People celebrate “losing themselves,” and “falling” for someone; they get tossed and turned like they have no say in the matter; they let themselves get pulled emotionally willy nilly and chalk it up as “passion.”
“Relationships take work,” we tell ourselves. But we’ve misconstrued what that “work” is supposed to mean.
“Boring” is better than “impassioned,” and while most great relationships have a blend of both, forced to choose, we should readily take the former.Consistently warm is far more hospitable than hot and cold for long-term emotional wellbeing.
Boring is beautiful
By “boring,” I mean stability, consistency, reliability. We can hang our hat on these things; we can only build on a solid, unwavering foundation.
Greatness is built with consistency
As true for relationships as it is for anything.
Weight loss happens with countless little daily decisions, not binging and purging. Building a company happens in the millions of micro-moments, not landing — and losing — That One Big Client. It’s a lot easier to engineer a solution around consistent variables — regardless of what they are.
When a partner (or the relationship) is up, down, hot, cold, ecstatic, pissed, etc., we spend far too much time managing their feelings and not enough time actually building the relationship.
I can’t do anything with an erratic partner. (I know this because I had one once — okay, twice — and it was simply unworkable.)
Greatness is built with agency and taking responsibility
If we approach love with healthy hearts, we don’t complain of “boredom” with our partners, because we understand that they are not here to amuse, distract, or otherwise entertain us. Their lives are not fuel for our amusement, they are not here simply to delight and distract.
We are responsible for our own emotional wellbeing.
Greatness is built with emotional health
Emotionally healthy people do not chase “romance” and put on exaggerated displays. Emotionally healthy people can lap at the edge of excess; they are satiated on healthy displays of love alone. They understand that real, healthy love is in the every day little shit — remembering the dry cleaning; a hug; a word of encouragement before the big meeting — and they don’t require, nor do they have any real appetite for, the showy shit that’s “shareable” on social media.
Greatness is built in the everyday, not the few exciting moments
Great relationships, like anything, are built in the everyday. They don’t simply endure the everyday to just get to the next vacation or fun outing, just like great work doesn’t simply endure the work week to get to the weekend.Relationships are built in the “white space” of life; they are the everyday. So what we do with that time makes or breaks us.
Every moment we spend with our loved one is precious and invaluable. That’s where the relationship lives or dies. And a lot of those everyday moments are, for the most part, boring.
That 80 year old couple holding hands in the park is sharing “boring.” They got there one day at a time.
Impassioned is dangerous
By “impassioned” I mean excitement, excess, extremes. Romantic hedonism — new restaurants, gifts, travel, grandiose displays or constant reassurance or lofty, poetic declarations of love. If you want great love, these should make you want to run.
Bustle put out an article on “17 things to do when you get bored in your relationship.”
I’ll save you a read, because there aren’t “17” things to do. There’s only one thing to do, and it’s: “take responsibility for your own life and understand that it’s not your partner’s job to entertain you.”
There is, of course, a real benefit of trying new things and going to new places as a couple — but only if done with a calm heart, and never with the anxious frenzy to “do something!”
When we chase romance and excitement, we do to “love” what porn does to sex.
“Passion” is dangerous to hang our hearts on because it fades away. It must either be doggedly pursued and constantly refueled, or it runs the risk of exposing the realization that there’s nothing underneath. Love built on frenzied pursuits leaves us fatigued and washed up, looking at each other at the end of our ropes, frustrated that we “can’t come up with anything else to do.”
In good love, there’s nothing “to do” except love one another. Every day. And it doesn’t depend on how wefeel, because good, healthy love doesn’t hinge on our feelings; it’s a choice. Every day.
Good love looks and feels “boring”
Real, healthy love is quiet, not loud. It is calm, not frenzied. It is solid and stable, not flighty or fickle.
As Irby wrote,
“Real love… it’s not a game you don’t understand the rules of, or a test you never got the materials to study for. It never leaves you wondering… what you could possibly do to make it come home and stay there. It’s fucking boring, dude. I don’t walk around mired in uneasiness, waiting for the other shoe to drop… This feels safe and steadfast and predictable and secure. It’s boring as shit. And it’s easily the best thing I’ve ever felt.”
I deliberated long and hard beforehand — for most of my adult life — and like all decisions I deliberate on for that long (see: my bike and my boyfriend), once I did it: I freaking loved it.
It’s the best haircut I’ve ever had, in terms of sheer adoration.
I’ve Never Really Liked Long Hair
/ This is the most important thing in this piece. If you read nothing else, that statement alone will do.
I don’t like long hair.
I don’t like it on me and I don’t really like it on other people, either — men and women alike. I’ll take a bald head over a man bun, and I barely like bobs. That alone is reason enough not to have it. The end. Forever.
Hair is fucking weird
And our habits of tending to it are even weirder.
I see hair as fingernails —because technically it is — and I have the same “can’t unsee” aversion to hair that my brother had to Miracle Whip once he was old enough to read the word “dressing” printed on the front.
