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Hax: Dispute may point to a bigger issue

You need to focus on the real problem in the relationship

Q: Recently my girlfriend helped edit my resume, and she suggested I remove a statement that reflected my good multitasking skills. She claimed that I am actually a bad multitasker because I completely tune her out when I am watching television or listening to the radio.

She believes that adept multitaskers could carry on a conversation with people next to them, and also pay attention to a television or radio program. I do not think the definition of multitasking includes observing every last distraction in one's surrounding environment.

Ostensibly, the reason this all came up is because my girlfriend thinks I should listen to everything she says even if she is interrupting my programs. She said I should give priority to a live speaker over a box. Can you shed some light on any of these issues?

Good Multitasker and Focused Listener

A: Tell her you'll strike the multitasking claim if she strikes "effective communicator" from her resume.

Kidding, kidding. I just viewed the mental video of the two of you bickering, and escalation is not the answer.

Instead, it would be useful if you both stopped this nitpicking by proxy, and just talked about what's bothering you — or figured out that breaking up is an effective remedy to dating people you don't, in fact, like.

For example, she says: "It really annoys me when you tune me out when you're watching TV. I think priority should go to a live speaker over a box."

He says: "I would argue that the TV can't stop and wait for you, but you can stop and wait for a commercial or timeout. I'll be happy to give you my full attention then."

They say: Deal. Then you concentrate on a resume that reflects your professional life, not your personal one.

The conventional wisdom on compromise is that it's a necessary element of sharing your life with someone. No two people align perfectly, the theory goes, so something somewhere has to give.

But I would argue compromise serves a much deeper, more valuable role in its absence. It tells you right away when something substantial is wrong.

Back to your TV/radio scene. Reconciling your two viewpoints here is so easy — she picks her moments carefully, you respond kindly — that a failure to reconcile them is a flare. (Full disclosure: My bias is firmly against interrupters. If the dialogue weren't worth hearing, I wouldn't be watching the show.)

What the flare is about, I can't say without being there; maybe one of you is rigid to preserve a fragile ego, maybe you do little else besides watch TV, maybe she interrupts you just as a bid for attention, maybe you insist upon absolute silence when you don't even care much about the program, maybe she's mad about something else and uses this to express her anger — the possibilities far exceed my word count.

Whatever the specifics, though, the general truth is the same: You are two "me's," not a "we." Whether you choose to resolve it by lightening up, learning to communicate, getting help or by breaking up, making the right choice demands an understanding of why you have your own backs, but not each other's — and whether that will ever change.

Hax: Dispute may point to a bigger issue 07/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:55pm]
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