Anastasia: And what do I get out of this?
– Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James
It is no secret that I am not a fan of those books. Other writers have already written about this so beautifully I’m not sure I have much more to add to that particular conversation. However, the above quote captures the essence of this topic perfectly. Hmm… maybe Ms James did have some insightful moments after all!
When we’re children, we’re taught that no-one’s perfect. It’s a platitude, though a truism, perhaps to encourage us not to criticise others – or ourselves – too harshly. And because no-one is perfect, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a Perfect Relationship. There are amazing, incredible, wonderful relationships – and I count myself lucky to be in one of these. But perfect? With all our flaws, foibles, beautifully messy humanity and inevitable mistakes? No.
My relationship has imperfections. So does yours, I guarantee it.
We come, all of us, with our Price of Admission. These are the things about us that are imperfect, maybe even problematic, that someone must live with in order to be in a relationship with us. These are the things, be they big or small, that we don’t see eye-to-eye with our partner on. The things that, if you dwell on them, form the end of the sentence “the relationship would be PERFECT if only…“
We all have to pay a price of admission to be in meaningful relationships with another human. Whether it’s as relatively benign as putting up with your husband’s snoring, or as troubling as knowing your friend has a serious drug/alcohol problem but being unable to intervene, every relationship has one – or more likely, several of varying degrees of significance. But here’s the thing about prices of admission. We get to choose whether to pay them or not.
One of the major problems in my relationship with my abusive ex was that he believed that no matter the price of admission, I would continue to pay it regardless. And for many years, I did. I was madly – and I mean that in the literal, not-quite-in-my-right-mind-when-he’s-around – in love with the man. As such I felt I had to do absolutely anything to keep the relationship. When the price of admission was putting up with lies and half-truths, I turned a blind eye. The times that the price of admission was him screaming at me for a tiny perceived infraction, I tried to harden myself to the yelling. When the price of admission was an uneven, enforced mono-poly dynamic, I pretended I didn’t want anyone else anyway.
And what did I get out of all of that?
Which was enough… except that it wasn’t. I convinced myself I was happy as long as I was with him, this person I idolised. But he didn’t meet my needs and he didn’t hear my voice. If I complained the price for the relationship was getting too steep, he might as well have laughed in my face and said, “but you’ll pay it, because the other choice is walking away and we both know you don’t have the balls to do that”. It was years before I finally decided the price had become undeniably too high.
In our final make/break conversation, with all the characteristic arrogance that believed I would never be the one to walk away, he laid out his Terms for continuing the relationship. And for the first time, I refused the offer. The price was too high and I wasn’t buying. It was no longer worth it.
The point of all of this is to say: you get to decide when the price of admission into any given relationship is too high.
However much you love this person, however much you think you absolutely need them no matter what, you do not have to accept the terms they are offering. You do not have to pay a price of admission that includes abuse of any kind, that includes being cheated upon or lied to, that includes a relationship structure that is unworkable for you, that includes sex acts you can’t or won’t consent to, that includes losing yourself or your self esteem, that includes fundamental differences in beliefs or values, that includes anything that makes the relationship unhappy or unhealthy for you.
You don’t have to.
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