Some things, we just can’t come back from. And I don’t blame us — especially if we’re right.
When it comes to hair (and nails), it’s fine that we have them and I’m okay when they’re short and groomed, but the minute you start growing them out and “styling” them, I’m just like “pls gahd no.”
Hair Is Pointless, Really
My hair became this thing I carried around “just in case”— in case I wanted to style it on a Saturday night (I rarely did) or in case I woke up one morning finally knowing how to make it look good (I never did.)
I kept it in the way we keep the rain coat in the back of our closet, the oddly-shaped bundt pan, the electronics packaging…
My hair was like that windbreaker jacket we didn’t need to bring and end up toting around the mall, like ‘oh, it’s okay; I’ll just roll it up and tuck it under my arm.’
It’s not okay. It’s a nuisance and I don’t need it!
Most long hair doesn’t look good
People say pixie cuts take a lot of work to look good, but this is more true for long hair. Too often, women think they just grow it out and it’s sexy by proxy. It isn’t.
When it comes being long, most hair can’t pull it off.
My hair has always been limp and lifeless; the hair of a small child, baby-fine and so ferociously wispy it refuses to hold a curl. (Several stylists have tried to reassure me: “that just means it’s healthy!” to which I glare back in the mirror thinking, “well how bout we rough it up a little then, huh? Maybe drag it out back and then see how it feels?”)
I bound my hair up in a ponytail or top-knot 99% of the time, and when I didn’t, it’d hang listless around my face, sighing and sad, like “hey. I’m… technically here.”
It’s not that I hate my hair, because I don’t. It means well. It tries to hold a curl and humors me with some brief, fleeting waves when I take it out of a top knot (see profile pic), but only for a few magical moments during which I can run to the mirror and feel exalted at its effort— “almost!” — until it slowly fades back to its limp-noodle state, smiling up at me weakly like, “I’m sorry — I tried.”
Expecting my hair to look good long is like hitching a whippet up to a dogsled, or being a walk-on at the Olympics. It’s just not setting things up for success.
“I hate dealing with having long and fine hair… No matter how much you brush your hair and have the dead ends trimmed, it always ends up looking stringy again by the end of the day. This will defeat all will that you may have left to style your hair.”
I’ve paid triple digits for haircuts with a dozen different stylists, all of which left me feeling like Justin Long’s character in The Breakup. I’ve tried color and conditioners and volumizing products, and have had more than one stylist eye me in the mirror and sigh, “it’s not you — it’s your hair.”
After all these years, I have to agree. It’s better for both of us if I stop dragging us through this.
I only felt more certain when I walked into the salon to get it done and saw all the other women sitting there with their foils and shit. I thought: this whole “hair” thing isridiculous! We’re no better than poodles — except we shell out hundreds of dollars a pop for this ridiculous poodle parade!
Kim Quindlen wrote,
“I got tired of having to maintain such long hair… Some people love maintaining and caring about their long hair, which is absolutely fine. But for me, I was just getting tired of it and I didn’t like the way I felt about it.”
Me too. And finally, like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, I’d had enough and declared, “off with her head!”
I used to wonder if I had “the face for” a pixie
But then I realized that I didn’t care.
I mean, men are running around all over the place willy nilly with their short hair, not a care in the world, and somehow all of them “have the face for it?” psh, please.
I also wondered if I would have to dress more feminine to “balance it out,” but then I realized I didn’t care about that, either. Which is really fortunate, because my entire wardrobe is black denim and t-shirts and I really don’t have the inclination to buy more.
In the end, it turns out I do have the face for it. But moreover: I have the personality for it. And that matters much more.
Men and “What My Boyfriend Thinks”
This is always the big question.
“What does your boyfriend think?”
To everyone asking (or wondering) this: honey. Do you hear yourself?
I mean, yeah, it’s awesome if my partner likes my hair — that’s definitely preferable over him not liking it (just like it’s cool if I like his) — but my hair isn’t a domain of my boyfriend’s preferences. (I didn’t, like, ask his permission. lol)
My boyfriend puts my happiness regarding my hair higher than his happiness regarding my hair. My attractiveness (and his attraction to me) isn’t based on hair.
(Which will really come in handy if I ever — god forbid — have to go through chemo or something.)
I guess I should count myself as lucky? It’s sad if that’s true.
“It’s NOT SEXY and men hate it.”
Lol… alright. Fine by me.
This only matters if you care about random mens’ opinions. But as someone who doesn’t:
You might as well be telling me what kind of sandwich “men prefer” right as I’m about to tear into my grilled cheese.
Like… cool, I guess? But that’s kinda got nothing to do with me.
And my gentle message to anybody still arguing it does: bro, you and I don’t even exist on the same plane. We are two ships passing in the dark. And that is kindest possible way I can put that.
It’s not anyone’s job to embody anybody else’s ideals of physical attractiveness.
Men treat me differently — but not how you think
If anything, they’re more deferential— rushing to hold doors, breaking eye contact rather than staring me down, or staring wistfully rather than predatorily.
