The 'C' Word
Why I believe compromise within a relationship is not, in fact, the devil.
On January 22, the seemingly-unthinkable happened: my partner of two-and-a-half years asked me to marry him. Apparently, he's come to the silly conclusion that, despite my daily ridiculousness, he loves me enough to hang around for the next four-to-five decades. His loss? Who can say, but I'm not about to look a gift horse in the proverbial mouth.
Of course, my phone - being a good three years past its use-by date - tapped out almost immediately, unable to withstand the barrage of messages that began flooding in. Most where congratulatory, some not-so-congratulatory. Hey, I reasoned, you gotta learn to take the good with the bad. However, there was one message that stood out to me, one message that threw me for an unexpected loop.
This message came a few days after the engagement itself. A line from an acquaintance, one who had already sent their well-wishes, complete with seventeen love-heart emojis and a screenshot of a wedding dress:
"Hey hun! This popped up on my Insta, thought it might suit you!"
I was, in all honesty, touched. I'd never been particularly close to this individual, but the dress certainly was my kind of set-up, so I took a good, long look at the screenshot. A gorgeous, bohemian-inspired design, simple, no train, and no sleeves. With a smile, I messaged back:
"Thanks so much for this, it's gorgeous! Only thing is, Coby (my fiancé) mentioned that he'd prefer something with sleeves. I'll definitely keep this, but I'm gonna have a good look around!"
And wasn't that the wrong response.
She was up in arms. "You're going to let your boyfriend decide what your dress looks like, really? Isn't that kind of controlling? I do not think that's okay! If he's already telling you how to do things like that, then I think you should be worried about things down the track."
Well, okay then.
I made the decision, very quickly, that I was not about to lend fuel to this fire by indulging the conversation. I thanked her for her concern, thanked her again for her thoughtfulness, and left it at that. I wasn't particularly worried by her allegations: we're getting married in winter, and I have terrible acne that has blotched my upper arms, so Coby's suggestion of sleeves has more to do with maintaining my own self-esteem than with any preference he may or may not have regarding the state of wedding fashion. However, it would be a lie to say that I wasn't taken aback by her reaction.
Now, don't get me wrong: Coby is my best friend, and I wouldn't change him, not for anything. But the reality is that we have come from very different walks of life, and as such, our perspectives and paradigms don't always click so easily as I might wish they did. We learned very early on in our relationship the importance of communication, and the importance of compromise. There have been many occasions in which I have altered how I go about my day to accommodate Coby, and there have been as many occasions in which he has done the same. And yet it has come to my attention that, while it's okay - expected, even - for Coby to compromise for me, when I change my tune to compliment his own, the sky starts to cave in.
As with everything, I can only speak from my own standpoint: a straight woman in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. And please, hear me out: when I say 'compromise', I'm not referring to a Sandra Dee-style, 'change-yourself-to-get-the-guy' abandonment of self. If in a relationship you get the consistent sense that you're playing as someone other than yourself to keep your partner happy, then I think serious re-evaluation is called for. No, when I say 'compromise', I'm referring to the little things: daily routines, social schedules, personal hygiene habits. Things that may at face value seem crucial to the ebb and flow of your life, but can, in fact, be tweaked here and there to make room for the person you've decided to share that life with.
As a woman, I fully appreciate the value of carrying your own voice. Hell, we've only held the legal right to do so for a little over a century - which, when you pause and consider, is somewhat bizarre, particularly when taking into account how women have worked to shape said century. No sane person would dare deny that we, as a gender, have been forced to wage war against society to win the simple privilege of being heard. In no way am I suggesting that we ought to abandon this crusade. What I am saying, however, is that should a woman decide to start shaving her legs to accommodate her boyfriend's preference, that decision doesn't make her an enemy of the Feminist Movement. She shouldn't be made to feel a pariah, and certainly not by other women.
This may all sound rather dramatic. And yes, the wedding dress anecdote is perhaps a somewhat-extreme example. Yet the reality is that, all throughout my university years, I was that pariah. I was very literally shamed by female friends for accommodating many of Coby's wishes, and if I had a dollar for every time I was reprimanded or labelled a 'doormat' due to my belief in relational compromise... well, I probably wouldn't possess quite the same drive to enter writing competitions boasting cash prizes.
The fact of the matter is that each relationship stands as its own unique entity. No single one looks the same, and a woman should have the right to decide for herself how she functions within her own relationship. If her partner suggests that she start shaving, or start exercising, or that she drink one bottle of red wine a night as opposed to three, the response she offers should be of her own making, not another's. And if she chooses to take these suggestions to heart, to change how she acts out of respect for her partner, she should not be made to feel 'weak'.
My point, I suppose, is this: willingness to compromise in a relationship is not a flaw. Compromise does not equal a lack of resolve or personal surrender. On the contrary: the strongest women in my life have been those with the insight, the empathy and the emotional maturity to look beyond their own arbitrary preferences and realize that one of the bravest, most counter-cultural things a woman can do is to genuinely love. Sometimes - oftentimes - love means reshaping, it means making changes. If a woman chooses to embark upon the renovation process, it doesn't mean that she's setting fire to the legacy of the Suffragettes. It means that she is exercising her right to choose.
And so, I'll wear a wedding dress with sleeves. I'll keep on shaving, even though the razor rash occasionally drives me to distraction. And if anyone feels the need to call me out on these decisions, I'll smile, nod, and thank them for their concern. Because life as a woman is difficult enough - if we're willing to tear each other down over matrimonial fashion and prickly legs, then what are we even fighting for?