As she pulled the minivan out of the garage, Jai heard the dooming yet familiar crunch we all know from the movies — except this was her life, and yes, the convertible definitely took a hit, as did the van.
Imagine the cartoon episode of a day that follows: Jai paces around the living room. She bites her nails. “What do I tell him?” Jai hides the cars in the garage. She conceals the damage. And then, she plans to do what any good partner eventually learns: Make a bitter truth land softly.
When her husband gets home, Jai butters him up good. She puts on calm music. She asks him about his day. She makes his favorite meal. Eventually, however, the moment of truth arrives: “I hit one car with the other.”
That’s where the magic begins — but in this case, the wizard is Jai’s husband:
I asked her how it happened. I had her describe the damage. She said the convertible got the worst of it, but both cars were running fine.
“Want to go in the garage and look at them?” she asked. “No,” I said. “Let’s just finish dinner.” She was surprised. I wasn’t angry. I hardly seemed concerned.
After dinner, we looked at the cars. I just shrugged, and I could see that for Jai, an entire day’s worth of anxiety was just melting away.
The name of Jai’s husband is Randy — Randy Pausch — and though already powerful on their own, the following words will hit different once I tell you that, at just 47 years old, Randy died of pancreatic cancer:
“For Jai and me, our dented cars became a statement in our marriage: Not everything needs to be fixed.”
There are four good reasons to let go of small spats, problems, and quirks in your relationship.
First, it’ll make your life a lot easier. For example, if my girlfriend zones out when I tell her a story, I could berate her about listening more closely and complain about my hurt feelings — or, I can just let it go. Maybe, she’s tired. Maybe, my story was boring.
So far, she has never forgotten anything important, and that makes this tiny detail not worth the worry, especially when life offers so much to fret about that actually matters: My health, my career, my finances, my happiness — and I haven’t even gotten to the parts that involve other people. Dedicate your problem-solving energy to the issues that really deserve it.
Second, it’ll make living together a lot easier. For every habit you think is annoying in your partner, you too have one that irks them. You must realize this. There is no better, just different. Letting go is always a mutual act.
For example, it’s not that my girlfriend never listens, it’s that half the time, I ramble. When I let go of her distraction, she’ll let go of my irrelevant rants. Whatever irritates you in your partner, consider that your doing the opposite might irritate them just as much.
Third, when you see past your partner’s quirks, you might actually grow to like the traits they originated from. My girlfriend is the most forgiving, non-vindictive person I know. She never dishes out old mistakes to make new points. I love that. Whatever we discuss, we discuss it based on what we know today. That’s worth so much more than remembering every detail.
The fourth and final reason to not try and fix every little thing in your relationship — and this brings us right back to Randy’s fateful diagnosis — is that it’ll prepare you for accepting the big problems you can do nothing about.
Letting go, like everything, is a habit. The longer you practice it, the easier it gets. Thanks to their mutual habit of acceptance, Jai and Randy didn’t waste time once they knew he only had a few months left. They didn’t flounder like fish on land, trying to fight the inevitable by getting hung up on little spats.
Instead, they were 100% focused on the big picture: Spend time with family, cement Randy’s legacy, and prepare for when he’d be gone. Don’t fix the small dilemmas so you may gracefully accept the ones you can’t. **
The story above is a real story. It happened to real people, and it had real consequences. Randy told it in his book The Last Lecture, a book he was able to write, in part, because his wife forgave him for not hanging up his khakis.
In it, among many other wonderful things, he said:
I wish I had more time to help Jai realize other dreams. But the kids are a spectacular dream fulfilled, and there’s great solace in that for both of us.
When Jai and I talk about the lessons she has learned from our journey, she talks about how we’ve found strength in standing together, shoulder to shoulder. She says she’s grateful that we can talk, heart to heart. And then she tells me about how my clothes are all over the room and it’s very annoying, but, all things considered, she’s giving me a pass.
Don’t try to fix everything in your relationship. Let go of the little troubles so you can learn to love your partner as they are — and tackle your biggest challenges together.
This article was brought to you by PS I Love You. Relationships Now.