Maybe men recognize I have more balls than they do? Maybe it’s just the south? Maybe they dig it? Or maybe they’re that uncomfortable?
I have no idea. But it’s definitely not worse.
“I love short hair on women”
Look, bud… I know you think you need to tell me this; you’re not alone. But I just want to make clear: lol, I don’t really care. (See “sandwich,” above.)
The “professional” consideration
You can get away with dodging dudes in your private life, but your professional success will hinge on likeability and likeability hinges in part on attractiveness.
I cut my hair only after being at my job a while — not while job hunting. Also, I’m in my 30’s, where the thing is easier to pass off as “oh, she’s just past her peak.” (So. You know. They forgive you your “indiscretions” or whatever? lol.)
Women hate it too (i.e., our self-loathing “femininity”)
This is way bigger and more serious.
My mother is one of those women with hair “down to her butt.” (It’s really waist-length, but she’d love for me to say it’s longer.) It’s been long and softly wavy since she was a teenager, and I have tender memories of gently twirling the tips of her braids as a small child.
My mother was the most aghast when I cut mine, texting “wow what!!” and a day later adding, “did you cut it yourself?”
I had trampled a deeply-held viewpoint on womanhood.
After cutting her hair and getting blowback, Olivia La Bianca wrote,
“It really throws a new light on the subject of what is ‘acceptable’ as a woman and what is not… this one issue simply dragged me down into a spiral of continual revelations about femininity and where women stand in society.”
“In a world where women’s appearances are under constant watch, it’s no surprise that any time someone makes a change, people gawk in either disgust or amazement. It’s become the norm to assume that a woman is trying to prove her independence to the world anytime she is in the infancy of her single-dom and changes her look.”
But it’s not a woman’s job to carry the weight of outdated expectations.
Sometimes we are just one person, doing our own thing.
“You’re so brave!”
Hahaha… oh, sweetie… if your idea of “brave” is short hair, then life must just be a series of terrifying events for you.
You need to get out more.
We hide behind our hair
I took an improv workshop with a coach who forbids jackets or hats while performing, because clothing becomes armor.
Same goes for hair.
After cutting 12 inches off, Kirstin Van Zuiden admitted,
“I know I hid my lack of self-confidence behind my hair at times. If I absolutely hated how I looked… I would curl my hair, it would look cute, and people would notice that instead of how insecure I was.”
Kim Quindlen chopped 12 inches as well, and afterwards wrote,
“My hair was my security blanket… I was almost too attached to my hair. I didn’t like caring about it that much.”
When women cut their hair and then feel “ugly,” the issue is never short hair. The issue is them. And their insecure (i.e., self-loathing) ideas of identity.
Sexuality — and sex
Some people think women with short hair aren’t into sex. I have tolaugh at this. (And after I’m done laughing, I encourage you to run that by my boyfriend, who will laugh at this, too.)
Others think it’s about sexuality. And to that I just have to sad-smile and wonder, “how do you make it day to day, you dear creature?” Life must be incredibly hard and scary for you.
A lot of stylists won’t do it
Nobody ever talks about this part, but it’s true.
I actually went in for a pixie a year ago and my stylist, whom I’d been seeing for years, outright refused to do it. Shortest she’d go was a bob, and even then I had to beg her to cut the back up to my hairline.
Is it professionalism? Some “haircuttery ode?” I don’t think so — I think it’s just fear. And by that I mean their own.
“The stylist held a lock of my hair between her fingers, looked at me in the mirror, and said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Everyone acted like this was such a huge risk to take.”
The stylist who finally cut mine was super excited about it. It still attracted the attention (read: anxiety / agonized concern) of the other stylists, who milled about around me or glanced over from their own clients with their long, stupid locks, but as the hair fell away, all I thought was, “it’s just you and me, Stylist— we’re the only two in this room.”
For the the first time, my hair actually felt like mine
Most women who get short hair cuts love them, but some admit feeling self-consciousness the first few days. I didn’t.
I all but paraded out of my apartment the next morning, bits of newly-chopped hair wigging out and “roostering” straight up in the back and me not caring, like “look at my hair! LOOK AT IT!” I immediately loved it and have only grown to love it more.
By the afternoon of the second day, I was so comfortable with it that I altogether forgot about it. (Perfect.)
Here are the top things I realized after cutting it
I have 82 cowlicks. (Okay, it’s actually like four, but hot damn, son.)
My neck is freezing. (Why don’t men talk about how freaking cold their necks are? omg.)
My helmet itches. Like a thousand poky, “post haircut” hair bits. (Note: this did go away after a few days. But I looked like a crazy person at stop lights there for a minute.)
I didn’t know how to dry my hair. (I know this sounds ridiculous — “a towel, you dummy!” — but you don’t realize how muscle-memory-ingrained your shower routine is until you step out and have no idea what to do with your hands — or the towel.)
tbh I wish some dude would mansplain “styling” to me.
I just wrote about improv a week ago, but that post was about anxiety / indecision and this one is about love and those two things, not enough of us agree, are entirely different. So they warranted separate posts.
