Unexpected Links

For many years now, S.O. and I have worked with each other to achieve financial stability and success. I buy or borrow many books on both finances and on personal issues in an unending quest to face my own foibles, improve my people skills, and increase my financial acumen. S.O. frequently reads them, also. S.O. tends to handle the more people-related matters of our household because I, frankly, am bad at them.

I have had a personal financial balance sheet for many years. I use it to track monthly expenses, predict future financial famine, predict future financial plenty, and maintain an overview of current status. It has allowed me – with S.O.’s invaluable input – to navigate our financial ship of state through several crises, and put us on a course that we expect will lead to stability and comfort.

This is “monologing”, yes? From the movie, _The Incredibles_?

S.O. has, on numerous occasions, requested copy of this balance sheet for S.O.’s own use. I have provided such, along with the best encouragement and advice that I know how. My encouragement and support in this endeavor is whole-hearted; with the addition of month-to-month tracking of S.O.’s finances combined with the prediction abilities, we can sail our financial ship more accurately and safely. We might even be able to upgrade from a rowboat to a sloop. However, over the course of these years, S.O. has never filled out a personal balance sheet.

There is another matter that we did not realize was linked: In our rock pile, we have a kitchen desk with a number of wooden cubbies. Neatly taped above each cubby, in S.O.’s elegant handwriting, is a name – one for each member of our household. Our mail goes here, divvied up for the labeled individual to process however he, she, or it thinks best. When I get home, I empty my cubby and sort through the mail – needs immediate attention, read on the weekend, and shred. I typically open the letters, scan them quickly, and write a due date on the envelope prior to placing it in the appropriate processing location next to my computer.

S.O.’s cubby rarely gets emptied. In fact, when I get the mail to sort, I often have to fold, contort, or jam the mail into S.O.’s cubby.

These two seemingly unrelated facts that came to a crashing head one weekend.

Unable to put any more mail in S.O.’s cubby, fearing that bills were going unpaid that would undermine or sabotage our efforts, and finally just tired of the stuff piling up, I grabbed the whole mess, set it in S.O.’s lap on the couch, and gave voice to a Request That Shall Be Fulfilled Right Now, Dangit. (If you, gentle reader, are of the gender persuasion known as “male” or “knuckle-dragger”, you should know that this is a dangerous, potentially life-threatening, undertaking if your S.O. is of the gender persuasion known as “female”, “Lady Mistress Of All I Survey”, or “One Who Dictates Sleeping Arrangements”. On the chance that your S.O. is not of a “traditional” demeanor, please take a moment to consider on which side of the knuckle-dragger/One Who Dictates Sleeping Arrangements spectrum he or she tends to fall – and take all reasonable steps to ensure it doesn’t fall on you. If, somehow, this bit of knowledge has escaped you during your upbringing, You Have Been Warned.)

Pookah will now proceed… no, *run*, to the hidey-hole under the bed. Pookah gently reminds blog readers of human’s statement near the top about people-related matters.

S.O., who was quite busy at that time with other matters gravely important, was not amused. I Insisted. The mail had been piling up for months. In addition, I wanted all the financial documents in there so that *I* could fill out S.O.’s personal balance sheet. S.O. was very unhappy – all out of proportion to the request, I thought. But I had Insisted. It needed to be done. I was NOT going to let it go any longer. I would not allow our financial ship to founder due to easily-corrected neglect.

With great reluctance and trepidation, S.O. went through the accumulated stuff. Much of it went into the shredder. Some of it was credit card offers that may be suitable for stoozing (a fact that raised S.O.’s opinion of the effort, since it proved that S.O. really *was* succeeding). Still others were handed over for scanning into the computer and entry on the personal balance sheet. I proceeded to scan and enter the data, letting the numbers percolate through well-tested formulae to spit out understandable and useful results.

Is it safe for Pookahs to come out now?

My first clue that all was not well within our pile of rocks was S.O. hovering behind me, blocking the light. This required three requests, of varying emotional intensity, to kindly move out of the way and let me finish, Dangit.

Not safe.

My second clue was my two requests, again of varying emotional intensity, interspersed between the aforementioned requests concerning light blockage, to please stop asking me questions while I’m trying to enter lots of fiddly numbers. I would be happy to answer, and ask, questions afterwards, Dangit.

With all the numbers entered in and double-checked, I then started asking S.O. for additional information. Where financial statements were not available, I asked for conservative estimates (low on the income, high on the debts) and noted them as such. I also started answering questions about what I was doing and why.

The net result of my efforts were two-fold.

First, S.O.’s finances were in MUCH better shape than S.O. had thought. By a large margin.

Second, S.O. suddenly realized why S.O. hadn’t made a personal balance sheet before, and why S.O. didn’t clean out the cubby.

It was very simple: Fear. S.O. was afraid that all the effort over the last TEN YEARS to get the personal finances under control was a failure. S.O. was afraid that getting regular control over the overflowing mail would show this fear as true. S.O. was afraid that creating and maintain a personal balance sheet would show S.O.’s efforts as a complete failure. S.O. was afraid that I’d find all this out, thus proving once and for all that S.O. was an incompetent fraud. S.O. had all those little tape recorders silently whispering in S.O.’s brain about failure, lies, failure, uselessness, and failure. So S.O. avoided facing the notices, financial statements, and other information necessary for creating a personal balance sheet. Problem solved by taking a short-cut. Not. The fear was slowly poisoning and weakening our relationship. The poison would only grow and get worse until we did something about it.

With the information and estimates available, S.O.’s fears were shown as phantoms. S.O. *had* changed the personal finance habits. Now we had numbers to prove it. (Even if S.O.’s fears were shown as true, the problems would now be out in the open, where we BOTH could work on them.)

I *could* have gotten angry. I *could* have yelled about all the time spent dithering back and forth over this matter. I *could* have gnashed my teeth, torn out my hair, and covered myself with ashes.

Yeah. All of that would have been useless drama. Drama is too much of a drain on life. If I want drama, I’ll rent a movie.

Instead, I looked on all of this as a learning journey. It was all time, emotion, and energy well-spent, if S.O. learned something new and grew because of it. I know I learned and understand more about S.O., I know that S.O. learned more about S.O., and I am PROUD that S.O. is a part of my life!

We’ll see how S.O. fares with gathering up those last three months of e-statements so we can finish filling out the personal balance sheet. That will be a real test of facing one’s own fears.

This particular problem is not over. It’s a habit that S.O. has spent years building. It will take time to tear it down and build something better in its place. And I’ve got my own work cut out for me, too: Remembering to be patient because not everyone (including S.O.) approaches problems the way I do. Remembering that it is far, far, FAR easier to see another person’s problems clearly than it is to see your own problems clearly. Even if that problem is whacking you in the face with a 2 x 4.

The moral of this story is: Sometimes you need to act like a knuckle-dragger and beat on those useless tapes until they shut up, break, and let you live your own life.

(You can come out now, Pooks. It’s safe.)

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