In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, there’s a chapter called “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.” In it, he investigates how cultural influences affect pilot behavior in the cockpit. He points to Korean Air, which had more plane crashes than most any other airline throughout the 1990s. And he attributes the problem to cultural hierarchy. The co-pilot didn’t speak up. In other words, the co-pilot knew something was wrong but felt it was not his place to correct the pilot.
As the co-pilot of the finances in our marriage, I have always spoken up. Ninety nine percent of the time I agree with Mr. Groovy’s wonderful ideas. But occasionally he comes up with some real winners! I never want to curtail his creativity, but on a number of occasions I’ve had to stop him in his tracks. And because of this, he nicknamed me, “The crusher of his dreams.”
Here are a few highlights of Mr. Groovy’s schemes that were met with a resounding “Nay Nay” from the co-pilot:
When renovating our small galley kitchen in our New York condo, Mr. Groovy fell in love with a design from Architectural Digest. He decided we must get cobalt blue granite countertops! Never mind that granite didn’t fit our $4,000 to $5,000 budget, but cobalt blue? Really? Did he think blue countertops would be a hot selling point when we put our condo on the market the following year?
He sulked for a while when I put the kibosh on his plans. We ended up going with country white cabinets and dark green Formica countertops. And to this day, we still hold the record for the highest sale price of a one bedroom in that building.
And then there was our home building fiasco. We purchased two acres of land on a cul-de-sac when we relocated. We had plans to build a ranch home. Excellent artist that he is, Mr. Groovy sketched out the entire design and measurements. We handed his designs over to an architect to create the actual plans and located a builder we were excited to work with.
But this was no ordinary ranch (see plan snippet below). It was a 3200 SF, one-story home with an open floor plan. The kitchen and living areas were on one side of the house, and the bedrooms and bathrooms were on the other. There was also an outdoor kitchen and a screened in porch.
But the crown jewel was a chef’s kitchen, which sat under 20-foot vaulted ceilings and was framed by an industrial chic pergola!
Initially, the builder’s estimate was within our budget. But his final quote was $50,000 above it. He made a major miscalculation on the cost of the trusses needed to support those 20-foot vaulted ceilings. Mr. Groovy still wanted to move forward, but I said no. I knew that starting over budget was a big mistake. Things would only get worse. For every decision along the way we’d be looking for the cheapest option. “Let it go,” I told him. “We uprooted ourselves away from family and friends so that we could simplify, not make our lives more difficult.”
Again he sulked, but he realized I was right. Ironically, now he’s the one trying to talk me into building an 1100 SF home when we retire. And I’m the one saying, “uh, how about 1400?” Still, it’s a far cry from his 3200 SF masterpiece with an indoor pergola.
When Mr. Groovy goes to his office in Dallas, his foodie coworkers like to take him to unique eateries. He returned from one trip all excited about a gastro-park they went to for lunch. “What the heck is a gastro-park?” I asked him. He explained it was his term for a food-truck park (here’s a link to the Fort Worth Food Park).
He was fascinated with the idea of a central gathering place for food trucks—complete with picnic tables, a kiddie park, a dog run, a music stage, and alcoholic beverages.
Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Groovy began looking for land suitable for building a gastro-park! When he finally sprang the idea on me, I asked, “Are you nuts? What about our plans to retire and travel for a month each year?” He insisted we could close up shop and resume business when we returned. And I told him that was absurd. Then I asked if he’d gotten quotes on all the liability insurance we’d need for this bright idea. “What liability?” he responded.
Seriously, Mr. Groovy? What liability? That conversation ended with me putting up my hand and saying, “Don’t talk to me anymore.”
Final Tale – Island Games
This final story is not mine. It belongs to our broke cousin and her husband. And it’s a wallopalooza.
On their first day of vacation in St. Lucia, our cousin’s husband was approached by a friendly hostess in the lobby of their hotel. She took him by the arm over to a giant roulette wheel and told him, “Go on! Take a free spin!” What’s the harm, he thought. But our cousin had a really bad feeling. And unfortunately, for both of them, she never opened her mouth.
The giant roulette wheel didn’t cross their minds again until they were checking out. That’s when they were told they owed the hotel $20,000 for his spins, and they weren’t getting their passports until they paid up. They were then escorted to a back room by two burly men. Well, to make a long story short, our cousin cried a lot, and her husband had his mommy wire transfer the twenty grand.
Our cousin is a bright, capable woman. But she didn’t speak up. She knew her husband was being taken for a sucker and she did nothing. And this is a constant theme in their marriage. He looks for easy money, and she looks the other way because she’s afraid of bruising his little ego.
Two people in a relationship should make each other’s lives better (not just monetarily). Wouldn’t you want your partner to have your back? I would yank Mr. Groovy by the arm and march him out of that hotel before I’d let him fall for a scam right in front of my nose! There’s no way in hell I’d watch him make an idiot of himself and put our financial future in jeopardy. It’s my duty, as the co-pilot in our marriage, to speak up.
Maybe you recognize yourself here? Do you knowingly allow your partner to do foolish things? Or maybe you’ve been quiet for a long time and feel it’s too late to play a different role in your relationship? It’s never too late. You have a voice. Use it. What’s the worst that can happen? Your significant other sulks, like Mr. Groovy did? His or her ego gets bruised? Don’t let the pilot take down the entire aircraft—if you’re the co-pilot, you must speak up.
I’d love to hear your comments. Don’t hold back. Talk amongst yourselves. I’m a little verklempt thinking about our cousin.