I just started doing improv six weeks ago, and I loved it by the second class (the first being a bit too dicey too tell; I wanted to like it, was pretty sure I liked it, but it was also a bit early to know for sure.) But by the second week, I was definitely hooked, and I just signed up for my second six-week set of sessions.
And here’s what I’ve learned (and loved) about love in improv:
1.) Care About Others
The audience can tell, and so can your partner(s). It just makes for a much better experience — in improv as much as real life. The best scenes have connection.
Even when two characters are fighting, the scene goes a lot better if they fundamentally like one another (the characters, but the actors getting along IRL helps a lot too.) And you can play any character you want if you fundamentally care about them. The audience can tell.
Connection — and relationships — are the number one thing in improv.
And in life.
We get nowhere operating in a vacuum. Everything that means anything involves relationships of some kind.
2.) Trust Others
People always want to summarize improv as “yes, and,” but the connection and rapport with your teammates comes first.
During the first class, all we had to do was go out and talk. We could say anything we want — funny or not — but we had to talk until someone tagged us out, and the whole point of the exercise was to “save” our team members, and trust that someone would “save” us.
And we all did.
3.) Acknowledge — And Then Add (“Yes, and”)
This is the backbone of improv — the “number one rule” (after connection, see above.) “Yes, and” has two parts:
“Yes:” whatever your partner says or does, you accept. You run with it. That’s the new reality.
“And:” then you add more, and build.
1.) Acknowledge Others’ Realities (“Yes”)
Seems simple enough, but when I heard this phrase years ago, I butchered it. At the time, I tried to use “yes, and” to make a toxic relationship work (i.e., agreeing to everything he said in a fight.) But “yes, and” should never, ever be used in real-life arguments. The whole point of “yes, and” is to build energy, and healthy arguments should instead dissipate and get resolved.
Real-life still includes “yes,” but only in the way it’s actually meant — which isn’t necessarily literal. Rather:
“Yes” simply means you acknowledge what they said and accept it as “real.” It doesn’t mean you have to agree.
“Yes” just means you honor their statement (“okay. I heard that; that’s real”) rather than deny (“that never happened!” or “that doesn’t matter!”) It doesn’t mean you have to like it, or even pretend to.
I learned this the hard way, early on in improv. While playing the girlfriend of an upset boyfriend, I immediately launched into trying to comfort him. Afterwards, our instructor analyzed the characters for the class by saying,
“…and she was obviously totally codependent!! Great job, guys!”
It’s amazing how much we get wrong about relationships.
“Yes” in real life is not “yes, your feelings are hurt and I’m to blame!” It’s more like “okay, your feelings are hurt. I hear you” and then working to unravel and unwind the energy.
(And “yes, and” in improv looks more like, “Okay, sir… but I’m just trying to take your Dunkin Donuts order here.” I trust you see the difference.)
4.) Know how you FEEL! Then know how THEY feel
In the workshop, we did an awesome, deliberate paired exercise where we delivered one line at a time. After one person would say something, their partner would step away and define:
What their partner said
How their partner said it
How it makes them (the individual) feel
How they (the character) will use that in the scene
It’s remarkable how often we don’t hear each other’s actual words.
It’s also remarkable how often we misidentify their emotions.
And it’s downright sad when we struggle to accurately identify our own.
Understanding and getting better at all three things makes us so much better — not just in improv, but in relationships and life.
5.) Know What You Want
People don’t realize how important this is — in improv and life. You have to contribute. You need an objective, a motivation, a want. Even “trying to take your order,” from above, works.
What do you want?
As writer Kurt Vonnegut said,
“Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water.”
If all you do is sit there, smile, nod, comfort, or agree, then you’re not really there. If you’re not present or participating, adding your own unique desires, wants, needs, and opinions, then you are passive and not a part of the scene, or real life. And both will steamroll you.
As Heidi Priebe wrote,
“If you fail to show up with a ‘deal,’ there’s a good chance nothing interesting is going to happen… Because bending or conforming to whoever your scene partner wants you to be isn’t interesting. It doesn’t create any tension. It doesn’t get you anywhere.”
You have to add and ask for something of your own. What’s your deal? What do you want?
6.) Energy is an exchange
Our instructor wasn’t “feeling it” our third class. Normally an expressive woman dressed in whimsical textures and colors, she was seated when we walked in, wearing a baseball hat and a fitted athleisure top zipped up to her chin. She’d had a bad day.
She still led the class, but the difference was palpable. And it was a really invaluable insight into the level of energy she normally brings, and just how draining it can be when someone isn’t constantly fueling the fire.
We have to do that for each other sometimes. We have to bring it. We can’t expect one person in any relationship to constantly feed the fire while the other one absorbs it.
It’s boring at best, and draining at worst.
Same as in improv as in life. We have to bring if we want others to bring; we supply half of the driving force.
There are a few conversations where I feel very impatient.
