Earlier this week I sat down with a couple to talk about their robotic vacuum.  Wow – there’s something you don’t hear every week. However, this is the nature of what I do; I interview people about a variety of different things and try and find some story to tell my clients in order to make sense of  it all.  Prior to the vacuum project I did this for a major credit card company, a leading personal care products company, and a leading women’s apparel brand. But this week it was about robotic vacuums.

What interested me about this interview had nothing to do with the vacuum they owned; it had to do with their location.  I am not going to lie, it is sometimes hard to get excited by the categories I work with.  It is disheartening when, while trying to uncover deep seeded emotional reasons behind brand choice you find out that it all comes down to price or the inevitable, “That’s the brand my mother always used so I use it too.”   But back to the couple in question. This couple lived in the Rockaways.  I walked into their home and everything in it was brand new – as if they had just redone their entire first floor.  I commented on this as I was setting up my video camera and they both responded, “We are still fighting with the insurance company about it.”  Then it hit me, this house was flooded during hurricane Sandy. They lived in a neighborhood that was a federal disaster zone just a year or so before my visit.

This couple had 2 kids, a three year old (whose birthday was the following day) and an 8 month old. They were about my age and the interview itself went very well. However, as I kept probing into the benefits they experience with their vacuum, I couldn’t help but think about the challenges that this family and their neighbors faced post Sandy. I left inspired by their clear love and affection for each other and the happiness in their relationship that they share with their children.  I walked away with a little more knowledge to share with my client about their product and a lot of respect for a couple who climbed a mountain and made it to the other side.

Another couple came into my life yesterday. We are selling our house as I accepted a position in California and we had a couple scheduled to come to the house at noon yesterday for a viewing.  At 11:30 I was packing up the dogs and the kids to vacate the premises when a gold Lexus pulls into the driveway; the car practically had REALTOR written all over it.  The driver rolls down the window,”You had us down right?”

“Yes, I reply” and then added, “At 12, you are a bit early.”

“Oh well,” she explains, “I guess we are ahead of schedule.”

I wasn’t upset and invited her to go on in and explained that we were just leaving. What I paid a bit more attention to, though, was the couple in the car with her.  It was a man and a woman; the man was in the passenger seat while the woman was in the back.  I made eye contact with the guy who looked, for lack of a better term, miserable.  The last thing he wanted to be doing on a saturday morning was look at houses.  If his realtor was anything like the ones we have used in the past, he likely got an earful on the drive from her office to our house about facts/figures around our neighborhood, a history of stamford, where the first stoplight was, etc.  In my mind, he was doing this because his wife wanted him to.

After leaving our house, I picked up one of the kid’s friends to take everyone ice skating – because having 3 kids and 2 dogs is not enough I felt as if we needed to add another to the menagerie heading to the rink.  I speak briefly with the dad who tells me that his wife had arranged them to go to a fundraiser that evening. The look in his eyes said it all, that he would rather stay at home and chew on a bunch of rusty nails then go to this event.  For all the volunteer work his lovely wife puts into this organization, she was able to score two free tickets to the event. Having been to a fundraiser or two in my day I knew that these were not exactly free. Once there you have to participate in the auctions, purchase an item off a “giving tree” (or similar) and tip the bartenders. He also had to buy a suit for the event and I am guessing a new dress and shoes were also in the mix (not for him, but for is wife). So this event with the free tickets was likely costing my friends about $1,000.  They went off and I am sure had a great time but, like the couple who came to my house this morning, my friend initially went against his will.

While at the rink, my father calls to check in on me and his grandchildren.  My parents have been married for well over 50 years and are a wonderful example to us all about what it means to be a good husband/wife. While speaking with him, dad divulges that mom has arranged for them to go to Country and Western night at their club.  “Your mother even went out and bought us cowboy hats.”  I asked if he and mom were allowed to wear jeans given the theme (their club does not allow one to wear jeans in the clubhouse). He told me that mom was wearing jeans but that he does not own any.  This took me back in time about 20 years when my sister told my mom that she had to buy my father some cool jeans because he did not own any.  My sister and I go with our mother to Lord and Taylor and she goes up to an associate, “Excuse me, where can I find the cool jeans?” My sister and I burst out laughing and my mother did not know why as she clearly thought “cool jeans” were a brand.  I digress.  Dad put mom on the phone and she immediately asked about my wife, all the kids, and of course the dogs (she loves dogs).  I asked if she wanted to say hello to the dogs and she took me up on it – I knew she was about to launch into a combination of baby talk, dog talk, and singing as she always does that when “talking” to a dog. However, instead of putting the phone on speaker so the dogs could hear (after all they were in the car and I was in an ice rink), I handed the phone to my son and told him that his grandmother wanted to say hi (he had just come over to me to take a break from skating).  He puts the phone up to his ear and starts laughing hysterically. “I think grandma has lost her mind dad,” he says.

The day ends yesterday at dinner with my wife and two of her girlfriends, one of whom is going through a difficult divorce. We had not caught up with this particular friend in quite some time and it was good to talk to her. She gave us some more insight to the events leading up to her separation and the selfishness exhibited by her soon to be ex. While reflecting on the events of the past week I started thinking that the difference between relationships that last and relationships that end  may come down to how we answer two questions:

  1. How well do you handle adversity? Practically losing and having to rebuild one’s home can cause a great deal of stress in a relationship.  If you can make it through, your relationship will come out stronger.  Broken bones heal when treated properly and they heal stronger than they were before.  All relationships will suffer a broken bone now and then but its how we treat the “break” that informs whether or not the relationship will suffer.
  2. How willing are you to do something for your partner that you have no interest in? If something is important to the other person, but not necessarily to you, will you go to support your partner or will you have them fly solo? There is an element of sacrifice in all relationships. We don’t partner with  people who share 100% of our interests, hobbies, etc.  Doing something that you don’t want to do for the sake of your partner is another physical expression of love. I might add that most of the times I join my wife on something in which I have no interest, I almost always have a good time if for no other reason than to see her smile.