Today is Irene’s 32nd birthday. It also happens to be our 7 year anniversary. I can still remember planning the Amazing Race birthday party for her 25th and how we ended up together after that day. It was a little bit of a con job on both our sides, but I am extremely fortunate to have been with such an amazing person for these 7 years. She has taught me many valuable lessons about life and relationships. Here are 7 of them.
1) Do outsource when you can
It is inevitable when you form a new household that you learn about each other’s habits. I discovered she was very messy, she discovered I had a bit of OCD – my clothes used to be arranged according to colour and type. This was not a good match. We used to have many arguments about whose turn it is to do the dishes or the laundry or the floors. We eventually learnt that we both didn’t particularly care for housework and fighting about housework was not something we enjoyed.
Enter the part-time cleaner. When you are faced with something you hate doing, you are extremely slow at doing it. You make all sorts of excuses not to start, you drag it out as long as you can. It used to take us all weekend to clean the house and do the laundry. The part-time cleaner took only 4 hours each week. It was 4 hours we happily paid for and we relished the time we gained from it.
When Zoey was around 7 months old, we found we were losing sleep because one of us was always up at 4 am doing baby/diaper laundry. On top of that, neither of us had eaten a good home cooked meal in weeks. It was clear our part-time cleaner was no longer viable and hiring a live in helper made more sense. Now we have a domestic helper. It has definitely improved our quality of life and the cost has been off set by us eating out less. It has also allowed me to work more as our helper can help watch Zoey when I go for meetings etc.
Some people insist on doing it all on their own and can’t really understand why we choose to have a helper. The reasoning is very simple. If I can hire someone to do the low value stuff so I can spend my time doing high value stuff, issn’t that a good trade off? Forcing ourselves to do all the housework would mean having less time to spend with each other and Zoey. Having a helper means we can go home, eat dinner and immediately spend quality time with Zoey. No need to cook dinner, do dishes, do laundry, wash the toilet or any of that.
Completely and utterly worth the money.
2) Don’t sweat the small stuff
In the past 7 years, we have had many fights. The biggest ones are always over the smallest things. She is unafraid to point that out. Her strategy of saying the uncomfortable truths have made me reflect on how much she means to me. Do I really care more about a stain on a t-shirt that I will kick up a big fight with her? Or can I let it go because I love her? I find loving her more important these days. While there are some things I still get annoyed about, I generally find it hard to get angry about the small stuff.
Life is too short to be angry at the people you love. It is especially not worth getting angry over a lost toy, a leaking water bottle, dirty dishes or a forgotten errand. The people we love are human. Learning to love them means learning to accept their ways. If they are going to lose a toy, make sure it’s one that can be replaced. If they are prone to forgetting to buy the milk, remind them at the appropriate time. If they are poor at listening to instructions, repeat them or write them down. Don’t let things you can prevent become fights.
The bottomline is, every time you want to fight about something, ask yourself is it worth getting divorced over. If not, don’t start.
3) Do work as a team
We don’t have a typical butch/femme relationship that many lesbian couples do. Most people assume I’m the femme in the relationship due to the way I look. Irene has a certain andro style that automatically makes her the butch. In reality, this is far from the case. We do not use gender or label norms to define our roles in our relationship. Instead, we play on each other’s strengths and weaknesses to get the best of both worlds. Due to Irene’s hearing loss, she has pretty poor balance, so I am normally the one who does things like change the light bulbs or hang the new clock. I am pretty handy with tools and will happily take apart a broken toy or appliance to try and fix it. Irene won’t mess with all that stuff, but will help to buy any parts needed. She will also do the research when we are buying something new to figure out which model is the one we need. I’m the one who will look for the best deal once we know what we are buying. On our helper’s day off, I cook, she watches Zoey.
Even the way we take care of Zoey is with the best of each of our styles. She is a lot more patient than I am, often being able to spend hours entertaining Zoey with nothing more than a balloon or the guitar. I am more results orientated and do more activities such as puzzles or colouring with Zoey. When we head to the playground, Irene is happy to run after Zoey while I take pictures and document the fun times. At the beginning of our relationship, I remember feeling resentful when I felt I was one doing more and she was doing less. However, as the years went by, I have learnt that I am better at some things so it makes sense that I am the one doing it. She will in turn support me in other ways such as holding the ladder or buying the bulb. We have achieved this balance because we do not have a pre-conceived notion of who MUST do what. We know we each have our strengths and weaknesses so we do what we do best and agree to help each other with everything else. There is no score sheet which says – I do more so you owe me this much. Instead we do everything we can to build a better relationship. I was unable to achieve this in previous relationships, but Irene has taught me that this is possible with open communication, love and trust.
