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There are precious few times I feel confident giving relationship advice. Mostly because it's not my cup of tea and I'm hardly an expert, theoretically or practically. So this isn't advice, it's just observations of the last decade.
Which means questions like what did you do right, or what you should have done, or what were the success factors, all remain rather opaque to me, as they have been my whole life. But what I did have a view of is whether or not the time I’ve spent with someone has made me better in some ways. I feel that at least is a more tangible question. Not only that it’s somewhat better since the impact someone else has on you feels a pretty profound statement on them too, and an inarguable one.
So, considering it’s been ten years of our marriage, I wanted to do that. The best gift I could think of to tell someone how they actually made me better. So here are a few that I’m thankful for.
Harnessing my inner OCD to good use
When I met her among other things I had approximately 8000 unread emails in my inbox. Today I have multiple folders and zero unread. While in itself this isn’t all that impressive, what it means for the broader power of harnessing one’s addictions is extremely powerful.
I've always been OCD about some things. Starting a book and needing to finish it. Stepping on paved stones since I started obsessively putting things on calendar, like taking a huge load off my shoulders and onto the god of scheduling.
My wife’s the main reason I even considered this as a possible competitive advantage. Not to mention I skip far fewer things since I started obsessively putting things on calendar, like taking a huge load off my shoulders and onto the god of scheduling.
This has been extraordinarily useful both professionally and personally. Professionally because its the only reason I did well in places like consulting, and personally because it’s the only reason I have even the semblance of a functioning social life.
In most things in life I'm mostly the guy who shirks confrontation, who expects 60% is close enough to 100% to not be worth worrying about too much. Someone who satisfices in other words. For instance when we book a hotel or buy a meal , my assumption is that it’ll probably be fine and not really according to what we'd pre agreed.
This is also true when dealing with the post office, web designers, trying to get the house cleaned, buying furniture, pretty much the entire modern existence.
My wife on the other hand, completely unironically, expects things to get done the right way. If someone has committed to doing a job, especially if they have agreed to the standard to which it needs to be done, she is consistently flabbergasted when the world doesn't live up to either her, or its own, ideals.
I don’t want to say I’ve become a perfectionist. Far from it. But I have indeed happily received the fruits of this tendency, and occasionally at least improved my standards somewhat, from complete sloven sloppiness to something resembling “acceptable in public” standards.
Seeing my peace loving world-kindness wife get really angry mad at Putin and crying for those caught in war (incl some of her team) this morning was a thing, and reminded me of this again.
This is something that has changed in me in the last decade of us being together. I take kindness far more seriously than I used to. Feeling another's pain used to be suppressed, like all young men I suppose, but it's something I've realised the value of, and that's thanks to her.
On the same note, I’ve never been much of a family person. Growing up it often seemed an obligation more than a pleasure, compared to books or even friends. It wasn’t something I was particularly keen on, nor was it something that I actively sought out.
I moved away for college at 17 and since then this was something I barely thought of as useful or interesting, much less something that’s likely to come my way.
But this is again something I have a new perspective on. The idea that there can be a self reinforcing loop of people around you is no longer anathema, but just the way things are!
Just bloody doing things: being unafraid hard work
In my more coding friendly days I remember clearly that my approach to almost anything involving a certain degree of drudge work was to try and automate it, and spend 5x as much time doing a kind of ok job. I can dress it up as much as I'd like but it's basically not wanting to do some types of work.
One of the many traits I don't share with Elon Musk is that he seems supremely unafraid of hard work and I'm congenitally suspicious of it. For instance if I were to look at Tesla and say “hey listen, if we make this engine and all associated parts, and first build this supercar so we get money to make this other car to make money to make this other affordable car” it'd look like a hell of a lot of work and I'd keel over at the list itself, much less the actual work.
So here I don't mean the probability of success. I just mean that it's like looking at a to-do list that's a million items long, with another million slots that have TBD scribbled in which are problems you'll have to sort if you're lucky enough to get there.
I look at a to-do list like that and sideswipe that entire enterprise. My wife looks at that list and goes “yeah ok what's first”.
It should be said that in a decade I haven't picked up this knack. But I have picked up the ability to at least ask myself if the hard way is worth trying. And this is progress (according to me anyway).
A nice side effect has been that I at least try to do my taxes these days.
None of these things were small, neither were they transitory. When you’ve been together for a decade its hard to remember the person you used to be. The counterfactuals of what could've been become murky, and maybe even a value judgement on your whole personality. But the best part about being with someone who makes you better is that even if you don’t remember everything there’s enough left over to see the curve lifting upwards.
Being as we've been married for a decade I feel pretty confident in this being the case. And it's not because she's smart, or hot, or kind, or a remarkably patient wife and mum, though she is all those things. It's because I get to improve daily when I hang out with her.
Honestly I’d take that again in a heartbeat.
[Update: Wife loved this, but also found couple typos in the essay. She’s also unimpressed with the picture I chose, though recognises that it could only have been thus.]