I don’t remember the period of my life when my mother was trying to teach me how to share. Perhaps it is just as well. From what I have observed, little children have a strong concept of “MINE” and there is a certain amount of angst in the process of learning to let go of something you perceive as your own and letting someone else use it for a while.
This can be a very dangerous thing, you know. Sometimes you share a favorite toy and the person you let use it breaks it. I have seen this happen, the sorrow and tears are very real. The trauma… hopefully not life-long.
Sharing can be as simple as letting another child use your toy, or it can be a political-social arrangement like communal living, or it can mean commingling your assets when you marry.
I know of more than one couple who have tried married life without commingling their assets. There are a lot of studies on this subject. It is illuminating to read the lawyer’s view on property sharing in a marriage, and then go to the sites run by relationship counsellors and read their take on the matter. The New York Times put a very cogent article out about this subject not that long ago.
That goes right in line with an article I read several years ago written by a prominent relationship counsellor. He said that in his experience, 100% of the marriages that he knows about that began with a prenup wound up in divorce. His stated position was that if you wanted your relationship to work, you had to be all in. You cannot be successful in a relationship if your bags are packed; a prenup is basically your bags packed and waiting by the door.
Jim and I have always shared. As soon as we started living together, and before we even got married, we opened a joint bank account. Both of us put all our money into that account. When we got married, we also opened a joint savings account so that we could make far-reaching plans. We have always filed our taxes jointly, even though towards the beginning we performed the exercise of comparing joint filing to filing separately to see which would be more beneficial in terms of refunds. After a while, the effort of comparing just seemed to be too much, and we stopped. It never made that big a difference, anyway.
Recently Jim and I were discussing this aspect of our relationship, and his comment was “I looked at it as a vote of confidence.” We know about couples who not only did not commingle their assets, they actively worked to keep everything separately. Some of them did this to the extent that their spouses did not even know how much their income was. How is it possible to be so distrustful and secretive and call yourselves married? I don’t know.
But this distrust of people’s motives comes up in other aspects of life as well. I have known groups of people who began their lives as idealistic hippies wanting to live together in peaceful communes. They had much the same experience that the settlers at Plymouth Colony had with their communal living arrangement. There were people who drew from the communal supplies but never contributed anything to the gardening, cooking, cleaning or building.
The experience of living with such people have made the survivors very cynical. I recall being instructed by one such person many years ago that they did not want to do favors for people. Because what if they never did any for you? How would that be fair? This person could not understand how I might want to do her a favor just because I cared about her, that there was no quid pro quo implied by my actions.
And even if their was a quid pro quo, would it be so terrible to be asked to help me out sometime in the future if I needed help? If Jim died, would this person tell me to contact social services for help, to go to a professional counsellor for my grief rather than listen to me and hug me while I cried? Is this person really a friend? How do we define friends anyway?
I could go on and on, but I guess I’ll just say that when we decided to share our bank accounts, and when we decided to have one shared email account, that did not mean we were idiots. It meant we loved and trusted each other, and have no reason to keep secrets.
When we do favors for people, we do it because we love and care for them, not because we are going to present a “bill” in the future in the form of a demand for a favor in return. We are not the Mafia.
People who don’t understand these things I just feel sorry for.