Some topics I just feel bored — like when my colleague wants to talk about shoes — and sometimes I feel turned off — like when my mom wants to gossip about her neighbor — and other times I feel mad or sad or disconnected.
But sometimes, I feel impatient. With these topics, I have this big ole Ryan Reynolds sigh…
…because I know the conversation will never go anywhere.
Like I’m just there along for the ride, being subjected to this like we all have to endure the first five seconds of YouTube ads, without room for real discourse or discussion.
I know this because I can already tell that the other person is too far pot-committed to their stance, already cares too much, has invested too many emotions and waaaay too much of their identity and ego in what they’re saying, leaving me with only one option: tune it out, ignore them, and wait for it to die down.
One such conversation is what I call “the gender conversation.” This whole “men, women” thing that’s discussed.
(A good many of you, I know, have already bristled. I only say the words and spark an emotional, physiological response. I haven’t even laid out an argument yet, and we’ve already taking up arms, braced for an onslaught, riddled with feelings tied directly backed to our own identity but packaged in a way that looks to us, always, “logical.”)
Is that close enough? I think I’ve done that side justice, but if not, feel free to correct me and/or add more in the comments. Assuming that’s enough to suffice, however, perhaps I might sneak in another perspective:
Here’s another way to see it:
Let’s just use the term “people” for a second…
Some people eat chips by licking their fingers and pouring the last crumbs from the bag directly into their mouths. Some other people don’t.
The difference between these two groups of people was an observation, not a prescription.
Nobody* was ever stopping anybody from the second group from eating like the first group.
This would mean that the second group, so far as we know, didn’t even want to do what the first group was doing until it was pointed out to them that only the first group was doing it. Like a child who shows no interest in a toy until someone else points out that they never play with it.
People in the first group happened to be men. People in the second group happened to women. Sayingthis part out loud was, in my mind, the real mis-step Pepsi/Doritos/society made. Had they just stuck to “people,” I don’t think we’d be here. And that’s what’s interesting to me…
Here’s the thing:
People in the first group also happened to lack manners. (Is “maleness” synonymous with “poor-mannered?”)
People in the second group, rather than absorbing this implied slight against the first group, chose to interpret their own group (and identity) as the one being criticized and/or insulted.
So not only are they like a child who shows no interest in a toy until someone else points out that they never play with it — but they choose to interpret this observation (and/or being offered another toy) as an insult. Even when the first toy in question is objectively and widely regarded as “undesirable.”
Just to be clear:
If you want to crunch chips, lick your fingers, or pour crumbs into your mouth — nobody* is stopping you! Go on with your bad self.
If you want to hate all gendered products on principle, regardless of potential merit, go on with your bad self
But if you want to admit that you — being a human person, regardless of gender— enjoy eating chips in a way that is made more enjoyable by a certain product — regardless of “gendering,” necessary or otherwise — then you, also, may go on with your bad self — and spend your money accordingly, without interpreting your own gender as “insult”
Personally I’d love some chips that crunch less and don’t get my fingers gross or end up 90% crumbs in the bottom of the bag. Whether that’s “because I’m a woman” or not, I don’t really care. But I sure as hell wouldn’t automatically interpret it as an insult.
The conversation of a product’s merits are of far greater interest than its “gendering.”
And just to wrap it up by simplifying the logic here:
All insults are insults
Some gendered things are gendered unnecessarily (and most unnecessarily gendered things are insulting)
But not everything that’s “gendered” is an insult
*Nobody is directly stopping anyone from eating chips rudely. Maybe “they” (“the patriarchy” or “society” or “someone”) indirectly prevent(s) women from noisily eating chips, but if their problem is really with the patriarchy (women in fact wanted to do so and felt they “couldn’t”), then perhaps the best resolution here is to eat chips however the hell we really want instead of fighting observations on how we actually do.
I am sure people are going to @ me angrily over this, because “I just don’t understand” or I don’t yet see it their way. I understand this, of course, and it’s okay.
But I also wonder why we can’t do so without automatically assuming a position of “defense” against some perceived “affront.” Over chips?
If they “shouldn’t matter that much,” then why do they? Are our egos really this fragile?
A friend of mine once texted me and said, regarding the girl he’d only known and been dating about six months, “she means everything to me.” Six months after that, he proposed, and now they’re married.
I’m sure they’ll stay “happily-ever-after” married forever. But sometimes I still think about that text and feel a little like: uh. k.
You’re suggesting — like, out loud — that the rest of your life doesn’t mean anything. That without your partner in it, you’d be left with little to live for.
That’s not romantic. It’s not cute. And it’s definitely not healthy.
2. Constant communication
Look, communication is good. Great. Real pillar of a strong relationship right there — good job.
Constant communication, however, is weird. And not okay.
One of my guy friends started dating this girl, and I don’t know if it was her or him or both of them (my money’s on both) but those two would talk on the phone like a dozen times a day. She would just call him sporadically with something that, the first few times, seemed like a legitimate important issue, and he’d excuse himself and be all, “brb” but then wouldn’t come back for like an hour.
And it would happen multiple times a day. Always.
