On love and the price of admission

{Photograph by the lovely Kyle Hepp}

My partner is a really lovely person. He’s intelligent, funny, and kind and he possesses many other impressive character traits such as being a good speller. We’ve been together for 17 years.

Every once in a while, however, he does something that makes me absolutely crazy. (Perhaps you can relate!)

He leaves his dirty dishes beside the sink instead of in it. He thinks that our gorgeous teak dining room table is an extension of our filing cabinet – just way easier to use.  The idea of hanging his clothes up after he’s taken them off is completely foreign to him.

Listen, there are more of these little annoyances but I’m not going to list them here because:
a) you and I don’t really know each other very well yet
b) you already get the idea and
c) because he is so lovely that anyone who actually knows us is now thinking (or shouting), “Monna… come on!”

And that (item c) is exactly the point. I’m quite confident that some of my habits and preferences drive him to a place of deep distraction. I sleep in the middle of the bed, no matter how large (or small) that bed is and, apparently, I hog the blankets. Sometimes I think I can read his mind so I’ll tell him exactly what he’s thinking… I am often wrong. I want to plan every trip months in advance even though his preference is to wait and see how he feels as that vacation approaches.

I sincerely believe that many couples let these kinds of issues – the dishes and the blanket-hogging – turn their once-lovely relationships into battlefields. When you spend your energy arguing about this stuff, it is easy to lose sight of your partner as the intelligent, funny and kind person whom you chose to love. The bickering and score keeping makes it increasingly difficult to remember who you were as a couple and you may slip into a state of relationship-amnesia.

Honestly, it occurs to me that some people have affairs for reasons that have very little to do with the age or attractiveness of their partner (or new lover), the quality of the sex or even notions of love/in love… but because they want to be intimate with someone who does not lecture them about how to put the roll of toilet paper on the dispenser.

After a while, talking about toilet paper leads to a fall from grace; it’s the kind of thing that gets you booted out of your own personal Garden of Eden. And when you are expelled from Eden, in the dim-light of relationship-purgatory, it’s impossible to recognize that the small things are small because the relationship is now filled with resentment and bitterness. The partners stops talking and laughing and remembering.

We’ve seen it happen and, since we don’t want it for our relationship, my partner and I practice what Dan Savage calls the price of admission. (Thanks to our friend Jenny for sharing this idea with us!) Savage defines the price of admission as “the personal sacrifices, large and small, that make long-term relationships possible.” (I think this idea is the best thing since nutella.)

In our interpretation of the price of admission, the principle begins with the recognition that both partners are flawed. Deeply so. Repeat after me, “We acknowledge that we are flawed creatures with more baggage than the Hilton.”

It’s not just your partner who is flawed… but also you. (Don’t worry, I also find this part difficult.)

The second understanding of the price of admission is that we are both AMAZING. Not me more than him…not him more than me. We are both talented, interesting and unique souls deserving of love and respect. Nowhere is this more true than within this relationship that we created.

The third understanding is that it is perfectly natural for humans to get on each other’s nerves, especially when they live together in a tiny apartment in Japan. (Wait… that’s just us.) Let me start again… it is perfectly natural for people who have become very familiar with one another to be annoyed by traits and habits that once charmed the pants off them.

The fourth and final understanding is that you must learn how to let most of it go. The price of admission – the price that you willingly pay to be with this lovely person who brings so much to your life, with whom you feel utterly safe and heard and at “home” – is that you do not hold on to the toxic little things that are choking the life out of your love and affection for one another.

When I see my partner’s clothes piled up on the sofa bed, I remind myself, gently, about the fact that I woke up on his side of the bed with my arm across his face. I remember that last night, it was this man who went out to get Chinese take-out even though he was tired and working on his thesis. And I recognize that this is the price of admission.

(I sort of love that this idea is both Buddhist and Capitalist.)

When I recognize a POA moment, I just let myself feel the annoyance… yup, there it is. I let it stay for as long as it wants but I try to sit silently with my annoyance. (The truth is that sometimes it is difficult not to let a little sigh slip out.) Then I take a deep breath and release the crap out of whatever had me by the throat.

Now I have a choice:
1. Hang up the clean clothes and place the clothes he has worn in the hamper. (After the ecstasy, the laundry, right?)
2. Decide that a few clothes on the sofa are actually not that big a deal and walk away
3. Acknowledge that I am not that crazy about this particular task as evidenced by the pile of my clothes on top of my own hamper. (Damn!)

Finally, I thank the universe for sending me this person with whom to share my life. Sometimes I’ll find my partner in his office and kiss him on the forehead… or I’ll turn on the lights so that it is easier for him to read and write.

Although he never mentions it (he’s so much better at taking the high road than I am), I know he’s also been paying the price of admission. The truth is that not talking about toilet paper leaves us with more time to discuss other things… like his thesis, our work, loving each other and planning our next vacation. Not fighting about the little stuff leaves lots of space for love.

*I’d like to make it clear that this price of admission approach does not apply to abusive relationships.


  1. Lovely post, my dear, about a topic that some may not consider so lovely. I’m a big Dan Savage fan and this idea of the price of admission really resonated with me. It helped me make more sense of my relationship. Once I put something in the price of admission category, it’s much easier to let go of it.
    Loving someone is easy, but living with him or in my case, missing him, is the hard part.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rose-Anne.
      Although I had not originally planned to publish the post on Valentine’s Day, I’m really happy it worked out that way.
      It’s cool to hear that the piece resonated with you – in your case, due to the missing of him.
      I haven’t received any flack about my position but this is not a very controversial space so I’m not surprised. I am aware that lots of people – including the young and the newly-in-love – may not find the idea of ‘love as work’ very sexy. Perhaps we need to reframe, then, the idea of work. For me, loving someone is worth the effort involved in letting the small (annoying) stuff go… and cultivating a practice of gratitude.

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