As I make my way through The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (yes, I’m still reading it — my summer has been hectic!), I can’t help but notice the relationship dynamics between the various characters. While the book focuses heavily on the cultural differences between four aging Chinese mothers and their Americanized daughters, I was especially drawn to the relationships between the daughters and their significant others. In particular, I noticed an interesting contrast between two of the marriages in the book, and this made me think more about how we handle our relationships in reality.
The first of these two marriages that we learn about is that of Rose Hsu Jordan and her husband Ted. The couple falls in love after Ted’s racist family disapproves of his non-white girlfriend and he feels the urge to rescue her. And thus the relationship is based on this damsel-in-distress mentality: “With imagined tragedy hovering over us, we became inseparable, two halves creating the whole: yin and yang. I was victim to his hero. I was always in danger and he was always rescuing me. I would fall and he would lift me up. It was exhilarating and draining. The emotional effect of saving and being saved was addicting to both of us. And that, as much as anything we ever did in bed, was how we made love to each other: conjoined where my weaknesses needed protection.”
During their marriage, Rose relies on Ted for all of the major decisions until things begin to fall apart. Once Ted experiences his own misfortune, the relationship takes a toll for the worse (ultimately ending in divorce), and Rose must finally forge her own path and make her own decisions.
The other marriage I want to focus on is that of Lena St. Clair and her husband, Harold Livotny. Throughout Lena’s description of hers and Harold’s relationship, she continually refers to them as equals, and their relationship seems extremely analytical. They move in together because of some practicality, all romance aside, and once they get married, they keep a list of who has paid for what groceries and household items. They even split their mortgage proportionally based on their salaries, and keep track of everything they can in order to remain “equal.” Ultimately, this too leads to their marriage’s demise.
So here we have two (albeit fictional) relationships: one that is completely unequal and the other that is nearly exact. One relies heavily on extreme emotions and the other is logical and has no frills. And yet, both relationships ultimately suffer because of the equality (or lack thereof) of the people in them. Where can we find the perfect balance?
The same theme popped up again when I was watching the final episode of Sex and the City last week (I could tell you that my sister forced me to watch it, but in all honesty, it’s my latest guilty pleasure). From what I gathered in the episode, Carrie’s boyfriend du jour, Aleksander Petrovsky, is a Russian artist who asks her to live with him in Paris as his career takes off. However, after Carrie skips out on dinner plans with French fans of her book in order to support Petrovsky at his show, the artist more or less blows her off later that evening. It is there that she decides that she can’t sacrifice her whole self for a man who won’t give up anything for her.
Relationships have their give-and-take, but do they really have to be about sacrifice? — Tweet this!
How healthy can a relationship possibly be if both sides are only keeping track of what the other has done for them? Of course we can’t expect to rescue or be rescued constantly, but surely we shouldn’t have to keep lists the way Lena and Harold do, either. While I think we should strive to be as equal as possible in what we provide each other, I don’t think it necessarily has to involve money, but rather our time, support and other assets. I also don’t think we should keep track of such things so closely, but rather we should do what feels right. In other words, if your boyfriend visits all of your art shows, you should want to be his biggest cheerleader when he’s performing in his open mic nights. Show each other that you appreciate the things you do for one another. Don’t take it for granted, and don’t take advantage either.
Where do you find that perfect balance?