Last week I was driving through the lush hills of Tuscany on my honeymoon. I rarely get to sound this worldly, so bear with me.
In truth, I wasn’t the one driving. My husband was. Moments earlier I had attempted to drive – but within seconds I stalled the engine, threw my hands up and relinquished the keys to my partner because that’s the kind of tenacity he fell in love with.
The mental circus of operating a manual car in a foreign country went straight to my too-hard basket. Why induce sweaty palms and overseas insurance woes when he was happy to do the driving anyway?
Fast forward a few days later and we’re in Florence flitting between cathedrals and our next plate of pasta.
Although I was hands-on in planning the trip, once there I had decided it was none of my business how we actually made things happen. John’s better at reading maps anyway, so I happily took in the sights while he did the navigating.
As the days passed, I noticed he was getting a feel for this vibrant new city, conquering language barriers and public transport systems – yet I still had no clue. I had appointed myself official gelateria patrol person, constantly strolling three paces behind him and that was the extent of my personal development.
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Being a tourist isn’t brain surgery. I knew I could do what he was doing if I had to but I just…didn’t. Because he was there to do it for me.
It’s a pattern in our relationship that rears its head most noticeably when we’re travelling. When abroad, he does the heavy lifting and I’m basically on Contiki.
We jokingly call it the relationship crutch – this tendency to step aside and let the more qualified (or willing) partner do the tricky thing instead. This crutch mentality can apply to both men and women, and has the potential to spread rapidly with the right amount of sunlight and a can’t do attitude.
Consider this. In any long-term relationship, each person will inevitably nestle into defined roles according to their strengths and likes. You hate washing up? No problem, I’ll do it. I can’t stand putting the rubbish out – can that be your job?
These early negotiations seem harmless. If one person likes doing something the other doesn’t, everybody wins, right?
But what happens when we apply our crutch to more meaningful roles? When we pass up challenges that take us out of our comfort zone and help us learn more about ourselves? You know the ones we’re forced to tackle head-on when we don’t have the luxury of our other half?
Take my four-second driving career in Italy. If I was travelling with friends, I would have no choice but to swallow cement and restart the ignition. Eventually I would get the hang of the European gear stick and with that, a deep sense of accomplishment. But because my crutch was so readily available, I defaulted straight to him.
While it is tempting in the humidity of the love bubble to combine each person’s distinct strengths to create one highly skilled superhuman, when does it cross the line between mutual benefit and doing a disservice to the individual?
At what point do we stop testing our own mettle because our other half “has it covered”?
My partner is a terrific cook so I stay out of the kitchen.
Give me flour and eggs and I’ll find a way to set fire to it. With practice I know I could get better but why would I spend two hours toiling over a meal when my partner can whip something up in 30 minutes that’s 300 per cent more delicious?
Our household has already ticked the ‘good cook’ box, so where is the incentive to duplicate skills? I could spend that time learning a language! I won’t because I have Google Translate, but you know.
My partner is good with money so he handles our finances.
Arguably the most problematic crutch of all – and I suspect I’m not alone. As women, we’re constantly warned that a man is not a financial plan. But my partner is incredibly switched on when it comes to offset accounts and interest rates and capital gains and blah, blah, blah…I just fell asleep with my eyes open.
Our family and friends go to him for financial advice, so why would we not utilise his know-how to secure our own future? He knows what he’s doing. I’ve convinced myself I will “one day” get across this stuff. One day. Right after I alphabetise my cupboard.
This isn’t about burying our partner’s strengths. They should be celebrated. But perhaps we should be more mindful of these often mindless flick passes that quietly tally up in the quest for convenience.
Over time they could affect our confidence, our sense of self and even our ability to secure our own future.
Having slipped deep into crutch mode in Florence, I decided that for 24 hours I would take over all logistics (maps, tickets, transport, etc) and I couldn’t turn to my husband for help. Before long, I too was leading us down cobblestone streets, spitting out poorly executed Italian like I owned the place. Who did I think I was? Allesandra Mastronardi?! Better still, John had time to stop and smell the gelato for a change.
Every so often, when we catch ourselves deferring to our partner, let’s stop and try the tricky thing ourselves. Even if the other person could do it better. Because one day, we may turn to our crutch and find that they’re no longer in the room. Don’t worry, they’re probably just at the footy.
If nothing else, it will give the other person a well-earned break, because crutches need time to smell the gelato every once in a while too.
Jamie Wells is a 30-year-old, curly-haired, chocolate milkshake enthusiast from Brisbane. With a career to date producing commercial talkback radio and giving politicians media advice, I can usually be found nose deep in a book or ears-deep in podcasts, particularly of the No Filter and Mamamia Out Loud variety.