Back in 1998, Andrew Sullivan wrote “Love, Undetectable,” a beautiful meditation on care, love, and family of choice at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It’s a magnificent work and highly underrated, and it drives through an important point about the importance of friendship in our lives. Indeed, to Sullivan, friendship is all the more important because of how unassuming it is — how true friendship (and true love) does not demand constant sacrifices in order to be “proven”. It’s either there, or it is not.
Think about this a little bit the next time someone demands that you throw away your own boundaries and health in order to show them how much you love them. Think about it, especially when that person tells you that “this is how they are” and that if you want to be with them, you must accept all that they are.
And then ask yourself if it’s worth it.
Of course, there are parts about love and friendship that require selective blindness on our part — you know, the price of admission — but there is a difference between supporting your partner through a crisis (something they have no control over) and letting them take out their frustrations on you through threats and abuse (something which they can absolutely choose not to do).
Don’t get me wrong — everybody should absolutely use their words in a relationship, and everybody gets to decide how much effort they want to put in based on the information they are given. Unfortunately, too many people use “this is how I am” as an excuse to demand disproportionate emotional labour from other people. They say “this is how I am,” but imply that a better version is around the corner, if you just wait long enough. They say “this is how I am,” and then dangle the threat of how much worse they can be if you leave them.
But that better self will never materialise. And, despite what they may say, you will not be responsible for them if they end up getting worse.
People with healthy boundaries respect it when others assert themselves. They don’t try to convince the other person to stay, or to put up with shit just for the sake of the golden rule. They understand the concept of deal-breakers, and they accept that not everyone will be able to be with them. They listen, they learn, and, if need be, they remove themselves from a situation if they think they won’t be able to handle it, mentally or emotionally.
People with healthy boundaries understand that nobody is obliged to hang around in the hopes that they will improve.
People with healthy boundaries don’t make their improvement conditional on another person being there. They understand that change has to be self-driven. They are committed to changing for their own sake, not for the sake of anybody else.
If you find yourself doing a disproportionate amount of work in a relationship — emotional or otherwise — ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Are you invested in that person or their potential? Are you hoping that, with just enough effort and perseverance, they will morph into the sort of person you need in your life? And are they being honest with you, or are they letting you read what you want to hear?
Is this acceptable to you?
Or is it time to walk away?