Men at Work

Who ever first said that relationships are work was right. But somehow, in our get-it-quick society, that concept has gotten distorted. Frankly, it has been given a bad rep. If you look at the use of the word work in an economic sense, there is currently a perception that wealthy, upper-class, “good” people don’t do hard work. There is also an perception that poor, working class people do “dirty” work. When we use the word “work” in a relationship we are implying things far beyond what we might think.

Then there is the problem of learning the difference between ‘work’ and ‘working with’. Without a doubt, the best relationships I have seen or had are the ones in which I have had to learn to work with someone. When you do things with someone like pay the bills, go on a difficult hike, take a trip, live together, share responsibilities, or even just cook together it can completely change your relationship. And for the better. Doing builds trust in a way that only fun times and words cannot.

My relationship with JJ was just a playground. The only time I can ever remember doing anything that remotely resembled working together is when I helped him buy a bed. The rest was just play. It became, at some point, a time for our relationship to develop a different level of trust that play cannot provide for. He was completely uninterested in that. He seemed to imagine that his last relationship ‘worked’ so well, but it seems to me that they played together well. I never heard him express any situations where one person needed to be responsible for or to the other. I never heard him speak of the processes he took with her to make life decisions together. In fact, what I heard was that when real life decisions needed to be made, that is when it fell apart. Committed choices, communication, compassion, flexibility – he gave me no examples of any of those.

To be perfectly fair, that is where my relationships fell apart as well. When the reality of being a full-time parent, the frustration some commitments like work can bring, when the challenges of making joint decisions rather than unilateral decisions arises, this is when relationships fail the most. Look at the data on divorce.

Of course, I don’t have any perfect answers, just observations. The answers people come up with together are uniquely their own. Other’s can give you examples, guidelines, suggestions, but ultimately it’s up to the two of you. My advise to myself and anyone else who cares to take it – don’t be intimidated by the idea of ‘work’ or ‘challenges’; don’t get caught in the trap of believing that the only benefit and satisfaction to be found in a “good” relationships is in the right now; don’t succumb to the thought of “if only they would’; be compassionate.

Work and effort should not be confused with ‘bad’,  just as food that is good for you should not be confused with ‘bad tasting’. Ultimately, it is your approach, your creativity, your understanding, your effort that allows you to cook up a dinner that is tastes good and is good for you. If you see cooking, or relationships, as too much of an effort or believe that it should all come out magically, perhaps it is because you haven’t learned how to cook. I imagine my friend, who only knows how to cook Top Ramen, trying to cook up the kind of feast that my former tenant made every night with ease. That kind of effort was a pleasure for him because he did not define it as work, but as play.

This is a dish that is easy if you have beginning to average cooking skills. I took an example from Rachael Ray and made it my own.

Bok Choi Gratin with Jalapenos and Pistachios (VG)

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4-5 baby bok choy, sliced
  • 3 cups chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded gruyere
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pistachios
  • 1/2 cup panko
In dutch oven or big pot, melt butter over medium. Add bok stems, onion and garlic; season; cook 10 minutes. Stir in flour. Add bok leaves, jalapenos and milk; cook 3 minutes. Stir in cheese and pistachios. Spread in greased 9-by-13-inch dish; top with panko and a bit more grated cheese of your choice. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly.
Note: To make this gluten free, use corn starch or rice flour to thicken. If you don’t care about vegetarian and really want to flavor it up, toss in some diced anchovies or smoked oysters.

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