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On Being Flexible … or Not

On Being Flexible … or Not

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Dear Rachel,

A woman once wrote to you about her aggravation when people didn’t keep their commitments. Well, I have a similar problem. I’m married to a man who is extremely easygoing and goes with the flow. I, on the other hand, like to make plans, keep to my schedule and expect other people to do so, too. Our children are half-and-half. He tells me I need to be more flexible; I tell him he needs to be more considerate and think about the results of his actions. It’s not fair to change plans on people at the last minute (and it’s not OK when people do that to you). Because this house is divided on the issue, it can cause a great deal of conflict and frustration.

Please help!

A House Divided


Dear Divide and Conquer,

I’m glad you wrote to me because this is an issue dear to my heart. I once took my son to a Passover matzah-baking event at Chabad when he was very young, even though he had a slight fever. My friend responded with: “I know with you, a plan is a plan!”

This son also once waited an entire day for someone who had promised to take him on a hike. That person kept calling and pushing off the time until it was too late to go. I was so sad for him and angry, too.

So, too flexible isn’t good. Too rigid isn’t good, either.

The Rambam would advise to go by the Golden Mean. For every character trait but for two (arrogance and anger), it’s best to adopt the middle road. If you’re too laid-back, you can be flighty and irresponsible. Whereas, if you’re too rigid and inflexible, you can be controlling and insufferable.

The world needs both traits: Life is dynamic, and you often need a Plan B. On the other hand, if you don’t have any schedule or expectations at all, chaos will reign.

I think it’s important to choose between the ideal response based on a number of factors:

Flexibility

If you’re invited to a party and the time is open when to arrive—and the hostess’s plans are not dependent on the attendance of certain people—and you want to come late or bow out at the last minute, that’s not socially unacceptable or terribly insulting unless you’re very close friends with the hostess and she was really counting on you to be there. On the other hand, if you have to catch a plane, you must be within a certain window of time at the airport. You can’t accuse the airlines of not being flexible if they don’t wait for you. Of course, there is often the possibility of flying at the last minute (going standby), and for that you don’t have to make a reservation six months in advance.

Opportunity

Some things are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and some recur on a regular basis. There’s a special blessing said on the sun, for example, when it’s in a certain position in the sky—the same position it was in at the time of Creation. This blessing can be said only once every 28 years. If you miss that opportunity, you have to wait another 28 years. On the other hand, if you miss a speaker who comes to your town every year, it might be disappointing, but you can go again. In my case, I could have taken my son to the matzah-baking the next year.

Importance

Some events and situations are one-time affairs, like a bris or bar mitzvah. If you miss it, you miss it. Life events do not conform to the easygoing nature of very flexible people. While you can be fashionably late to a dinner party and even miss a few minutes of a lecture, not showing the proper respect to people who are celebrating milestones in their lives in inconsiderate and disrespectful (unless, of course, you are late because of a real conflict and otherwise couldn’t go).

Consequences

Another indicator of how flexible you can be are the consequences of your actions. For example, if a student turns in a paper late and the professor doesn’t mind, it’s no big deal. If a student doesn’t turn in a necessary paper, and as a result fails the course and then doesn’t earn a degree, that’s a big deal.

I was once with a friend who was contesting a parking ticket at the municipality when a woman came in with about 10 unpaid parking tickets. She was now negotiating how to pay them. Her easygoing nature both about where to park and disregarding the tickets led to a significant loss of time and money. But to her, that didn’t seem to be an issue.

The consequences of being easygoing about something is a good measure of how flexible you can be about it. Also, you need to bear in mind that what for one person may be dire, for another is no big deal.

Obligation

We are so overscheduled and obligated to so many people (family, friends, bosses, colleagues, community) that there seems to be no end to what we “have” to do. Yet many people don’t see invitations or requests as obligations and may have a smaller social circle to whom they feel obliged. This is a major area of conflict regarding flexibility. Do we have to go to this wedding, contribute to this charity, buy this gift, invite them for Shabbat . . . this list goes on.

Here, I would suggest making a list with four columns: The things you agree you are both obligated to do; the things you agree you are not obligated to do; the things one of you feels you should do; and the things the other one feels you should do.

With the first two, there is no conflict. With the other two, you need to negotiate and compromise. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Other people

Our actions or inactions affect other people. It’s very well to be cavalier about your own time, but when these decisions affect others, then you can’t be so relaxed on their account. The more people affected by your schedule, the less you can be blasé about it.

A doctor can’t keep his patients waiting and a teacher can’t be late for class. But if you’re going on a trip to the beach with your family or meeting a group of friends already at the park, you don’t have to leave at an exact time.

It’s OK to tell people that your husband finds it hard to commit to social obligations, in which case they can expect a last-minute answer from you or that you both come at different times, if at all.

The most important point to remember is that the relationship with your husband and your children is your most precious consideration. Though you might prefer them to be more structured (and they ask that you be more flexible), these individuals always come first. You respect each other’s differences. It’s likely that G‑d put you together so that you would learn from each other and reach that middle ground together.

Wishing you time well spent,

Rachel

Rosally Saltsman is a freelance writer originally from Montreal living in Israel. Click here to email Rosally.
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Anonymous USA March 2, 2017

Why men and women see things differently This concept is a sticky point in many relationships, and relates to men coming from Chochmah and Women from binah - in other words, as Chassidus teaches and as our sages state, women have more binah - practically as John Grey writes, women have a super-highway connecting their Chochmah (right ) and binah (left) brains (whereas men have more of a back alleyway - this is why men are more easygoing, for in a world of ideas, there is always no problem, however in a world of comprehension coupled with as Chassidus teaches, the result of Binah (as as studies confirm ) namely heightened anxiety, women tend towards fear hence a control-freak mechanisim (for this is away of self protection.)

The solution of course is to lessen one's anxiety (not increase expectation, leading to more resentment) and the mechanism to do this is to thank G-d for the good you have - particularly every morning - for the more we are grateful, the less anxious, stressed, resentful, jealous, hence malicious. Reply

Sapir Roth Coral Springs February 28, 2017

Great answer, especially the part at the end about separating obligations into 4 categories. Reply