As we sat talking one day in my lovely little condo which is decorated to my, and only my taste, a friend looked about and, sighing a bit, commented on all the compromises–starting with home décor–that she has made in her household. “When you marry,” she said, “you give up a little piece of yourself.”
I understood. I was married for 19 years, and (leaving entirely aside the difficulty of a marriage that crumbled due to my partner’s alcoholism, drug use and infidelity), I made any number of concessions and compromises—as I’m sure he did, also. The very act of spending your life with another person is a commitment to cooperation and negotiation. Many couples never learn to navigate their way through the thorny path of such concessions, though, without one partner giving up too much of her or himself.
And therein lies the rock upon which so many marriages and partnerships and perhaps even international negotiations stumble, never to recover. There must be give-and-take in any relationship. Yet, all too often, one partner becomes the giver, the other the taker. Taking can eventually become a self-fulfilling premise. From the color one paints the walls to the type of car, to the amount of a mortgage, to the number of evenings out for one partner, to who will be the person attending parent-teacher conferences or helping with homework, who pays the bills or takes the taxes to be figured, who mows the lawn or gets up with the baby, the Taking partner can become so accustomed to the compromise and conciliation of the other that he or she retreats into a sort of childhood cocoon, where everything done is done by a parent-like figure who has only one’s best interests at heart.
The Giver, meanwhile, waits continually for just a word of recognition and appreciation, which comes rarely, or, after some time, not at all. Overburdened, or perhaps just feeling that more and more pieces of oneself have been handed over to a vacuum and vortex of need, resentment begins to replace the contentment of mature compromise. And resentment is the most vicious enemy of love.
It is hard, sometimes impossible, to strike a balance between two disparate personalities and negotiate a pathway to shared responsibility and decision-making. And perhaps that is why I, divorced now the same number of years as I was once married, continue to live alone. I know my tendency to try to make another love me by giving until there is almost nothing left of myself—and then, having wrung myself out, beaten myself dry on a flat rock beneath a burning sun—to know the experience of having love gutter into bitterness and resentment; to be, despite it all, left alone because the “me” that the other once knew and appreciated has disintegrated, like damp tissue paper, into nothingness.
It is one thing to give up a tiny piece of yourself for the sake of cooperation and agreement. But let it always be a two-way street. And save the largest piece of yourself for yourself. No partner is worth your soul.