Before leaving on a weekend getaway with her quilting buddies, my wife asked a very important question.
“Are you thinking about cheating?”
My first impulse was flat-out denial.
“That is not something I would consider,” I told her sincerely.
“I didn’t ask if you considered it,” she said, “I asked if you thought about it.”
I had to parse the difference between thinking about something and considering something. Thinking is safely within the bounds of fantasy while considering boldly leaps into the realm of possibility.
“Nope,” I said, “not a thought.”
“Promise you won’t even think about it.”
“Liar,” she said and moments later her tires were kicking up gravel.
The thing is, I more than thought about it. I more than considered it. I totally resolved to do it. So why did I make a promise I had no intention of keeping?
Which raises another question. What is the role of a promise?
Promises have a dual role. One is to ensure trust. We need to rely on our loved ones and the world in general. We count on our spouse to love us as well as take out the trash on Tuesday evening. We trust our family to support us as well as keep their political opinions to themselves on Thanksgiving. We also count on our car to start and the microwave to pop, not burn the popcorn.
But the other role of promises is to maintain the healthy fiction that makes a contented life possible and it is this class of promises that always gets trampled.
Our politicians promise one thing and deliver quite another. Yet we depend on that lack of trust because most campaign promises are better left unkept than kept. How many times have we thought, Oh my God, I never would have voted for the bum if I knew they would actually do THAT?
In personal relationships, we rely on the annoying acquaintance who promises to keep in touch – to not keep in touch.
And as for parenting, seriously, how many children have actually been grounded for life?
In that sense, we rely on broken promises and the promises that we depend on breaking the most are the ones we make to ourselves.
We resolve to buckle down at work.
We swear we will go to bed early and not stay up to watch late night TV.
We pledge to push away from the table after the first helping and before dessert.
But we never do.
We cheat on ourselves all the time, so why should our spouses expect any more?
Which brings me back to my wife’s question
This all began when she asked me to help her diet. It only made sense since I am retired and she still works. Which means I do all the cooking therefore my meal choices affect her diet. I had no problem with promising to help her eat sensibly and I followed through – but somewhere along the line (without my knowledge) my willingness to assist evolved into a promise to participate.
And now that she is out of town, she worries I might cheat on a dietary promise I never made.
Like I say I fully intend to cheat on the diet – because I happen to know that she is cheating too. I found where she hides her secret stash of M&M’s and you bet – I am going to help myself.