Long, long, long ago, in a land far from here where every face is a friend, I once went to the modest clerk’s office to apply for a marriage certificate. I eagerly filled in the form while sitting on a wooden bench of the quiet room overlooking train tracks. 

I was far too young and naive to know what type of first impressions my fiancé made. I couldn’t say whether he fit into this caring culture since he wasn’t from those parts. But an elderly lady sized the two of us up, leaned against her carved cane, and offered unsolicited knowledge. 

She didn’t join me in my enthusiasm. She wasn’t giddy and joyful at the prospect of my blissful future. Instead, she told me, “A marriage takes your giving eighty percent, ninety percent of the time.” 

“You mean both of us?” I hadn’t asked for advice. I wasn’t even engaged with having a conversation with her. It was nice. She was a caring woman looking out for a stranger. I smiled politely and nodded.

She persisted. “As long as you understand that you have to give eighty percent, ninety percent of the time, your marriage will last.”

I got it, right? I mean, I was a young, clever girl who never had any intentions of harming another. I’d been taught all the Golden Rules. 

Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.  

Turn the other cheek. 

The meek shall inherit the Earth.

I understood that the universe operated with its Newton law of physics. There were rules for determining one’s destiny. As long as one always did what was right, no harm would ever come to him because he’d be protected by the higher forces that pre-ordained events. Easy — don’t hurt a fly and you’re safe. 

Alas, I misunderstood her aged-old advice. I thought she meant that if two people loved each other, then both would automatically contribute eighty percent into making the other happy. I assumed bliss included having a partner who thought about how I felt eighty percent of the time. I thought that if a person loved another, he would want to please the other. Love was about putting another’s wishes ahead of your own. True love was proved by a person knowing how his partner felt without having an explanation or instructions. 

My relationship got rolling, and by the end of the honeymoon, for the first time, I felt disappointment with humanity. Being a good sport, a few months ticked by, and the word betrayal took on a whole new meaning for me. I couldn’t stay in a relationship where I wasn’t treated with respect and humanity. 

Thankfully, those words of wisdom from a three minute conversation with a woman I couldn’t identify if I ever saw her again stayed with me at all times. For moments, the eighty percent pertained to how I needed to behave in order to forgive. Other situations called for me to receive eighty percent as a means for gaining faith in where I was in life. Most of all, the ninety percent of the time was necessary for me to remain focused in persistently striving to achieve success in an area of my life that I slowly realized was the entire point of living.

For if one doesn’t figure out relationships, then he has never lived. He stayed disconnected from his very existence due to being focused on himself.

Giving eighty percent, ninety percent of the time isn’t about having a mutual agreement. No bond is strong enough to solidify such an effort. It’s about letting go of your immediate goals to give room for your partner to overcome whatever longterm obstacles replay in his mind, steering him into his behavior. Putting aside eighty percent of your self-interests doesn’t block you from meeting your own needs. Instead, it opens pathways for you to discover sides of yourself that you never realized existed.

Most importantly, giving eighty percent of yourself ninety percent of the time gives you definitive answers about your relationship. If your partner never reciprocates, then you can move on with confidence. If through the giving you don’t recognize what a prize you are thanks to all you have to offer, then you can shift your focus onto areas where you reap rewards without second-guessing whether you are defying your destiny. 

Giving eighty percent, ninety percent of the time is a way for you to find yourself. Try the ultimate gift of giving by delivering the true gift to yourself. Meanwhile, whether you stay together or not, by giving that eighty percent, ninety percent of the time, the marriage did indeed work.

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