We have stopped playing the blame game and instead work on helping each other do the best possible with the aim of achieving bigger and better things.
4) Don’t be afraid to say “No”
I used to always say “Yes” to everything, both personally and professionally. Personally, I care for many causes and used to volunteer too much, often at the expense of myself. On the work front, I always figured more work = more money. After we got together, Irene would often volunteer together with me, working on various crazy projects, spending our time, energy and money together. In the 2 years since Zoey was born, we have had many requests from random people for interviews and meet ups as we are one of the few out and proud lesbian parents in Singapore. Add this to the normal social commitments such as birthday parties, gatherings, play dates, we honestly didn’t have much time for ourselves, much less each other.
While I continued to steal time and energy from myself to give, she had the strength to stop and say “No.” She stopped attending events she did not have time for. She stopped volunteering for projects she couldn’t commit to. She declined requests from people left, right and centre. She also started turning down work projects, even if it meant losing additional income. This lesson did not come easy for me, but she was the one who made me realise it is ok to say “No”. When you turn someone down because you are overwhelmed, you are doing them a favour. They will find someone else to do it, that person will be able to commit to it and do it better. Now I only work on projects I have time for, I only volunteer for community movements I can commit to and we do not grant interviews to anyone unless there is a compelling reason for us to do so. We try to only do one social gathering a week and leave 1 day per weekend for resting.
Time is precious and it should be spent doing the things we are able to do. It is pointless to say “Yes” if it is going to lead to a half ass job. We have a responsibility to both ourselves and others. Only when we have taken care of ourselves can we do our best work and play.
This year we have committed to say “No” to even more things and only say “Yes” when we can really afford to.
5) Do believe in yourself
Irene has hearing loss. It did not stop her from achieving straight As in school, getting scholarships/bursaries at every level and contributing to the society. When I first met her, I could barely decipher what she was saying as I found it difficult to understand her speech. At first I thought she had a lisp. It was only later that I discovered that she has severe hearing loss. Despite this, she has utmost confidence in herself and believes she can do anything. It is her brave spirit that encourages me to try new things. If she is unafraid to play the keyboard, sing at the karaoke and speak in public, I can be brave enough to do those things as well.
Over the years, she has invested in new hearing aids, speech therapy and now the cochlear implant. We are working together to improve her hearing and speech so that she can communicate better. I am sure she will achieve her goals because of her determination.
She has taught me that you can do anything, as long as you believe in yourself.
6) Don’t say you want to break up… unless you really do.
In the first year of our relationship, I woke up after a particularly bad fight to find Irene curled up on the living room couch. She had spent the night on the couch after I had told her I was really mad, didn’t want her to sleep in the bed and that I wanted a break up. I cannot recall what the fight was about, but I can clearly remember seeing her curled up on the couch, without a pillow or blanket. When I woke her up and asked why she was on the couch, she said it was because she thought we were really breaking up and she was too sad.
I’ve never said I wanted to break up again.
When I had said it back then, it was in anger and I didn’t really mean it. She didn’t know that and she took it seriously. That morning she looked me in the eye and asked me to please never say that I want to break up unless I meant it. I broke her heart and I never want to do it again. So now whenever we fight, I constantly remind myself that it is a fight, but I still love her, she still loves me and our relationship should never be used as an ultimatum. We have both invested way too much in this marriage to break it up over who forgot to switch off the lights. We do still have our moments and more often than not, it is me who gets so angry I lose sight of why we are together. However, I always manage to remind myself that I don’t want to break our family up.
We also have an agreement in place that should either of us ever feel our marriage is over, we will voice it out and agree to part ways instead of dragging it out or wait for a third party to enter the picture and escalate the break up. Should that ever happen, our priority will be Zoey and any other children we may have.
We may not always be a couple, but we will always be family.
7) Do love truly, madly, deeply
The most important lesson my wife has taught me in this seven years, is how to love. She has loved me in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth. She nursed me when I was constantly in and out of the hospital, unafraid to clean up the messes I made and stayed with me on the uncomfortable sofa bed. We’ve been through rough times together, making tough decisions on which bills to pay. Through it all, she has reminded me that we are equals in this relationship. No matter how crappy life is, we can get through it together because we are there to support each other.
She has been my pillar of support, my personal cheerleader, my punching bag, my harshest critic and greatest advocate. She is unafraid to point out my mistakes, always loving me despite how awful I am to her sometimes. She has grown our love from a little spark into a big bonfire by feeding it with patience, understanding and fearlessness.
For that, I am thankful.
Happy birthday my dearest wife. I love you. 🙂
P/S: Her favourite number is 7. HEHE.