HUGE HARD REALIZATIONS #3: What You Tolerate Will Continue
Picture it: You're out shopping and find the perfect pair of nude, patent leather kitten heels.
They'll look so fucking fly with this skinny jean / cashmere sweater combo you’re planning to wear out on Saturday, and they’re on sale, and you really want them, but shucks - they pinch your toes just the tiniest amount.
You have a super long second toe; it’s like ET’s fuckin' finger escaping out of your flip-flops. Your shoes are like, “Big toe phone hooome,” lolz!
Anyways, it’s not a big deal? You just typically need a little more toe room than other dainty-toed folk. But DAMMITTTTTTT - these cute kittens have like zero extra toe room!
You walk up and down the store wearing your dream shoes, pausing in front of the mirror, thinking things like, “It’s not pinching that badly. I can suck it up and get over it. They’ll probably stretch. I’ll use blister block. PLUS THEY’RE SO CUTE!”
So you buy the shoes, you take them home, you wear them to the party, and what happens?
Your toes blister like gaht-damn Natalie Portman in “Back Swan” and you’re practically limping by 11pm. You have to spend $37 on a Lyft because the thought of walking to the subway makes your feet cryyy, and you feel stuuupid because you should’ve known they’d be too tiiight but you liked them so muuuch!!
Now the cute, flawed shoes sit in your closet as a relic of your poor decision making and refusal to accept that you have a long spindly toe and it’s fine, really, you just should’ve known better.
Replace “nude patent leather kitten heels” with “this amazing guy I like so much who has these one or two reeeally difficult flaws” and you’ve got the majority of relationship struggles on the market today.
You tell yourself you can tolerate the toe-pain, just like you tell yourself you can tolerate his inability to express his feelings, or his consistent wake-and-baking, or his lack of affection, or his looming credit card debt, or his dog that poops in the apartment that he doesn’t clean up after.
But just because you tell yourself you can tolerate something, does that mean you can?
And just because you agree to tolerate something, does that mean it’s going to get better?
Tolerance is a funny thing, especially because people act like it’s a good habit to get into.
“We need to learn tolerance,” they say, especially when it comes to our differences. We must be tolerant of those who think differently, act differently, live differently, we must tolerate them because they exist and we exist and we need to get along.
Sure, maybe, but can I ask you something??
Do you want to be tolerated?
Especially in the context of a loving, adult, committed relationship, do you want someone who’s going to look at you and your flaws and your differing points of view and quirks and go, “Well, I guess I can tolerate this.”
Do you want to be tolerated or do you want to be accepted?
Do you want to be tolerated, or do you want to be adored?
When you really think about it, being tolerated doesn’t sound so appealing, does it?
Yet many of us do a lot of tolerating with others.
Especially with stuff that is really, super-duper, irking us.
Tale from the crypt:
I’ve talked before about the Ivy-league do-gooder I dated in my mid-twenties who was honestly a great great great guy, but just wasn’t the greatest of BF’s.
Mostly because he just didn’t have the time or energy to commit to a relationship. And the biggest way this manifested itself was that he would frequently say he would call/text/be in touch…and then wouldn’t.
He meant to call, it just slipped his mind. He really wanted to text, but he got distracted. He was totally going to pick me up from work, but FIFA was on and then he got a call from his buddy in Colorado and before you know it it was eight at night. Oops.
But I liked him a lot and yeah, he was an all-around good guy. And he would apologize and make it up to me by like, making me dinner and shit, but the flaky communication just wasn’t getting better.
And fuck, I really wanted to be tolerant of it, of him. He was busy and going through a crazy time professionally, and I admittedly have a lot of needs. So I could be flexible, right?
The problem remains that WHAT WE TOLERATE CONTINUES.
