My general life mentor (do people still have those besides me?) has given me a lot of advice and tokens of wisdom since we’ve met. She is a sassy, gorgeous, tiny woman from Mississippi who weighs 107 lbs soaking wet, has the cutest southern accent in existence, and is the most spiritually balanced person I have ever met in my entire life. Plus she’s hilarious. When I tell her how amazing she looks, she says things like, “Oh, honey, powder and paint make a girl what she ain’t!” And when I bring my laundry to her house since I’m too busy to do laundry at my own house, she says “I’m going to have [my 18 year old son] fold your delicates because he needs to learn sooner than later how to be a man!” If I am not just like her in 30 years, something has gone terribly wrong.
One of her metaphors I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is that marriage is much like a toaster. You heard me. A toaster.
Toasters are made of metal (at least the toaster in this metaphor). If a toaster is made with impure or unrefined metal, the end result is still a toaster. It won’t look as nice, and odds are it won’t work as well, but the metal still creates a product. Even so, no one wants a shabby product. We all want a great toaster, right? Come on, this is the future of our bread we’re talking about! Bread is the fourth best thing in life (following wine, cheese, and guacamole). And if you’re one of those people who “doesn’t like bread,” let me go ahead and call you out because we all know you’re lying and just don’t want to admit that you’re on a diet.
From what my mentor told me, toasters are a lot like relationships. I’ve challenged this claim in my mind and decided upon its truth because a good significant other will most definitely feed you, keep you warm, and pop up out of nowhere. Her point, however, was to say that just like toasters, the quality of a relationship– particularly a marriage– is dependent on the input. If you try to create a marriage using “metal” contaminated with hurtful behavior during the years of dating, bad habits in how you communicate, and baggage in tow from before you ever met, then that marriage will not be as shiny, pure, and high functioning as a union with uncontaminated matter.
You have a lot of baggage? You’ve made a lot of mistakes in your past that weren’t with your future spouse in mind? You treated someone poorly in a dating relationship and want to change? Have no fear! Before your reach the output stage and end up with a bad
toaster marriage, you have the “throughput” stage. (For those of you thinking “Systems Theory,” yes, that has Input–>Throughput–>Output–>Outcome, but this is a little different. Just stick with the toaster thing and we’ll be good to go. SCIENCE.) Throughput is the process of building the toaster. You may not have the greatest metal to work with, but you can figure out how to make a super efficient toaster that makes up for the fact that the metal kind of stinks. So you work on it. You mold things a little differently here and there, you try a couple different ways of adjusting the handle, and you figure out the inconveniences you simply have to accept won’t ever be perfect, but for which you can develop patience. You can still completely enjoy the toaster, but it might be a tad more sensitive and take a little extra work and finesse to give you what you want.
The output is whatever you created during the throughput with the input. Ultimately, your toaster is made up of both the fundamental metal, and also how carefully you molded and made the most of said metal. I love this metaphor because even thought it’s pretty much common sense, it’s something that we often forget. We create all sort of impurities in our relationships through unloving behavior, selfishness, “taking breaks,” manipulation, creating a cycle of building up and tearing down trust, etc., etc. Because we are attached to that person, we might decide that we want to work through those things and build a marriage out of that dirty metal. We commit that metal to be the input into a final product, and those scars will always be somewhat visible, even if we manage to make the most of them by adjusting behavior in the throughput.
Due to human nature, most of us will end up having to create great toasters with less than ideal metal, and that’s okay. It’s not the greatest option– and hopefully those of us without a ring on it can strive to enter the purest input possible when we meet the right person– but if it happens, we can still end up with a wonderful little toaster if we give it the attention it deserves (throughput). The biggest issue is if those behavioral patterns don’t change. What if the metal is severely contaminated and the throughput is neglected? The toaster would be so frustrating and dysfunctional. No thanks.
From the perspective of someone not yet married, I’ve thought a lot about this metaphor ever since my mentor explained it to me a year and a half ago in a singsongy southern drawl. I can’t control what I’ve already done that will make the metal of my future marriage less than entirely pure, but I can control each moment forward and think about what my current decisions will mean for my future toaster. Reflecting on this metaphor has allowed my current relationship to be built on habits that will make our future shinier, not more difficult. All of our decisions since meeting have been with the other person in mind, so we haven’t really added any impurities to the metal (other than what we brought in from our pasts). It’s been an easy, steady road so far, and kept about as clean as it can be thanks to both of us openly and honestly discussing what this metaphor looks like in action. Plus we’re lucky enough to lean on the amazing help of mutual friends who steer our decisions in the right direction if either of us teeter towards doing something that would potentially harm the other without realizing. Good friends and great mentors are the best!
I bring up my relationship
because I’m so happy I can’t shut up to say that no matter what stage of toaster production you’re in, there’s something to be done about being in a super happy, longterm relationship. If you’re completely single like I usually am, you can think about bringing the best possible metal to the table for whoever your future spouse might be, and make decisions accordingly. If you’re doing something the person you end up with probably won’t like hearing about, think about not doing it. Perhaps you’re in a relationship like I am that you hope to be in for a good long while. In that case, you can work with that person to create great habits and not get unhealthily attached, rather spend time shaping the throughput and evaluating if it is going to create a toaster you’ll want to use forever. If it’s right, it should come together rather easily. Then there are the married people, whether last weekend or married for 30, 40, 50 years…you can always melt your toaster and work on the throughput to create a better toaster if the habits you worked on need to be adjusted. Then you can come up with an even better output/final product!
This post may be a little rambly and hard to follow, but I hope that it ultimately makes you think about your current romantic state and strive for the best! Worst case scenario, it’ll motivate you to whip up some cinnamon sugar toast. In that case, I’ll still consider this a successfully inspirational blog post.