The Sharer vs. the Withholder

Every time we fight, we’re replaying an old argument that started over an order of grilled cheese.

Every couple has one core fight that replays over and over again, in different disguises, over the course of their relationship. In this series, couples analyze the origin and mechanics of their One Fight. To pitch your own One Fight (we’ll also accept pseudonyms, if necessary), email humaninterest@slate.com.

Aisha Harris and Ari Joseph have been dating for five years and got engaged in January. They live in Brooklyn.

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Aisha Harris: I think you and I would both agree that we can probably count the number of real “fights” we’ve had in our five years of dating (the kind where both of us are yelling at each other and curse words are flying) on one hand. Maybe even two fingers? It’s just not our style. But I think the arguments we do have almost always come down to one simple thing: sharing. I don’t remember this at all, but you recently reminded me that on our first date at this slightly hipster-y but sort of sexy Bushwick bar, you were hungry, but I wasn’t particularly interested in having the same thing as you, or sharing small bites. It laid the foundation for all the small (and occasionally bigger) battles to come in our relationship.

Ari Joseph: I agree that our real “fights” have been extremely infrequent. I also don’t recall what any of them were about in the least. Not to sound New Age–y, but negative energy just isn’t a part of what we are. I like this about us, by the way; I think it’s one of the primary reasons we work as well together as we do.

Even if we don’t have knockdown, blowout screaming matches, you’re right that many of the times we’ve most annoyed each other have happened while we’re dining out. I blame this fully on your selfish nature. You like what you like, you really don’t like what you don’t like, and you don’t see the need to discuss things.

What worries me is that you’ve very much misremembered our first date. We first met each other at Noorman’s Kil, a whiskey bar in Williamsburg that also serves grilled cheese. You don’t like grilled cheese.

Harris: Oops. You’re right. I guess one of the other things that’s been consistently a point of contention for us has been my inability to remember some crucial things about our relationship. But I’ll save that for another discussion.

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Anyway, no, I don’t like grilled cheese, and yes, I’m a picky eater, and yes, I like what I like, much to your chagrin. After our first date, when we began going out for proper meals, it quickly became clear that my pickiness would be a problem for you. As you know, I was raised to be a picky eater. Everyone in my immediate family was picky (for years, I was that kid who didn’t like when her foods mixed or touched on the plate—you’re lucky you didn’t know me then), and my mom would occasionally make different foods for each of us, because she knew my sister and I would simply not eat if she made something we didn’t like. And on the special occasions when we went to a restaurant, we’d all order our own food, and never really shared with one another.

But with you—whoo, boy. A typical dining outing experience for us would be, You: “I’m going to get a burger and a salad. What are you thinking?” Me: “I think I’ll get a burger, too, but I’m craving fries.” Food arrives, and you reach over for my fries and then have the nerve to scold me for shooting you the death stare. Really? Dude, if you wanted fries, you should’ve ordered fries! Not cool. Or, you’ll suggest that we each get something—not as an app, but for a meal—to share, the idea being, you’ll have a bit of mine, I’ll have a bit of yours. But I rarely ever want a bit of yours! You did not handle this well in the beginning.

Joseph: A side of fries contains, what, 50–60 slices of crispy potato? You’re seriously telling me you missed the three or four (or seven) I’d take?! Also, I was, and still remain, entirely happy to share my salad with you, even if you selfishly desire to hoard your food like a conservative billionaire hoards money.

Regardless, I think you can agree that we both learned to compromise. Eventually. I now no longer ask you to share what you’ve ordered, and you’ll often slice off 1/20th of your steak for me to taste. Granted, just “tasting” isn’t exactly ideal for me, but it’s better than nothing.

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So what is the greater meaning of this fight? I think any of our friends would agree that you and I are very different people. Sure, we have shared values, interests, and a boundless love for our Trump-therapy puppy (Lucy!), but when it comes to how we interact with the world, we are anything but similar. Remember when we both took a Myers–Briggs test last year and we came out as literal opposites? I came out as ENTP, you as an ISFJ. I’m an extrovert who needs to try new things to be happy. You’re an introvert who knows what she likes and sticks to it.

Harris: It’s true. Your extroversion definitely finds its way into our disagreements. You’re the type of person who likes to—nay, has to—share your feelings in the moment when something is bothering you. If you’re not happy about something, you voice it as soon as humanly possible. But me, when I’m angry or upset, I shut down. The last thing I want to do is talk about it in the moment; I need to find the time to mull it over (or stress about it, incessantly), before confronting it. It’s why I’ll walk into the other room when I feel like a conversation is getting heated, rather than continue to argue.

I think this became clearest to you when, a few years ago, I was suddenly thrust into the spotlight after Megyn Kelly did a segment on a benign, if pointed, story I wrote about Santa Claus, and I was getting death threats and called the N-word on a daily basis. Of course, everyone I knew was proud of me and thought it was really cool—you most of all, perhaps. But I just couldn’t deal with all the attention, and I went into a deep depression, and it really strained our relationship—we’d only been dating less than a year at that point.

So in the same way I might refuse to give up 19/20ths of the steak I—not you, mind you—order at dinner, I was unwilling to share how overwhelmed I felt by this whole ordeal. That drove you crazy, I know. But your need for me to articulate everything I was feeling to you also drove me mad. I was in full-on Greta Garbo, “I want to be alone” mode. I’ve gotten better at being open with you, though, I think.

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Joseph: I just had to Google Greta Garbo. Reference went way over my head.

But yes, you tend to withdraw from tense or uncomfortable feelings, and I absolutely want to talk things out as soon as possible. I didn’t always understand why anyone would consciously choose to marinate in unhappy emotions, especially when we all know that communication is the key to healthy relationships. That said, you (and 10+ years of therapy) have helped me learn that emotions aren’t always logical, and witnessing how you withdrew into yourself after the disgusting, vile, racist hate that Fox News viewers spewed at you helped me realize that conflict affects you differently.

I wouldn’t say that experience strained our relationship, however; rather, like most stressful situations if you get through them, it helped us bond. It was the first of many times that one of us saw who the other was at our most vulnerable. It was also one of the first of many times that one of us was there to help the other one through a challenging situation.

Harris: It felt strained to me in the thick of it, though I agree it made us stronger in the end. It also made you understand and better accept that, to some extent, I’m always going to deal with tough circumstances first by ruminating before I feel fully comfortable expressing my feelings aloud.

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But I’ve gotten better at recognizing that it’s ultimately better to share my thoughts with you, and that it’s helpful to do so a lot sooner than I would’ve in the past. When I come home after having a rough day, I will tell you … eventually. Definitely before we go to bed, at least. At the same time, you’ll give me my space and not take it personally—you used to take it personally, I think, before you learned that in this case, at least, the cliché is true: It’s not you, it’s me. Except when it comes to sharing food. Then it’s definitely you.

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