The issue of compromise is an interesting one when it comes to women and relationships.
When I was twelve years old, one of my good (male) friends asked me out. I told him I’d get back to him with my answer, because I felt like this was one of those things that I should discuss with my girl friends first, and they all vehemently told me that I should accept. I told them that I wasn’t interested in him like that, that he was just a friend to me, and they told me that that didn’t matter. He was a boy, and he liked me, and that was all that mattered. When I stood up for myself and said that I was going to say no, they told me I was making a mistake and that I would regret this.
Something similar happened to me later on, when I was sixteen years old, and a boy in my class decided to pursue me. Despite my constant dismissal of his advances, my friends would ramble on over how sad he was, how much I should give him a chance because he was such a nice guy. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t interested.
When I was nineteen years old, a friend broke down all pretence and told me that it didn’t matter if I was attracted to the person I was dated; I just shouldn’t be alone.
But let’s backtrack a little bit more; let’s go to a conversation that I had with a (female) friend when I was seventeen. She was telling me all about a date she had recently been on, and about how he had bought her dinner. “And, you know,” she said, “after they pay for you, you have to give them something in return.” I was horrified to hear this; “even if you aren’t ready for that?” I asked, and she said, “well, yeah. If they pay for you, then they expect it.”
Growing up, I was told, in multiple ways, that women always needed to compromise for a man. Women needed to compromise their comfort so that they could have a man, or refrain from making him angry. Women needed to compromise their careers so that their man could pursue his career. If the man was unhappy with the relationship, then it was the woman who needed to change; she was the nag, the bitch, the ball-buster, the crazy ex, the prude, the slut. If the relationship ended, then it was the woman’s fault, because she didn’t compromise enough.
A woman’s education is rarely seen as more important than her marital status. A woman’s ability to excel at her job is undermined by her ability to bare and raise children. A woman’s intelligence is not valued nearly as high as her ability to attract a man.
This idea of unceasing compromise created in me a great fear of commitment. I didn’t want to give up everything – my happiness, my ambitions, my comfort – all so that I could keep a relationship going. The way I saw it, there was no way that I could have both. People simply expected too much from women. And, quite simply, the idea of having a man, any man, did not matter to me more than I did.
Some might even say, I’m a rigid, non-compromising, prudish bitch. I’m not ashamed of that; I’ll own that title if you want to give it to me.
Because compromise is important, isn’t it? Relationships are built off of compromise; you can’t stay together if you won’t compromise. Right? And I’d fully agree with this if the compromise that I saw was evenly distributed.
But I recently watched an interview with the great Eartha Kitt, where she is asked if she would be willing to compromise if a man were to come into her life. “A man comes into my life and you have to compromise, for what? A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned. Not to compromise for,” she says. When pressed about whether or not she even wants a relationship, or if she is simply in love with herself, Kitt continues on to say, “I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me with me.”
When I first saw this interview, I watched it three or four times, over and over. I thought it was incredible, hearing this perspective, because it was so different from what I had heard about relationships in the past. This was not “accept the first man who will take you and hold onto him for dear life, because you need him”. This was not “sacrifice everything – your comfort, your dreams, everything, because it will make him happy”. This was, “love yourself first and foremost, and accept no less than what makes you happy. Because when you do that, you will fully, truly fall in love – and that is a wonderful thing”.
This is what a relationship should be.
We should not strive to create a relationship for the sake of creating a relationship. We should not have to give up everything to uphold a relationship that no longer makes us happy, just because that’s what we are expected to do. The purpose of a relationship should be to make us happy. To form a connection with someone who makes us better, who supports us.
Relationships should build us up; not hold us down. And the latter is what I have too often seen, especially for the women. The wives. The mothers who must sacrifice a career they wanted, an education they worked hard for, because their male counterparts were not expected to compromise as much as they were.
I love myself too much to give up my life and happiness for all that.
So I beg this of you now; love yourself, and do not settle for what doesn’t fulfill you. Do not do something for a loved one that you are not ready for. Do not lie to yourself, or force something, just because you feel pressured to do it. Because, end of day, if someone truly loves you, then what matters to you will matter to them. They will find a way to support you, to make your life better. They will find a way to compromise for you.