Girl Talk: Compromising Positions

I made decision when I was a young adult on the kind of regrets I’d try to have: I want to regret only the things I did do, not the things I didn’t. So far it’s worked out just as I’ve hoped. I have never had to look back and wish I had fallen deeply in love, or traveled around Europe when I was young, or quit a steady job to freelance write fulltime, because I’ve done all of those things. I’m proud that I have very few regrets about things in my life I have done — very, very few, like, I’m struggling to think of examples now. But as each month brings more and more distance between myself and a devastating heartbreak I suffered with the guy I wanted to spend my life with, one regret is becoming pronounced. I look back now and I’m not proud of all the small compromises that I made for him without, I think, getting as much as I should have in return.

It is now I am realizing, though, I am the one who did most of the compromising to live the lifestyle he wanted.

My mother and I are not particularly close. I’m very open about everything, while she clams up about feelings. My relationship with my ex-boyfriend brought us closer, though, in a way we had never been before as mother and daughter. She loved my ex-boyfriend and was very happy we were in love. Both of my parents supported us moving in together, were delighted when he said he wanted to marry me, and agreed he was “the one.” She knew him well, and I knew she knew me well, so, whenever he and I had disagreements or he hurt my feelings in some way, I felt comfortable for the first time in my life seeking her advice on how to handle it. And her advice, every single time, was that we had to learn how to compromise.

My mom and my dad have been married for something like 32 years now. I saw them argue a lot while I was growing up and that showed me I never wanted to have a marriage with so much conflict. They had some really rough years in there. But presently, Mom and Dad are empty-nesters, thrilled grandparents and happier than I’ve ever seen them. It’s almost like sticking together all this time has been worth it (at least, from my observation — only they could say for sure how they feel). My father has even said to me, very memorably, that marriage is about sticking together and not leaving when things get difficult. Obviously I don’t agree with that philosophy carte blanche for everyone. It is only my father’s opinion. I’m glad they both felt that, though, and that they’re still married and growing old together.

Dad may have planted that concept in my brain as a teenager when we discussed it, but it was Mom and her advice about my ex-boyfriend that caused me to really put it into practice. I would tell her how I felt my ex-boyfriend was unreasonable with this, or irresponsible about that, and she would say some version of “if you’re going to spend the rest of your lives together, you’re going to have to find a way to work through it.” And she would remind me that not every moment of a relationship is ecstatic bliss. If I didn’t believe her, she’d say, I should call any of my three sisters who are married. (I do not mean to make it sound like my mom was encouraging me to be a doormat or anything: when the relationship neared its abrupt and sh**ty end, heralded in by my ex suddenly telling me I needed to lose weight and wear cuter clothes and fly on airplanes and all this other dumb crap, my mom was the first person to firmly implant herself in my defense. She friggin’ hates his guts now.)

I agree with my parents’ philosophy, of course. None of my qualms about my ex-boyfriend were breakup-worthy offenses. The stuff we struggled with was the common (but nevertheless distressing) problems all couples deal with, mostly regarding communication and respect. So we would do what couples have to do to stay together long-term: we would find a way to work through it.

It is now I am realizing, though, I am the one who did most of the compromising to live the lifestyle he wanted.

I think I put too much stock into what our future would be when the present was making me unhappy. I actively compromised then because I believed that I would be rewarded for those compromises in the future. For example, we moved out of New York City together to a small apartment in New Jersey with a roommate — his best friend — who, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t like. We’d been thrilled to move in together, but in time, I felt pretty much trapped out there. For nearly two years we lived like this, even though the whole time I hated the apartment itself, how unclean we (specifically the roommate) allowed it to get, and how it was poorly decorated and cluttered with furniture. But I kept telling myself we’d have future apartments — a future house, even! — that I could truly make a “home.”

Money stuff was another issue, one that I’m only started to come to grips with recently. I earned more money than he did and, in fact, the reason we lived out in NJ was so he could live super-cheaply. I should have been able to save money, one would think, but I didn’t. We spent money on cooking supplies for our apartment. We spent money on clothes. We spent lots of money on commuting. We spent lots of money on groceries. We spent lots of money on eating out. We spent lots and lots of money on travel. My money is my business and my business alone alone, but it certainly didn’t help matters that I earned more than he did and felt a little obligated to contribute more. Doing that didn’t especially bother me, though, because we were a partnership. Men have been the breadwinners in their partnerships for a long time — surely I could kinda do the same. Besides, the industry he worked in before his current job is extremely well-paying. I had assumed — perhaps naively — that he would “get me back” some day.

But … well … he dumped me. None of that will happen. I have to live with the fact that I spent almost two years living in a crappy city in New Jersey that I hated and that I spent my hard-earned money on a relationship that royally pissed on. I want to be clear that I alone made all these choices and I don’t blame anyone else — my ex, my parents, etc. — for how things have turned out. (They’ve actually turned out quite well, actually, but that’s another story!) I’m a grown-ass woman and I made every decision myself.

I regret all those compromises, though, because they didn’t work out. I regret living someplace I hated for so long on the future promise we’d move. I regret spending as much money as I did on the future promise some day he’d get me back. I regret not distinguishing more between the smaller, day-to-day compromises and the larger compromises that have bigger implications on my life.

I’m glad the experiences happened when I was 25, 26 and 27, because now I know better for the rest of my life. I don’t like having these regrets, though, and I hope they’re something I won’t always have.

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