Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I’ve been with my girlfriend for about a year and recently she has made a big deal about wanting me to start coming along to her work events. Basically, she pretty frequently attends fancy dinners, where people dress up and bid on auction items, and sometimes dance. These things are never shorter than three hours. To put it simply, I hate them.
I hate being stuck at the table and having to make small talk with her coworkers. I hate having to put on the only suit I own, which is pretty old and doesn’t even really fit any more. She suggested I buy a new one; she obviously doesn’t realize that’s way outside of my budget right now. I hate that three hours or more of my weekend is spent at these things. I hate the photo booths, and the long speeches, and the tribute videos they show. Pretty much the only time I enjoy any part of these things is if there are free drinks — which is rare. I even hate looking at the cool silent auction items because frankly I can’t afford any of it.
I’ve told her I just don’t enjoy myself. She says that’s not the point, that it’s her obligation and that as her partner, it’s really important to her that I go. I honestly think she’d have more fun if she brought a girlfriend along. Can I get out of this?
Being in a relationship is all about often doing things we don’t want to do. For example, did I want to spend this past Sunday watching nine hours of football? No! But I did. Because it makes my partner happy, and it’s important to him that I spend time with him and watch football with him.
There is in fact research that suggests this very thing — giving our attention to things that matter to our partner — is at the very heart of a successful union. Psychologist John Gottman of New York City’s The Gottman Institute has made a career researching why some couples remain together. He found that we make “bids” for our partner’s attention when we ask them to pay attention to something, listen to something, or do something; partners who readily turn toward their partner when this bid is made and are willing to put aside their own business on average enjoy longer, happier relationships.
Contrarily, when we ignore what our partner wants — say, we keep reading that article on our phone, or we don’t look up from the TV, or we simply decide we’d rather skip the dinner — we’re creating an environment where our partner feels ignored and less important. The Atlantic published a great article about Gottman’s findings called “Masters of Love” that summarily suggests kindness and generosity go a long way in keeping love alive.
Sounds obvious, perhaps, but clearly we all need reminding — like when I’m watching football, or you’re halfway through the chicken entrée at one of your girlfriend’s boring work dinners. The thing is, for some reason, these events are important to her, and it’s important you’re there with her. So can you get out of it? Maybe. Are your frustrations and feelings understandable? Completely. But if you want to make your gal happy, and engage in behavior that will statistically strengthen your chance of long-term success, you’ve got to suck it up and sacrifice a few hours of an occasional weekend.
Ah, the special event chicken plate. Reason enough to dread going to those parties … Hey, at least there’s dessert: usually a slice of cake with three layers of inch-thick frosting that turn to concrete at the bottom of your tummy for the rest of the weekend.
Sacrifice is certainly a critical element to any harmonious relationship and keeps your partner confident in knowing they still rank No. 1 on your People That You Love list. But sacrifice is also a two-way street — if not, the balance of the relationship is all off-kilter. And it seems to me like you’re the only one taking one for the team right now.
She loves these events; you can’t stand them. Should you go to some with her? Of course; it’s important to her, which means, as her main squeeze, it should be important to you too. Should she expect you to go to every single one? Heck no; it’s brutal for you, which means, as her main squeeze, she’s got to appreciate that and let you slide every once in a while.
So how about a little compromise? You look at the calendar of events together and sort out which ones are most important to her and interesting to you — the ones you go to — and which ones aren’t so important or interesting — she brings a girlfriend or rolls with her work crew. This isn’t a 1-for-1 tradeoff — these parties are her jam, after all — but it should be fair for everyone.
And what’s the point of going to a party if you aren’t having fun? So when you attend, you dress nice, be friendly, bust a few moves, tell everyone how much you enjoyed that chicken, and have some genuine good times. And when you aren’t around, she commits to enjoying herself and her new company, too. That should make gala season more enjoyable for everyone.