And this whole “whoops-I-dropped-the-communication-ball” habit was something that was not just making me a little bit peeved, it was driving me fucking nuts. I felt neglected and not prioritized. I felt like everything else in his life came first and I came fifth. I felt like he wasn’t thinking of me, didn’t care about my feelings, didn’t value me the way I valued him, and that he took me for granted.
Note: It doesn’t matter if it was his intention to make me feel these things, these are simply the feelings that resulted because of his actions. Consistently. And because of my willingness to be so damn tolerant, these feelings persisted and amplified and became the ever-present emotional soundtrack to our relationship.
We did this song-and-dance together for about a year until we came to the eventual no-duh conclusion that we weren’t a match, at least not for that point in time. He couldn’t give me what I needed, my frustration had reached an all-time peak, and we’d be better off parting ways.
A YEAR OF TOLERANCE. THAT’S WHAT I GAVE THIS MAN.
Now because everything always works out just like it should and blah blah blah, I regret none of this and clearly I needed to go through it to learn this important, huge, hard, realization:
YOU MUST QUESTION WHAT YOU TOLERATE. BECAUSE WHAT YOU TOLERATE WILL CONTINUE.
And if you are tolerating something that is causing you consistent discomfort, pain, and hurt, that shit isn’t just going to go away.
Insisting to yourself that you can be tolerant, and you can deal with it for now, and he says he wants it to be different, so even if it’s not different now maybe someday it could be different, this self-enforced tolerance will eventually make you feel a little crazy, and then the crazy will get worse.
Telling yourself you can be fine with the fact that he hangs out with his ex all the time even though every part of you feels insecure/jealous/not okay will only work for so long.
Trying to be cool about his chronic over-drinking because you don’t want to be a stick-up-the-ass girlfriend and he promises he’s going to “get it under control”, has a shelf life.
Thinking you can get over the fact that he’s an absolute slob despite throwing up in your mouth every time you see the endless pizza boxes piling up on his couch when you come over will eventually cause you to lose your shit if you don’t challenge your sweet-seeming desire to be a little more tolerant.
I say “sweet-seeming” because again, do you want to be tolerated by your partner?
Do you want someone who’s merely “putting up with” you or your habits?
Or do you want someone who can completely, wholeheartedly accept and say YES to all of you?
If the answer is no, then why are you doing this to someone else?
I encourage you to start accepting and owning your intolerance. Start naming and owning what consistently peeves and crazy-fies you. Admit (to yourself, and then to others) what you just. can’t. live with.
And if you’re not sure, ask yourself—“Can I live with this?” If the answer is no, don’t pretend otherwise. Don’t try to tolerate something that you know in the long run is going to cost you your sanity and turn you into the girlfriend from hell.
We all have things that piss us off and peeve us and make us feel quasi-terrible in a relationship, and it’s fine to claim it. Actually, it’s an essential act of empowerment and self-love.
“I’m insecure about your ex. I wish I could change it but I can’t. I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work.”
“Your drinking habits are never going to be okay with me. I tried to make it okay but it’s only going to lead to more arguments and frustration. I can’t live like this.”
I see far too many women (especially self-aware, self-help focused women) trying to become these enlightened, chill, “I CAN LEARN TO BE FINE WITH ANYTHING,” one-size-fits-all style girlfriends and my good lord, it’s a recipe for disaster.
No one is fine with anything. And the key over the course of your single life is dial in and get super clear on what you know you’re actually not fine with, and what you honestly cannot live with. And then stop tolerating that stuff.
To the best of your abilities, please do not deny your honest needs and personal truths. Tolerate less. Accept yourself more.
You don’t have to be unkind about it (“Your apartment makes me want to hurl; you’re living like a college freshman but you’re a 31-year-old Google exec—wtf.”) but you should be honest about your intolerance (“I hate to say this but I can’t deal with how messy you are. I just know in the long-term it’s not going to work for me.”)
Because one of two awesome things will happen:
- He’ll express no desire to change, or be very defensive, or make weak excuses, or accuse you of being prissy/needy/difficult, in which case you double-down on your intolerance and declare BYE BOY, thank you for helping me here. Then go cry. Because it will hurt to hear that.
