Love Slack

Leave room – for no good reason.

– from Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Can Mean So Much


Finished the book! And I have to say that it is one of the most influential and thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. In fact, while I really enjoyed the audio book, I’m going to be going back and getting the text version so that I can highlight things (seriously, they need to come up with a way to highlight – and annotate – audio books). With an entire book about scarcity, though, you might ask if there was anything in there about abundance? And how to cultivate it?

There is, a little, but the authors point out that in their research one of the indicators is that abundance itself is one of the prime instigators of scarcity. Like the Cornucopia from The Hunger Games, abundance is dangerous. It is during times of plenty that we lose sight of the things that we will need later on. We spend rather than save, we procrastinate rather than do. Without a deadline, students tend to put things off forever – and even when given the opportunity to set their own deadlines, they tend to misjudge or simply schedule badly the time they need to get their work done.

The studies are in, and they overwhelmingly show that humans in general tend to “undervalue the effect of shocks” as the authors put it. It’s not terribly likely that I’ll get in a car accident; or that I’ll get sick; or that I’ll suddenly lose a client. None of those things individually is likely to happen, so I don’t feel the need to plan for it terribly much. What I might lose track of is the fact that while the odds of any one thing happening can be low, the odds of something happening is actually pretty good – and any one of those things has the potential to derail my sweet serene life, if I don’t have the slack to handle the shock.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

I know, it’s Friday, and you’re wondering when I’m going to get around to talking about Love. I’m getting there, I promise!

Remember that scarcity as a phenomenon is not limited by class, wealth, health, or anything – if you’re human, then at some point you’ve felt the pressure and the need for something. The big difference lies in how much slack you have to deal with the stress, as well as what kind of “buffer” you’ve built to shield you from the consequences of failure. If I have a flat tire and don’t have AAA or the money for a tow, I’m going to likely get a ticket, possibly have to borrow money, as well as figure out how to pay for the car to be taken out of impound (and then fixed). If, on the other hand, I have AAA or comprehensive insurance, a flat tire is nothing more than a delay in wherever I was going – and even then I may have built in the “slack” of leaving early enough to account for accidents.

When you’re in a loving relationship, you’re going to have “shocks” like the flat tire. Bumps that will happen. It may be something directly related to your relationship – a misunderstanding, a disagreement, jealousy – or it may be a side effect of scarcity somewhere else in life. Stressed about the bills, you snap at your spouse. Trying to finish a report for the boss, you tell the kid “Not now! I don’t have time!” That’s where you find out if you have enough love slack.

Because if you don’t, then that disagreement can very easily turn into a fight, or a grudge that’s held forever. That agitated Not now! becomes an internalized valuation that the child carries with them. On the other hand, if you’ve put enough slack and buffers into your love, when this kind of thing happens it is understood for what it is: a momentary blip in an otherwise strong and caring relationship.

What does slack in a relationship look like? It looks like having a conversation over dinner instead of watching TV. It looks like getting someone a card, or bringing them their favorite candy just because you value them. It looks like creating space for the two (or more) of you for no good reason.

It also looks like learning communication skills, like how to apologize, how to rephrase what you hear and what you say to get to mutual understanding, and to respond rather than react. These are the buffers that will get you through the shocks. If you don’t have them, you’re putting your relationship in danger. Because the shocks will come. What remains after they’ve passed is up to you.

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