I was around 19 years old when I got into my first serious and committed relationship. I knew that I was not ready to get married, but I also knew that I wanted to experience my first serious relationship, and perhaps see if that would lead to marriage.
Before I committed myself to any relationship, one of the things I promised myself was that I would never date anyone who smoked.
Then I met the guy in college I would choose as my first serious boyfriend. Guess what, he was a smoker. I knew he was a smoker when I met him, but I thought of all the other reasons why I wanted to date him, and so I chose to move forward with the relationship knowing full well that I was compromising on something that was important to me.
Fast forward three months into our relationship when we had our first fight. He knew I didn’t like it when he smoked and he promised me that he had quit. One day we were hanging out with a group of friends, and my boyfriend went off with another friend for what seemed like a very long time. I wondered where he was and what was taking so long for him to come back. When he finally came back, it was clear to me that he had been lying to me about where he was, who he was with, and about what he was doing. That was when I compromised on another two of my relationship values and promises to myself: not to date anyone who lied, and not to date anyone who did any drugs.
We fought about his smoking, lying, and smoking up often. I broke up with him dozens of times. And yet, I kept violating my own boundaries and values by continuing to get back together with him. And it was because of me violating and compromising on my own values that this boyfriend of mine kept disrespecting and not valuing me.
It became clear as day to me one evening when we were on the phone, soon after one of our recent getting-back-together rituals. I remember him saying something to me in that conversation. I do not remember exactly what he said, but I do remember what I felt. I felt incredibly disrespected. It came to a point where I had had it. I did not want this person in my life anymore. I told him that I deserved to be respected and that he clearly did not do so. I told him it was over for good, and then hung up the phone.
And that was it. I knew I had to end the relationship for good, once and for all. I also knew that there was the possibility that he would try to get back together with me (and I with him.) It was because of this that I knew I had to put some very firm boundaries up to protect myself from him getting back into my life. I got rid of anything and everything that reminded me of him and even ‘broke up’ with many of our mutual friends. I did these things intuitively. It was what felt right and necessary at the time in order for me to recreate the boundaries I had left too many holes in.
I had to create these firm boundaries because I made the mistake of violating and compromising on my own boundaries and core values for way too long. I was not able to articulate then what I understood so clearly only years after I had finally broken up with him for good. This is why he was so angry with me post our break-up, and I with him. I naturally blamed him for all of the pain and anger I was feeling. He was the one who lied to me, after all. It was the logical story I told myself and others as to why our relationship did not work out.
But I no longer feel angry. Not because so much time has passed, but rather because of the recognition of my role in creating the toxic relationship we had. I was the one who compromised on my own values and chose to continue to date someone I did not respect. It was only when I realized that, and took full responsibility for my part in all of it, that I was able to let go and wish the both of us the best of everything.
My message to you, then, is this: when it comes to you creating a healthy relationship of your own, get clear and be clear on your core values. Be clear about about what is most important to you and about those things you are absolutely sure you do not want to compromise on. Be sure that the person you pick to build a relationship with shares those same values. Doing otherwise is both unfair and disrespectful to both you and anyone you choose to commit yourself to.
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In support and admiration,