A Letter To My Daughter — on the importance of compromise
When we work to figure out the right balance between what we want for ourselves and what others want or expect from us, it’s vital to remember that life is an individual experience and a shared one.
Every time we want to do only what we want and ignore the rest we should ask ourselves whether we really want to be on our own. That is the implication of only pleasing ourselves — that we will end up alone.
It’s not possible to share a lie with others and expect or demand that they accommodate us in every respect. This will only clash with what they want for themselves. And so, the price we pay for the company of people we like and love is the accommodation we make for those people.
The very word ‘compromise’ often comes with both positive and negative connotations. In positive terms, compromise is about being reasonable and moderate with our attitudes and actions in life. In negative terms, compromise brings to mind the idea of a painful sacrifice of what we want to make way for other people.
When I married your mother over ten years ago, the negative connotations of compromise were stronger in my mind that the positive. Like many people who have entered a new marriage, the idea of no longer being able to do only what I want was truly terrifying! This feeling encompassed everything from the small things like socialising to the big things like how often we’d see our parents or where we should live.
The whole problem for me was about converting ‘I’ into ‘we’. As soon as an issue regarding ‘we’ came up, I knew that everything from the small to the large would need to be negotiated until a compromise was reached.
Given that we were both beginning our life together and were both fearful of the fact that every decision was important to ensure we didn’t give any ground that couldn’t be recovered, every discussion was tense and anxious. Like two weary soldiers who have just been deposited against each other on a battlefield, we circled each other warily. We pounced on the smallest sign of aggression from each other. And the result was not good. We managed to turn what should have been a time of great happiness in our lives to one of great frustration and sometimes misery.
We fed off each other’s stubbornness, which only made us both more stubborn. Our marriage became partly defined by a vicious cycle of obstinacy that left us both depleted and depressed.
The reason we ended up in this sad quandary is simple. We were attaching far more importance to our individual wants, rather than to us both as one entity. Our marriage was a given. To be taken for granted, while the individual battles continued to be contested, one after another.
When I look back now, I realise that this was one of the greatest mistakes of my life. It almost cost me everything I hold dear in my life and the very thing that made your existence possible. I can say with a high degree of confidence that if we had continued down the path we had started, then you wouldn’t be part of our life today.
Luckily, something profound gradually dawned certainly in my mind, and I believe in your mother’s mind too. I realised that our marriage and the fact that I had the chance to share my life with someone I loved was more important than the issues that were dividing us.
And so gradually, ever so gradually, I came to care less whether we ate Chinese or Lebanese food when we ordered in, or whether we were spending more time with my friends than hers, or whether we saw my parents at a set time of the week every week. Some of the things that began to matter less were not as trivial, such as when we would have kids or where to live, but they still mattered less than our marriage.
This process was, believe or not, a form of liberation. Liberation from the self. Liberation from the misguided belief that the unimportant should dominate our lives. And so I started doing one of the best things that I have ever done in my life. I started to let go. I started to let go of my ego and my desire to impose my willpower on the person with whom I was sharing my life.
We seem to have this belief in life that to get what we want we need to hold on tightly. And of course, some things in life do work like that. We need to study hard to do well at school or progress in our career, for example. But not everything works like that, and particularly not relationships.
Very often in relationships, the only way to get what you want is to let go. It’s only when you do so that the other person does too. And then you can start to meet in the middle. Does that mean you can never do what you want and you always have to do what your partner wants? Of course not. But once you start to let go, you’ll discover the other person naturally does too.
When you get to the age when you start to form and build relationships, I hope you can think about this. I hope you too will be able to let go within that relationship. At first you may think that the things you are failing to insist on are terribly important, but you’ll soon realise that they’re anything but. They will fade into insignificance compared with the beauty and value of a truly healthy and strong relationship in your life.