“I know keeping score is toxic for relationships. Those cycles can be so damaging and destructive to emotional connection. I get that. I don’t want to be a bean counter. I really don’t. It’s just…”
I wait for her to finish.
“…giving up that behavior feels like the fast track to getting taken advantage of.”
I laugh. “I know exactly what you mean,” I say. Because I do. “And I could give you a lot of fancy talk that makes it sound like I’ve always had the bugs worked out myself, but it’d be a lie. Because my past workaround was pretty terrible, frankly.” I pause for comedic effect. “I just let people take advantage of me.”
She laughs. “I suppose that’s one way to get away from being afraid that it’ll happen,” she adds thoughtfully. “To just let it happen.”
“A terrible way, you mean!” I say. “That wasn’t healthy. I was miserable.”
“But you do so well now,” she says.
“Thanks,” I reply a bit quickly and automatically.
“No,” she insists. “I mean it. It makes me wonder what changed. Because you are so good at balancing it. I never see you keeping score or acting like you do — and your partners are so good to you. You don’t get walked on.”
“Ah,” I said. “Well, I had to learn something very important.”
“The moment I’m tempted to start keeping score, I shouldn’t. It means that there’s something wrong. Something that the scorekeeping will just prolong and potentially make worse,” I say. “The good relationships I’ve been in completely take care of themselves most of the time. And on the odd occasion that something goes awry, it’s pretty clear what it is, and I feel safe to tell the person and ask for what I need.”
“If I don’t feel safe or if they’re disrespectful or dismissive, that’s more a sign that they aren’t a good partner for me,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. “Wow, that’s…”
“If I start to feel taken advantage of, I say something. And if reasonable efforts in that direction go very badly, then that’s a sign that it’s not a good relationship for me. And that maybe I should end it.”
“Wow,” she says. “When you put it that way, it seems a lot simpler than keeping a logbook.”
I nod. “It really is. Took a bit to get used to it. And you have to accept there will be unworkable situations. But I’ve felt so much better ever since I switched to this, as glamorous as being a professional doormat was.”
And we laugh and laugh.
Note about keeping score: When folks keep score, they account for everything that happens in a relationship and compare it numerically in a competitive way in order to change the power dynamic — basically to calculate who is doing better, who is a better partner, who is being shortchanged, who is owed what, etc. For more info on what keeping score is and why it’s bad, feel free to read this previous post on that topic.