If there’s no love through the worst, there was never love at all
One of my biggest and most beloved clients of my software career was a well-known household hardware company. And one of my favorite employees there was a man in his 80’s, who had been there since the Big Era of this company’s history — somewhere 1950’s — during which he had come to be known for something he informally called…
“The hallway test.”
When a young engineer would bring him a new design, the first thing he’d do is walk out to the hallway — this expansive thing of painted cinder block walls and linoleum floors popular during that era — and chuck it as hard as he could.
“People are going to drop these.” he said, “and we’re only as good as how we hold up in the worst circumstances.”
He came to be feared — and then respected. And ultimately adored. So much so that he still works at the company a good decade or two beyond retirement.
I fucking love the idea of the hallway test. It’s honest. It’s straightforward. And it’s true — we are only as good as we perform when the worst that’s reasonably expected to happen happens.
I have lost three loved ones while dating two different dudes, and one of my top five reasons for breaking up with each of them was the way they handled their deaths — and my heartbreak.
My grandma died first. She wasn’t feeling well, went to see a doctor, and was diagnosed with stage 5 cancer. I think she was originally given a few weeks to live, but within hours my mother texted me saying “they’re not sure if she’ll make it through the night.” So I called her, and Grandma — a farmer’s child of the Great Depression — was, right up until the bitter end, a woman of heart-wrenching genuine optimism. We talked about everything except death, and that just broke my heart even more. “I’ll see you soon,” she said as we signed off. “Okay,” I agreed. And after we hung up, I started crying — and my boyfriend of several years stood within arm’s reach but did nothing. I never said anything to him about this, but I definitely noticed and never forgot.
Next was my brother, who also died suddenly. I called my boyfriend to tell him “um, my brother died…(?)” and his actual and real first response was, “when’s the funeral?” Needless to say, when he followed up with “do you want me to come?” I told him, in more eloquent words, to kindly fuck off.
The third death was my father — also very unexpected. I was on the rocks with this boyfriend at this time, so gently told him he didn’t need to come. But when I got home from the funeral two days later and he greeted me (bags still in hand) with jokes about what songs they played at the service, I then knew we had a very short shelf life, and made sure of it shortly thereafter.
The point is: if you’re not a partner through the darkest life moments — those moments every single person experiences and may need a partner most — then you are not a partner.
One of my most important barometers for measuring a partner is: how would this person deal with our child getting leukemia? It’s not likely, but if I get the indication that they’re going to come undone and be another thing I have to manage, I’m out so hard.
And this is especially true in the leukemia were mine.
I want a life partner, not a playmate who’s only down for good times.
I gained so much appreciation for my current partner when we saw a serious car accident happen in front of us and he quickly and quietly pulled his car to the shoulder, put it in park, handed me his phone to call 911, and then got out to see if the drivers were okay. Everything he did was just so… calm… handled… and engaged. There was no panic, and also no avoidance. He didn’t swerve around them, or gawk at them like some circus show, or sit there stunned. He fucking made it his problem, and he handled it as best he could.
That’s how life partners should be. We should handle our own shit, sure, but when that shit really hits the fan, we should also feel confident that our partner has our back. That when death or disease or anything else serious comes up, they got us like whoa.
Without that, they are not much better than household hardware that doesn’t hold up to expected use of everyday life. Everyday devices that succumb to a series of plastic pieces the minute life is chucked down the inevitable hall.
Good partners are more than their parts. Good partners survive the hallway test — and then some.