The equality myth

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 7, 2006, 2:02 PM | comments: 2

Thinking of my own relationship history, and a recent discussion with Cath, I started to wonder if there really is such a thing as equality in a relationship. My conclusion is that it doesn't exist.

Let me first qualify that statement by saying that certainly people should treat each other as equals, not just in personal relationships, but in general. That doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't work within the world's hierarchies, but you should keep in mind that every person will be worm food, just like you. That's even more important in intimate relationships. Equal respect is non-negotiable.

But beyond that mutual and essential respect, one person will always do more in most every way. It doesn't matter if it's about who makes more money, does more cleaning, does more shopping, is more mentally stable... whatever. One person will always be stronger in certain areas than the other. I've come to the conclusion that this is just the natural order of things.

One might instinctively think that means no relationship can ever work, because of the expectation that everything has to be equal, and that expectation can't be met. However, that's where love and acceptance really come in. You have to support your partner's "deficiencies" because the only alternative is to not be with them. And actually, that's OK too. Everyone has to figure out what their tolerances are for expectation gaps. But if you can't support your partner, or they don't support you, you need to consider that perhaps they aren't the person for you.

I can think of instances in my life where I totally short-changed myself and made concessions I shouldn't have (that's especially true for my college years). That's the closest thing I've had to regret, but I suppose I learned from those experiences. On the flip side, I know of instances where I was inflexible in ways that may have harmed relationships too, so I've been on both sides of that situation, trying and failing to create an illusion of equality because that's what I thought you were supposed to do.

I thought maybe there was some bigger picture way to keep score too, so that the inequalities would eventually balance each other out. I don't think that's true either, because no one plays by the same scoring rules. I might make a ton of cash, but is that reason to expect my partner to keep the house spotless if money doesn't mean much to her? Of course not.

The bottom line is that we need to decide for ourselves where we're willing to be the bigger or lesser contributors. Some personalities (like mine) are all about providing, while others want to be cared for.

I suspect that, for me, the ultimate relationships are those where both people are providers (in the emotional and/or financial sense), because providers are passionate people that derive pleasure from giving of themselves. At the very least, I suspect they have the highest likelihood of success. It's a delicate situation, because any one person could wake up one day and decide, "This doesn't serve me anymore."

Hey, Dr. Phil isn't a real doctor either. :)


CPLady, November 7, 2006, 9:54 PM #

I totally agree with you. There is no such thing as a completely "equal" relationship. There is give and take on both sides, but there's no getting around one person is stronger in some areas than their SO.

The trick is to figure out which areas each is strong and weak in and work around that. In some cases, one person is stronger all around and will be depended upon to do more than the other and that stronger person must decide for him/herself if that's okay for the long haul.

Catherine, November 8, 2006, 3:26 PM #

Thank god I agree, too, since I am the one in the relationship with you, right? What really angers me (especially with some of our friends) is seeing people with different visions of a relationship just force it over and over again, on so many fronts... and do it because they are scared of being alone. Wouldn't you rather be alone than stay with someone who has an unrealistic expectation of you? I tried for years to hide how passionate and giving I am, because it scared people away. It even got to the point where my family was WARNING my boyfriends how intense I was! But then I just accepted it, and was genuine every time I went out with someone new. Eventually it paid off. And like Jeff said, even if someday I have to realize a relationship does not serve me anymore, and does not bring me happiness, or if someone else decides I don't serve THEM anymore, that's OK too. I'd rather be alone and be ME than be together and miserable.

Post your comment: