Giving good relationship advice (and taking it myself)

(Many years back, a woman friend of mine was having problems dealing with a guy. I wrote the following to her in a letter. I saved not the whole letter, but just this part.)

A further thought: It seems to me that once a person knows they’re being manipulated, or knows the other person does not accept the underlying nature of the relationship (or very significant points of it) or knows the other person is misrepresenting themselves, then that [original] person becomes responsible for anything that happens after that. I’d take it a step further by saying that total responsibility would include very thorough “screening” before getting too involved; i.e., really knowing yourself and stacking up the odds in such a way that you are very unlikely to even start involvements with people who will manipulate you, or not accept the nature of the relationship, or misrepresent themselves. This doesn’t mean all the scumbags are off hook — they’re still scumbags, but I just think it’s so important to take the focus off the other party; happiness demands it for one. (I speak not just of you, but from on-going experience; I really want to get this right in my own life.)

As I said, I wrote this quite a long time ago. There’s no date but probably a dozen years back. I know I was on to something, but it isn’t as if I took my own advice. Not for a long time. There are things I don’t learn in a week, or month, or even a year, but over chunks of time. My point to my friend was that she needed to take responsibility for at least some of the problems she was having with this other person. I think we women let ourselves off the hook, maybe prematurely, on occasion, because we figure once we’ve made our feelings clear on a matter with a man, our work is done. But it isn’t – not if the information we’re getting back tells us he is disregarding our words or feelings, or is being deceptive, manipulative, etcetera. It’s easier to blame them. But once you know something about somebody, you can’t unknow it.

I’m reminded of how often (really often) Judge Judy calls women out on this very point. She has no patience for women who return to the bed of a man who has hit them, or give more money to a man who never repaid them for past loans, for oft-cited examples. I’m not talking about either of those two particular situations, but the concept generally. If you know it, it’s yours now. There’s no one to truly blame other than yourself from that point forward. Many women resist this idea. They want to talk about the man who’s done them wrong. And done them wrong again. And done them wrong yet again.

I’m using women as my reference point because I am one, and the friend I wrote the above quote to was one, but the real underlying concept is not gender-specific. Man or woman, you’re an innocent party unless and until you are not. I think people hang on after they have all the information they need to cut loose because they’re getting something they’re reluctant to lose (me included). But if you’re “getting” something from someone who is manipulating you or misrepresenting themselves, or not truly accepting the relationship as it is, what are you really getting? It’s taken awhile, but I believe I now live the words I wrote to my friend. There’s a price for that, but I find that few sound, hard-won practices come without one. It’s worth it, to me.

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