- He’ll snap to very quickly and agree that it bothers him too and he’d really like to do better. Can he have another chance? At which point you talk about it and sort out what that might look like. (I’m a big fan of one or two chances, but after that you’re just over-tolerating.)
The THIRD MOST DIFFICULT OPTION lies somewhere in the middle. He’ll own it, but also think you’re being a little unfair, and not want to break up, but also not commit to making a change, and then not follow through, but he'll feel really bad about it…(I wish I could say this option usually works out, and harmony abounds, but that’s not usually what happens.)
The greatest challenge in all this is that yes, you will really, really like someone, maybe even love someone, because they’re 80% great! But they have these 20% habits and qualities that you simply cannot tolerate on an emotional level.
And in most of these situations it doesn’t matter how much you like/love them, how awesome their 80% is, how great of a human they are, how bomb the sex is, because your frustration and pain and intolerance will (whether you want it to or not) emotionally outweigh the good stuff.
And this is a completely individualized, personal thing. I once had a client who kept meeting great guys, but they all had terrible table manners. She’d been raised to believe that decorum and presentation really, really matter, and it would drive her nuts when some dude would overhand-grip his fork like a five-year-old and burp mid-course.
She came to coaching because she wanted me to, I dunno, perform some kind of hypnotherapy that could make her care less and be less bothered. But instead we experimented with her being a little less tolerant of someone’s sloppy dining habits, and on DATE ONE assessing if this guy would pass at Buckingham Palace.
Now you might read that and think, “Jeez, really? She couldn’t just get over that? That seems a bit extreme. If I met a really great, amazing, man I’d be able to deal with something like that.”
Well good for you. Have her leftovers. But I’d bet any sum of dollars that there are things you cannot tolerate that she’d be like, “Oh that’s fine with me.”
For my client, simply owning her intolerance and not wasting time on guys who were perhaps raised in a barn felt fucking liberating. And it didn’t take her long to find a really great guy who also cared about proper wine glasses and putting a napkin in his lap.
Just like it didn’t take me long after saying buh-bye to drop-the-call-ball dude to meet someone who was GREAT at texting/calling/keeping in touch. (There is a lid for every pot - don’t you worry.)
In general, what bothers you will continue to bother you unless you both find a workable, consistent, solution, or…I dunno, you get a lobotomy of some kind? And those are expensive.
The alternative? To admit that you can’t tolerate a certain behavior/quality/trait, and decide it’s likely best to cut your losses? While this choice sucks giant donkey balls in the moment, over the course of your lifetime it is the much easier choice.
Further committing to, shacking up with, getting engaged to, marrying, having children with someone who cannot give you what you need, or whose habits and ways of being (however unintentional or justifiable they are) hurt you and leave you feeling dissatisfied, is a much more painful and difficult choice.
So consider: What have you tolerated in the past that you really shouldn’t have? And what are you currently tolerating?
And what if you decided to admit to yourself that you’re not wrong for being bothered, you’re not wrong for feeling hurt, you’re not wrong for finding it intolerable, in spite of your best efforts to go with the flow or be more flexible/accepting.
What if this was a fight you didn’t have to keep fighting? What if it doesn’t matter if he’ll change, or if it will get better, because the fact remains that right now? It’s just awful.
Right now, in this precious present moment, you’re driving yourself crazy trying to figure out this thing that you probably don’t need to figure out, because the writing is on the wall.
What you tolerate will continue, unless you can own your intolerance, accept your feelings, and admit that trying to force yourself to accept this person or this relationship as-is, right now, is not good for either of you.
You deserve a love that feels easy. So does he. It might sound crazy, but trust your intolerance. Start facing the music. Own what you can’t accept. It makes sense. And it might suck, but in the long run? It’s what sets you free.