And then he damn married her. And as far as I know, they still spend hours of their days doing this.
Fam, that’s not okay after like 7th grade. What the hell are you people doing with your lives? Emotional self-sufficiency goes a long, long way. Youshouldn’t be relying on your partner for company or reassurance any time you have a thought or eat something.
3. Thinking all of your emotions are valid
Sweetie, I tell you this because I care about you: not all of your emotions have legs.
Yes, your emotions are real — nobody is telling you you aren’t allowed to feel what you feel. Absolutely, acknowledge everything that you feel if that makes you feel good. But acknowledging that you feel something doesn’t mean those feelings need to be acknowledged and honored by everyone else.
Some shit should be self-managed.
Just like every thought that pops into our heads isn’t worth saying out loud,sometimes every emotion that you have isn’t worth saying out loud. Some of those should feelings are half-baked and better off regulated by yourself.
4. Asking them to *fix* your emotional issues
Similar, but bigger picture.
Your partner is not responsible for your emotional wellbeing. Nobody can fix your emotional issues but you.
Your partner “not being there for you,” or being “unsympathetic to your crappy day,” or being “distant” during a hug, or going out with friends instead of comforting you — all examples of you expecting them to take care of you, instead of taking care of yourself.
“Blaming our partners for our emotions is a subtle form of selfishness, and aclassic example of the poor maintenance of personal boundaries. When you set a precedent that your partner is responsible for how you feel at all times (and vice-versa), you will develop codependent tendencies.”
Take responsibility for your own emotions and expect your partner to be responsible for theirs.
There’s a subtle yet important difference between being supportive of your partner and being emotionally obligated to your partner. There’s a difference between coming to each other as individuals with free will, who add to each others’ lives — and depending on one another for care.
Don’t use each other to wipe your ass, emotionally. You can do better than that.
5. Trying to make each other happy
Really just the “positive upside” of being responsible for each other’s emotional wellbeing. Because guys, it’s not good even when it’s “good.”
I once dated a guy who won me over by asking, early on, “how do I make you happy?”
Man, I thought this was like the creme de la creme of #relationshipgoals. Andmaybe it is, somewhere, with two healthy people with strong senses of self-sufficiency. But with him, what might’ve once been “sort-of-kind-of-could-have-been” love slowly eroded into some zombie remains of him basing his self-worth on my minute-by-minute state.
6. Doing everything together
Holy codependence, Batman.
There’s a trend here.
7. Being honest about everything
I don’t want or need to know that he thinks the intern is hot. I just don’t.Unless he just needs to air it — say it out loud — to bring it to light and drain the taboo from the situation (in which case it’s for him, not me), I literally have no need to know this. If it occurs to me that he might, I just acknowledge that he’s human, and probably does find her hot, and move tf on with my life.
This is one of those situations where, even if I might wonder if, I’d rather be permitted to be blissfully ignorant and willfully unaware.
Same goes for a drop in your attraction to them, or you having those normal “is this still what I want?” check-ins. Don’t bring all of that shit to each other. Just don’t.
“The problem is that many unhealthy relationship habits are baked into our culture… Deal with issues individually unless they are legitimately connected.”
I know some people who tally up chores like they’re still earning star stickers in first grade. Or going through their picks for playground dodgeball — “I’ll take the laundry if you do the floors.”
I know couples who play-pretend at “one cooks, one does the dishes” households and have actually gotten into fights because “one of them” decides to bake cookies but “the other one” doesn’t eat any and refuses to do the dishes.
Because above any specific fight, I refuse to date someone who treats ourrelationship like baby games (“that’s not fair!”) or watches to make sure I’ve really got ten items or less in checkout.
9. Sugar-coating and never hurting the other person’s feelings
Holy shit, we do so much of this in our every day lives as it is, I would go crazy if I had to pussyfoot around my partner like he was 8. That’s exhausting.
I’m not saying be an asshole. I mean, be a nice person — especially to your partner. And definitely (see above) take care of your emotional needs before you dump them on someone else.
But at the end of the day, if your partner can’t tell you you have something on your face or they need a day alone, that’s your deal and not theirs.
And trying to buy your way into love.
Vacations, status symbols, a kid — and then another. Romantic gestures, mixing it up, public displays of affection… it’s all for show and it’s all fornaught. You might buy yourself some time, but you’re also putting some substantial lipstick on an increasingly bloated pig.
11. Sticking it out
Yo, I know our grandparents did this, but you know a lot of the housewives of their time were (and housewives of our kin still are) drugged up and drinking at 11 am, right?
We so often confuse these two things — adoration and love. We think that adoring something is the same as loving it, and we think that being adored is the same as being loved.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
As Glennon Doyle Melton wrote in Love Warrior,
“Every girl must decide whether to settle for adoration or fight for love.”
And maybe you think you can have both — maybe you even can. But you can’t get love by building it on a foundation of adoration first, because the love will always be contingent upon (and conditional of) the adoration, and the minute they don’t find you as adorable (or you them), the love will fade as well.
