PQ 24.4 — Am I being asked to give up anything to be in this relationship? If so, do I feel that what I will get in return is worth the price?

a closeup of the head of a chameleon
Image by Frank Herrera / CC BY

PQ 24.4 — Am I being asked to give up anything to be in this relationship? If so, do I feel that what I will get in return is worth the price?

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Once upon a time, I was a true social chameleon. I had the ability to blend in practically anywhere. Adopt the characteristics of whatever environment I found myself in at the time.

As a kid, I somehow managed to be friends with nearly everybody. I was proud that in school I wasn’t limited to only one clique, as many others were, but I instead had school friends from all walks of life. Part of this was because I was funny, friendly, and entertaining (a good joke teller). And part of this was because I was extremely easygoing. I set very few boundaries with other people, and so there weren’t many to violate. I rarely got frustrated or upset with others. Very few wars were waged.

When people didn’t like me as a kid, it was invariably because I was a little out there. A bit too weird. And keeping the “wrong” company. Typically these kids were social purists (a.k.a., snobs) who were disinclined to hang out with someone who swung from clique to clique, as I often did.

But for the most part, I had plenty of friends and was generally well regarded (aside from some bullying in middle school over my sexual orientation, but that’s another story). And a large part of that stemmed from being extremely agreeable.

As I grew a bit older, and sex and love started to enter the picture, I carried over those same social patterns from my early childhood. I strove to get along with people. To be as agreeable as possible.

I Used to Pride Myself on Being Able to Make Any Relationship Work, No Matter the Cost

Once I started to date, I prided myself on being able to make any relationship work, regardless of our natural compatibility. I was good at compromise, self-sacrifice. Fantastic at tucking away my core principles when it was convenient to do so. If they conflicted with someone else’s.

At the time, this seemed like the best way to live happily ever after when it came to love. Shape shifting. Twisting myself like a pretzel to match whatever my partner seemed to want (a template I’d glean from careful observation or listening and failing that, demand it from them), regardless of that image’s distance from who I really was.

In a weird way, it did sort of work. The relationships lasted. My partners stayed with me. In one sense, this was a huge success, since this was the whole aim. More than anything, I feared that the people I loved would leave me. But as I met with this “success,” a curious thing happened: It felt empty. Like something important was missing. They were dating someone that made them happy, but was it me, really? I was always interacting from a distance, playing a role, pretending I was someone I wasn’t. And since I hadn’t given any thought to what wanted, the people I dated were often far from my ideal (I didn’t even know what that was).

And over time, I’d end up so unhappy, ensconced in relationships so unfulfilling and toxic that I’d be the one to leave.

But lacking in insight over what was going on, I did this over and over again. The pattern is clear now, looking back in hindsight. But at the time, I had no idea. Just kept on perpetuating the cycle. Stuck in a loop that came very close to destroying my hope of ever being romantically happy.

And Then I Had a Relationship With Someone as My Authentic Self… And I Haven’t Wanted to Go Back

Until one day that I fell in love with my best friend, someone with his shit together, who had met me at a moment where I had my guard down. I just wasn’t putting on any airs (because I was too stressed and busy from other things). Where I was just being me. This friend managed to connect with the unfiltered version of who I am — and loved what he found there.

And so I began a relationship with the first person who really understood me. Who I was always authentic with. The first relationship I ever had where I didn’t feel like I had to sacrifice large parts of myself to keep it going. And weirdly, it just worked. It was so easy. I could just be who I was. I could relax around him. And we were both so happy just being together, regardless of how we spent that time, what we even did.

Eight years later, we’re still going strong.

As we’re both polyamorous, I have gone on to date new people after him. But as I’ve done so, I’ve never gone back to my old way of doing things. I’ve approached each of those new connections as me. Authentically me. That same unfiltered self.

I’m done with my old ways. No longer will I censor out large parts of who I am or violate my own boundaries in order to keep a relationship going that otherwise wouldn’t make it.

Small adjustments out of courtesy? Sure. So long as I’m not giving up my core identity. Or letting someone treat me in an abusive way. Or pretending I’m someone I’m not.

This hasn’t always been an easy course to stick to. Have I had times where I was tempted to revert to my old ways? To do something radically self-destructive in order to salvage a relationship? Sure. It would have been incredibly easy to do so, like pushing a button on my keyboard that I know the location of without even looking.

But I’ve held back from that. I’ve managed to stick to my guns. And while I may have lost a relationship or two over this decision, I don’t consider those breakups failures. Instead, I consider them successes, signs of growth.

Because I’ve learned that there are certain costs I should never pay in order to keep a relationship going. I still believe that it’s important to be there for the people I love, but I’ve also learned I should never reward a person by giving them what they want if they’re attempting to get it through abusive means.

Relationships shouldn’t continue at any cost. If I have to do something self-destructive to keep a relationship going, I’d rather that relationship fail.

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Here’s another post I wrote called 4 Clear Signs It’s Time to End Your Relationship.

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This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this indexed list.

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