The other day, when I wanted to write, I tried a computer program called Freedom that blocks access to the Internet. You set the amount of time you want to be free from it, and then a green screen pops up and says, “You Are Free.” I have to say that the moment that green screen popped up, I felt a little space open up in my chest. A little what? A space that relaxed? Like a hole? This reminds me of a sphincter. Sphincter is a word I like. It’s a great word. It’s such an evocative word, almost onomatopoetic.
Anyway, the sphincter in my chest relaxed. Yes, I am equating my heart with an asshole, because that is the sphincter that springs to mind when I see the word. There are other sphincters, but let’s be honest, they are not top of the list. Partly because butts are funny. Funny and gross. And because my sense of humor, another top quality, apparently, is on par with your average kindergartener’s. Also, because I don’t really know anatomy, so I don’t really know where those other sphincters are.
I just like writing that word. Sphincter.
Anyway, freedom from screendom with Freedom. When I sit down to write, or really any old time, I do spend too much time checking and scrolling and not writing. The phone affects me like a reflex. I just check and scroll, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email. email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You get it. You probably do it yourself. It’s a horror show. There is no space. No release. I was talking to another grown up person the other day—okay, it was my esthetician, Ruth, who is amazing, and everyone should have an esthetician and get facials. Just the facial massage is worth the time and money—anyway, we were talking about the way social media just squeezes your life. When we were growing up, we had freedom from peers that our children do not have, because they are always on social media. Back then, it was a relief to get away from the intensity and scrutiny of them by them. Sure, we had telephones. We were attached to these cords that were stuck to these things on the wall. and sometimes we didn’t even have those phones in our rooms. Maybe we could stretch the cord to the basement steps, or maybe there was an extension in the attic or whatever. But you could get away. There was a little space. A little relaxation. The sphincter of life released. Nowadays, it’s constant.
So then, later, I took a shower, and there was a fresh bar of soap in the soap dish. This gave me a new sense of release. And then guilt. And insight into my marriage and goal setting. Afterwords, I said to the husband, I hope you don’t get annoyed that you’re always the one who gets the new bar of soap for the shower. But the thing is, if I see a sliver of soap left, I am going to use it. Because I feel obligated to use every last bit of it.
Maybe my epigenetics were affected by my father growing up in the Depression, but whatever the reason, I am going to use up that last sliver of soap. So if the husband wants a fresh bar before the last sud is gone, he is going to have to get it.
And, secretly, I am relieved when he does, because it’s much nicer to soap up with a big bar of soap than a pebble sized one.
This is the way we complement one another. Or irritate the hell out of one another. Depends on the day.
I think I have to credit Gretchen Rubin with being my source for the research that shows that in couples, each partner usually overestimates the amount of work they contribute and underestimates the amount their partner contributes to the working of things.
So with that in mind, I let my guilt sphincter relax when there’s a new bar of soap in the shower, because I imagine the husband both resents me and also feels superior every time he gets a new bar. And then my guilt sphincter tightens right back up again, because that is the nature of a sphincter (and of me and guilt), because I suspect that while he might overestimate what he gives to the relationship, I know I must also do so, and therefore. Well. The point is that sometimes you have to work out stuff like this. By accepting that I am just not capable of giving myself (and thereby also) the husband a new bar of soap until the very last bit of the old one is gone. And there is a reason.
Here’s the thing about soap. It relates to goal-setting. According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D, (HGH, Ph.D) author of Succeed: How We can Reach Our Goals, and whose work I have discussed several times, people approach goals with one of two orientations, prevention or promotion. The prevention oriented person is focused on stopping bad things from happening: being taken advantage of; wastefulness; loss of money. The promotion oriented person is focused on potential benefits: improved efficiency; what you have to gain.
Now, the husband, when he steps into the shower, is about taking a nice, hot, sudsy shower. So for him, a fresh bar of soap fulfills his goal. Whereas I am always—always—going to use that bar of soap down to the last sud. There is no way Dove is going to get me to throw away perfectly good soap splinters. Left to my own devices, I am going to, in fact, collect soap splinters in a soap dish, mash them all together into a sort of soap mound and thereby eke out every last sud. And take that, Unilever. Suck it.
“Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage table.”
This is my favorite quotation from Hamlet. It’s about how quickly Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, shacked up with her husband’s brother after her husband’s demise. It’s a wonderful example of irony. I love to quote it, almost as much as I love to quote from “Auntie Mame.” And I use these words to point out that, thank goodness, I have the husband to get me a new bar of soap. Because let me assure you, it’s no fun to shower with a splinter. It’s a wonderful relief whenever I get in the shower and find a fresh bar of soap. That was not my decision, but I can benefit from it. Thank you, Husband. In this way, the sphincter of life releases a little.
But my point about goals is this. The tendency we have towards goals is one or the other of these.You guessed it, Clever Readers, these orientations are basically pessimistic and optimistic. This is good news and bad news, depending on the goal you have. Some goals lend themselves more to a prevention strategy, and some more to a promotion strategy. When you have a creative goal, for example, says HGH, Ph.D, you want to approach it with a promotion a goal—don’t worry about mistakes. However, when you need something to be perfect, say, a bridge you’re constructing, then you need to be prevention-focused. More good news is that we are not always either promotion or prevention focused, and we can adjust our thinking depending on the goal.
So, some goals are prevention goals. Some are promotion goals. Some can be looked at both ways. Like using soap. Or buying a car. Buying a car involves both promotion and prevention. The promotion part is getting a newer, more updated, more fun, prettier vehicle. The prevention part is getting a safer, more reliable, updated vehicle. And yes, the husband and I recently bought a new car. I was able to get over the loss of money in the bank, and the husband was able to achieve a new vehicle without having to test drive twelve different brands, as I intended, to make sure we had considered everything and weren’t being totally taken advantage of. Which I am sure we were, once we decided on a car we both liked. But now, we have it, and I can just enjoy it. Relief. Sphincter release.
Sadly, I am not the thoroughgoing optimist I would like to be. Because, honest and true, optimists have more fun, tend to see what they might gain from a situation, a goal, or a decision, rather than fester and fear what they might lose or miss, and get to enjoy a fresh bar of soap on the regular. On the other hand, they might overspend on a car and waste precious soap. They might possibly be cleaner than pessimists, thanks to all those suds, but I’ll take you to the mat on that one.