The only way they can coexist is if the adoration follows the love — when we adore each other because we love each other, not the other way around.
But more often than not, unfortunately, the adoration comes first. It comes on as a by-product of infatuation and attraction, and then develops by endearing ourselves to one another through flirtation and putting our best selves forward and any other cute or charming maneuvers.
But when we make the easy play of adoration, we sacrifice the long game.
Women have to be especially careful, because “beauty” is particularly endearing, and many types of physical attractiveness can be particularly “adorable.” We’re more susceptible to being discounted in this way, and have to be particularly mindful of how we enter into relationships and build connections.
As Melton wrote,
“Beauty is a responsibility. People expect so much of it, it seems… When strangers admire me, I practice returning their attention. I understand that beauty is a form of kindness. It is for giving away, and I try to be generous… they wanted to adore me and I complicated things by inserting myself into their experience of me.”
Because when people like you primarily for your beauty (even if you are also proud of your attractiveness), they don’t like you for you — they like you for the pleasure your presence gives them.
Melton also broadened this into the overall challenge of “being a woman,” and pointed out that every girl must ask herself,
“How can I be expansive and free and still be loved? Am I going to be a lady or am I going to be fully human?”
Because you cannot be both.
If we pride ourselves on personality traits of being pleasant and agreeable and friendly in an effort to be liked, then we do so at risk of being a full, authentic, unique person. And if we are not complete people, we can never have complete love.
As Erich Fromm wrote,
“Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable. In pursuit of this aim they follow several paths. One… is to be successful, to be as powerful and rich as the social margin of one’s position permits. Another… is to make oneself attractive, by cultivating ones body, dress, etc.”
And the third way, used by most everyone, is,
“To develop pleasant manners, interesting conversation, to be helpful, modest, inoffensive.”
And while a degree of good manners is almost always appreciated, the problem is that we pursue them by way of sacrificing personality; we forego stepping out of line because we’re afraid of risking offending others.
And the problem is that,
“If we lack the courage to be individuals, we will never achieve love.”
Life is about more than being adored, and love is about a whole lot more than being the object of someone else’s adoration.
Emotional boundaries are my big question right now
I always have a big question in my head, and it’s always about love — and life.
After I broke up with my boyfriend of five years in 2014, my question was around “personal agency” and “real love” — specifically, whether someone can really love us if they see us differently (lesser and more superficially) than we see ourselves; if there is no “true” reality, then which version of “us” is real? Do we get final say in who we are and how we want to be seen (and loved?) (Side note: after 3 years and countless books, Emma Lindsay’s essay “Fish Love” is the closest and best answer I found.)
Last year, it was around emotional abuse —and what constitutes it — which lead to healthy vs. toxic love. (bell hooks had the best answers here.)
And that evolved into my big question this year, which is around “emotional boundaries.”
Emotional boundaries are hard
If you don’t agree, it’s almost certainly because you don’t (yet) realize you struggle with them. Because pretty much the only people with healthy emotional boundaries are the ones who have conscientiously and deliberately put in the emotion work to build them.
We don’t learn them from our family. (In fact, if anything, we learn the opposite from our families, most of whom are either too invasive, too dependent, or too enabling and end up encouraging our dependency on them.)
We can’t learn them from media, which is so ill with bad relationship and love models it should all be regarded as satire at best.
And we don’t learn them from others, because everyone struggles with them (see above) and some even see “boundaries” as being “closed off.” These people have a lot of emotion work to do, and should get their hands on some codependence reading.
This leaves the internet and books, but most of the advice there is equally bad.
There’s a lot of garbage out there on emotional boundaries
A lot of relationship books don’t even address the concept of emotional boundaries (or emotional health) — or worse, they actively encourage people to develop unhealthy ones, which sets everyone up for suffering.
Even books on boundaries beat around the bush, instead covering “how important they are” (great; duh) or “how to stand up for yourself” and “say no.” But those aren’t the real issue we have, evidenced by the fact that most of us sway erratically from one end of the spectrum to the other in attempt to find balance. We first find ourselves feeling “walked on” and then pick a fight over stupid shit to get even.
So far most books fail to address the real issue in emotional boundaries:
We don’t struggle with HOW to say “no.” We struggle with WHEN.
Take a cookie for a example
We all understand the logistics of how to not eat a cookie. (You say “no thank you,” you don’t pick it up, you don’t take a bite. Done.) That’s not the hard part.
The hard part is discerning whether or not we really want to eat the cookie.
If we don’t eat the cookie, are we avoiding it from a position of peace, or self-punishment — or pride? If we eat the cookie, is it with pleasure or lack of self-love? Do we actually want it? Will we regret it tomorrow? Do we want it because we’re bored, or we’ve had a beer, or a stressful day, or our host is extending it to us on a plate and smiling at us with those eyes that plead, “please — I spent an hour baking these.” Are any of those real desires? Should any of those be regarded as real desires? Is a cookie ever an appropriate vehicle for satisfying them? Is it ever appropriate to just say “ah, fuck it” and eat the cookie without identifying our real, underlying needs?
