I love reading the comics in my morning newspaper. I especially love it when two strips seem to have been conceived in tandem.
This happened recently when Bliss and Mr. Boffo had different takes on a romantic conundrum: Taking someone for granted.
Bliss showed a man pleading his case to a woman who has her arms folded and a resentful look on her face. The cutline says, “Wait…I always thought taking each other for granted was a good thing.”
Boffo depicted its heroine, Nadine, holding a leaf and saying to the hero, Earl, “I’ve always wanted a star named after me…but a leaf is OK, too.” There’s also a cutline that says, “Another way to tell when you’re dealing with a person who’s just saying something to be nice.”
Two approaches to the subject of taking someone for granted. Right next to each other.
Bliss is usually mean-spirited, a kind of The Lockhorns for the twenty-first century. I read it because it has only one panel and short cutlines, even though it often leaves a sour taste in my mind. But this one was thought-provoking.
The Free Dictionary.com says “taking someone for granted” means expecting them “to be always available to serve in some way without thanks or recognition”; to value someone or something too lightly; to fail to show gratitude for help or kindness to someone “because they have helped you or been with you so often.”
In short, the way most of us think of the idiom most of the time.
But it also means “to accept something as true without questioning or testing it.”
I’m guessing this is not the takeaway Bliss intended. But why not? Shouldn’t there be at least a little taking for granted in a strong, mature, healthy relationship? When I was flat on my back in the hospital in the days after my new knee was installed, was I obligated to thank my wife each time she visited? After thirty years of marriage, shouldn’t I expect her to visit me?
And if I thanked her for visiting, should she have thanked me for doing so? We’ve been married a long time, but it would seem a lot longer if we constantly thanked each other for doing what we should.
Boffo is usually ironic and self-deprecating. Take away the caveat cutline and the sentiment becomes: “You’re a loser, Earl, but I know you can’t give me a star, so I appreciate the gesture of the leaf.”
That’s taking things for granted in a good way. Seriously.
Back when I was looking for an engagement ring, I was a reporter at a small-town paper, making $190 a week—miniscule money even by Reagan-era standards. The jeweler showed me two diamonds in my price range. One was larger in size, but smaller in brilliance. Having to choose between quality and quantity, I went with the “fire.” I mean, how would it have been to have started my marriage with a rock that said, “not as good—but plenty of it”?
It’s no Hope Diamond, but it sparkles in the light and seems at home on Mary Jo’s hand. My buying it says I do not take her for granted, and her appreciation of it says it back to me.
If I’d given her a leaf, she’d no doubt still have it. And I don’t mean that in a taking-for-granted sort of way.