pulling the andon cord

For anyone in manufacturing or who works at my current company, you know the andon concept. For the rest of you, it’s basically a way of calling attention to a problem (and in many cases, stopping “production” while the problem is investigated) that originated in Japan…and we all know I love Japanese everything.

I think I’ve needed more andon in my life. Especially in dating. It’s not that I don’t notice that there’s an issue. I always know when something is off. I can’t always tell what’s off, but I know it’s off. But I have a massive problem pulling the cord to investigate. Because I generally I assumed that if I pull the cord to investigate, it’s probably going to mean abandoning “production”and starting from scratch. Or it feels like it’s way to early in the relationship to need to investigate anything. Like, ” this just started up…let’s let it run for a while and see what’s really going on.”

It’s not that I don’t understand the concept of sunk cost, because I do. But it’s so hard to walk away when I combine the investment with all of the unknowns. Or when the issues seem minor. Or when we’ve just started running things and there’s no guarantee that the next iteration is going to be any better. (I am definitely a believer in the idiom “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”) So, I don’t pull the cord. I stick it out. I think, “Well, I know this isn’t looking exactly right…but maybe with more time it will iron itself out.” Frequently, my strategy has been to not ask any questions about what’s going on; to just wait until things are so bad that the whole relationship completely falls apart. Spoiler Alert: Things rarely iron themselves out in relationships without some kind of intervention.

Here’s the example that popped into my head when thinking about how I do this. Imagine you’re a car manufacturer of these amazing custom cars. You’re watching production of the current order and everything looks good. But then you notice that the equipment to install the gas and break pedals is sitting on the wrong side of the car. You think to yourself, “Huh, that’s weird,” but you assume that there’s a reason for it. You start to explain to yourself all of the reasons this might be. Maybe this is an order for a car that’s going to be shipped to the UK? Or maybe it’s one of those “teaching” cars that have pedals on both sides? It kind of nags at the back of your mind, but you don’t want to slow production, so you don’t ask any questions. In fact, subconsciously, you stop even looking at the manufacturing floor because the more you look, the more it bothers you. And the longer it goes on, the more you convince yourself that it must be right, and the less you want to ask because now, if it’s wrong, the whole thing will have to be scrapped. It’s not just some quick adjustments. It’s not just realizing the plans are right and you need new plans. So you say nothing. And then the car is finished and it’s not a car for the UK or a teaching car…it’s just a complete waste of time and materials. The steering wheel is where it should be, but all the pedals are on the passenger’s side.

That has been my approach to dating. I want so badly for it too work that I ignore the little signs and I don’t stop to really evaluate what’s going on. (Side note: it’s not even really about wanting to be in a relationship…but that’s a post for another day.) Not only that, but lots of times, even once I know what the issue is, I convince myself that it’s meant to be that way. And when the guy starts to indicate he is seeing the same issues, I start to try and convince him that he’s not seeing those issues. Or that it will be fine. “This way we’ll always have drive together. I’ll run the pedals. You steer. We’ll be the most in sync couple ever!” It’s completely ridiculous.

Well, I’m happy to say this week I started to see an issue with a guy I’ve been seeing and I pulled that andon cord like a motherfucking bad-ass. We had plans for tonight and I was super excited to see him, but I saw that there was a potential issue (not with him, but with communication and expectations)…so I stopped “production” to ask a question. I got an answer that didn’t work for me. I said as much and explained why. And now, chances are good, considering I’ve heard nothing in response, that I’m going to be scrapping the whole thing and starting over…which kind of sucks. But it sucks way less than if it had been a month from now…or even a day from now.