This is the hard part with boundaries — understanding what we truly want, beneath the surface, and what’s healthy.
And a simple, innocent cookie bears like 1/1000th the weight of a person.
And if you think I’m maybe overthinking the cookie thing, I’ll remind you: the cookie was a metaphor, bud. For boundaries. And if anything, we’re under-thinking those.
Here’s what I understand:
What emotional boundaries are: the distinction of self and others, and the limit of what we will accept from others to protect our self.
Emotional boundaries includes defining ourselves outside of our relationships to others (i.e., our jobs, marital statuses, etc.) and enables us to define our feelings separately from other people’s.
Healthy boundaries are: taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others. It’s understanding we are not responsible for what others think or feel, including how they believe we should think or feel.
Emotional boundaries are built on emotional health, and self esteem, and self-love.
Emotional health (and self esteem and self love) are the number one most important thing in a relationship. It’s all one packaged deal.
Emotional boundaries protect us from intimidation, manipulation, shaming, and emotional abuse (which are always indications of unhealthy emotional boundaries.)
Emotional boundaries require emotion work, which is not the same as emotional labor. (Incidentally: frustration around emotional labor is a big, bright red flag for poor emotional boundaries.)
How to literally say “no.”
Here are my open questions:
1.) Our feelings are often not “real.” So how do we manage them?
Before anybody gets pissy over that, let me clarify: youare entitled to feel your feelings. But that doesn’t mean your feelings are always reasonable or anybody else’s problem. And without emotion work, they can’t define emotional boundaries.
Resources on emotional boundaries often advise the reader to simply “understand what upsets, hurts, or offends” us. One article said, “When you feel anger or resentment or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, determine what you need to do or say, then communicate assertively.”
What horrible advice.
I mean, maybe, sometimes that’s valid. But maybe (most times) you need to deal with your own emotions before putting them back on others. Maybe your reason for feeling anger or resentment or jealousy or insecurity is your own problem.
If everyone followed bad advice like the above, we’d all be running around with the emotional development of children, believing every whimper that crossed our tiny brains had to be validated and honored.
Guys, no. Part of being an adult (and developing emotional boundaries) is also about being able to discern which emotions are yours alone to deal with, and not project on others.
Sometimes people struggle to stand up for their feelings. Sometimes people struggle to understand the world isn’t responsible for soothing everything they feel. Most people struggle with discerning the difference, and bounce back and forth between the two.
So: the question here is on emotion work, really. How to manage our own emotions, and being able to appropriately discern what’s ours to fix (hint: most of it), and what’s valid / for other people.
2.) Who decides?
Often these resources brush people off with advice like: “know your boundary and then say no.” And to that shit I’m like, thanksBarbara.
The problem is we’re all so bad at it, so we don’t have the privilege of trusting our own judgment yet. So who decides? Or, better yet: how do we know when we can? What if we don’t care? Should we?
I grab fries off my partner’s plate and borrow his clothes all the time without asking. I moved across the country for him. I listen when he jumps straight to “problem solving” when I share something.
Are those poor boundaries?? Even if neither of us cares, should we? Hell, even if we think we’re happy, should we be?
3.) Where the hell do we draw the line?
We are subconsciously socialized to empathize with other people’s feelings, but then we’re told not to take on other people’s feelings.
We’re told to “stand up for ourselves” but also “surrender to love.” We’re told to “say no” but never “shut down.”
We’re warned against becoming “emotionally exhausted” after talking to others, but we’re also warned against “withdrawing” or “walling others out.”
We’re told “the opposite of love is not ‘hate’ but ‘apathy’” (or maybe “fear?”), which means loving is caring — but what’s too much?
We’re not supposed to sacrifice our dreams for relationships, but most dreams are fantasies anyway. (Would you reeaally move to a cabin in Vermont??)
When it comes to others’ emotions, it makes sense: be open to others but don’t take on their emotions as your own. Fine. It’s not actually as clear it sounds, in practice, but it’s fine enough on paper. (Eat the cookie without becoming it. Eat the cookie without needing to identify as “cookie eater.” Fine.)
But what about our own emotions, thoughts, preferences, ideas? And how should those two come together? How do we make this all work? How do we discern and compromise?
Like: it’s always bad when people try to change their partners. Except it’s not always bad, because there are caveats like: if their habit is objectively bad, like smoking. But what if it’s subjectively bad, or just sort of bad? Who gets to decide? Do they compromise? Should both have to give 50% if the habit is only regarding one person’s body or life? How much agency do we have over one another? And how does their agency affect our own?
What I know for sure
Emotional boundaries are incredibly important.
Emotional boundaries are regarding our own preferences, but we should not trust our own preferences without emotion work.
Emotion work is not the same as emotional labor (though frustrations around emotional labor are indications of poor emotional boundaries)
It all comes down to better understanding of — and responsibility for — our own feelings and thoughts and what we truly want most, and expecting the same of people in our life.