Todd and I were talking over the weekend about our relationship, one specific piece actually, autonomy. This theme of autonomy in relationships, namely intimate relationships, has come up multiple times in the last few weeks so here I am and here is what I have to say about it and relationships on a broader scale..
First, for us, in our own relationship, it is really important. As two very independent introverted people autonomy is part of the life blood that keeps this relationship alive. I do not know if it is as important to others, I would have no way to know that, but this is our truth.
Last week my parents were over in the evening for dinner. Before Todd got home I was sitting around the table with my Mom and Dad and I do not remember exactly how this came up but my Mom told me that I should throw some of Todd’s work polos away while he wasn’t looking because by some standards they are a bit faded or worn looking. I feel no need to go into explanation of how Todd feels about his work shirts as I do not find that to be relevant information. Whether he was incredibly attached to these shirts or did not care about them at all, I would never throw something that belongs to him away. I promptly told my mother this. I knew she had been half joking in telling me to do it to begin with but her message was serious, which was “it is unprofessional for him to wear faded shirts to the office”. I explained that I do not make those decisions for him and it is not up to me to define for him what professional is, that looks different for everyone and every office.
I have never inserted myself into Todd’s choice of attire outside of answering his questions about “how formal” an event is so he can gauge what to wear, and he has never inserted himself into my fashion choices – which I deeply appreciate. I want to be able to show up as the person I wake up as everyday and I want the same for him.
A while back a friend was telling me about a couple she met and how they were discussing with others/giving advice about how to have a successful relationship/marriage or something to that effect. Honestly the whole thing kind of made me cringe, for a couple of reasons. 1. From what I gather this couple was relatively young and possibly still relatively newly married.. To me that says they are still figuring it out. If it was a couple who were later in life and had been together for many many years then yeah maybe they are qualified but even then, every intimate relationship looks so different. Which brings me to point 2. Relationship advice, in my opinion, is super tricky and maybe not a great idea generally speaking. Every single relationship is this subjective thing that two or more people experience together way differently than anyone else will experience. This goes for all relationships not just intimate relationships. AND in my humble opinion, comparison is a relationship KILLER. I’m sitting here talking about the importance of autonomy in my relationship and how it is this super healthy thing that makes me feel good as a wife and as a human being but you know what, that may not be even close to true for someone else. So do not internalize my message about what works for me and think that your relationship is in some way less than because you don’t value the things I value. Okay? Okay.
The other thing that worried me about what my friend shared, and I do not mean to dump on what maybe was a great interaction for her, I am just reacting to what I heard. Point 3. The highlight reel theory. I know I have mentioned this at least once in a previous post, how people will only show you their best days and make you think this is what every single day looks like. That shit will totally mess with your head and make you think nothing and no one is ever good enough because what I have doesn’t come close to this other guy has, not knowing it is a highlight reel and not the real thing. We play our highlight reel in conversations with casual acquaintances and family we don’t often see, on FB and in social media, at work and cocktail hour, we take that reel with us everywhere.
So here is the real story on Todd and I’s blissful autonomy: it takes work. Like all the time. We spent three straight hours recently talking about our relationship and boundaries and autonomy etc. We weren’t in crisis, there was no preemptive argument that led to this talk (although sometimes that happens and that is totally okay too because arguments are a growth place and lead to deeper understanding as well), we were just talking about an upcoming trip we are taking and the conversation morphed, as they often do, and we spent sometime checking in with each other. Good relationships, again this is my opinion, do not happen by accident.
So this brings me to the last signal I got from the universe that relates to relational autonomy and that is when it does not exist at all. I was catching up with a friend who I have not checked in with in a while and she appears to be in emotional crisis mode and from what I can tell it is because her boundaries have been completely trampled. She appears to have become completely absorbed in someone else’s issues and it seems like this person has manipulated there way into getting what they want, the whole situation seems just stressful and yucky. I told my friend it sounds like she is setting herself on fire to keep this other person warm and she agreed. What she decides to do about it though she will have to come to on her own. Only she knows what is right for her.
It was hard to listen to her struggle though. All autonomy is, is knowing where you end and the other person begins. If you have lost sight of that you might want to check in with yourself and see how you feel about that. For some people that is problem, some not, you will know what is right for you by how it feels.
The quote I shared at the top is one I found years ago and have always loved because it has always made me think of Todd. Our books have always had their own shelves and that is the way we like it.