother. I don’t talk about my brother often here (maybe not ever before now). But he’s almost twelve years younger than me (I’m 40). We have the same parents, but weren’t raised in the same manner and our personalities and inner make-ups are wildly different. Some of it’s the actual years in which we’ve been alive (history, pop culture reference), some of it was my parents’ financial situation during those years (they were more well established and secure financially for my brother’s life than mine), the influence of other people in our lives (my grandparents, who practically raised me, were dead before my brother had real memories). And some of it is (unfortunately) really pronounced gender norms. Whatever the reason(s), my brother isn’t used to having to work for anything. ANYTHING. So any kind of effort seems like a big deal to him.
He got engaged in late July, and he moved in with his fiancee in October. Neither of them has ever lived alone, and he lived with my parents up to and including the day he moved out. He and this woman he’s set to marry have only recently starting spending significant time together, just the two of them. And he’s also newly acquired his first full time job. He’s finding himself exhausted after dinner each night, often just falling asleep, knowing this is hurting his fiancee’s feelings. 

My brother confided this in my parents…that he didn’t want to hurt his bride-to-be’s feelings (good!), but he was feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility and effort a real job and a real relationship (things he’s complained openly for years that he wanted) required (not so good, probably).
‘It’s a lot of work,’ he said, in full sincerity and some astonishment, like he thought everything would just be easy because his life has been pretty easy up to this point. When my mom relayed this conversation to me, I laughed out loud at, ‘It’s a lot of work.’ I didn’t mean to. It was an involuntary response. Then I told the entire story to J later, who didn’t laugh out loud, but repeated, ‘It’s a lot of work,’ as a running gag for the rest of that weekend, after say, opening a beer or changing the TV channel.
I wasn’t really making fun of my brother, and I don’t think J was either. I think we were just amused thinking about how ‘work’ applies in our own lives. And particularly, I was thinking about how often people seem to think relationships with people they love don’t require work, and also, how often they claim the relationships with people they love feel like work.  

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Healthy relationships ARE a lot of work. I put a lot of effort into being J’s wife and our boy’s mother, and the best friend I can be. And I know J puts his best effort into everything he does, and his top priorities are our son and me, and also being a good friend. I put a lot of effort into my writing and J puts a lot of effort into his career, and we put effort into maintaining our home and possessions as well, and everyone seems to understand THAT work: building a skill set or a reputation or an audience for a career goal; painting a room, cleaning an oven, changing the oil in a car. People seem to grasp that effort in a job or to maintain STUFF is necessary, but so many people seem to view their interpersonal relationships as things that should be effortless. Which makes zero sense to me, because human relations are much more complex than following the directions in an owner’s manual or cookbook or changing a burned out light bulb. And the stakes are higher and the rewards are so much greater when you put in the work. The thing is though? The effort I put into my relationships with my friends, and my son, and especially J doesn’t *feel* like work to me. And because of his wry joking that weekend, I know J doesn’t feel that way either. I’m not a chore. Our family isn’t a chore. In fact, J said something that stuck with me, when we both had a moment of chuckling about, ‘It’s a lot of work…’ and both agreed we should stop laughing about that before we inadvertently joked about it in front of my brother. J said, ‘<My brother> must not count what he gets from that work as a pay off. I do. I’ve always thought ‘worth it, without question,’ myself.’

So yes, I believe there’s a lot of truth in the adage, ‘Everything worth anything takes work.’ Relationships take effort and care to make them work and make them last, for sure, particularly romantic relationships. But the rewards for that work are certainly worth the endeavor. I intellectually know I’m putting in ‘work’ for J every day, and he’s putting in ‘work’ for me. But it doesn’t *feel* like work (at least not to me; and I sure hope not to him either). I mentioned today’s love song in my novel, Admission, and putting in the work for a relationship is a big reason why I included it; why I thought about it regarding Nick and Stephanie. I think it’s a song about being willing to put in the work for the long haul, but it doesn’t FEEL like ‘putting in work’ when it’s the right person you’re working with. It’s Safetysuit’s Never Stop.

I sincerely hope all of you are currently in or soon find relationships (whether those are romance, friendship, career, or family) that make the work worth it; that make it not feel like work.

Admission is on sale in ebook format for $.99 per copy through February 13.

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