Are you a sponge or a brick?

Posted by on Aug 24, 2012 in Expectations, Relationships, Self esteem, Straight thinking, Who Says?!, Women's issues | 1 comment

Are you a sponge or a brick?

The need for approval leads many women to sculpt and mold their bodies, personalities, even lives to fit either/both a societal ideal and an individual’s expectations.  Maybe the recent Olympics launched tears of boredom rather than emotion in you, but you smiled and nodded at others’ enthusiasm. In most women’s lives, it’s an ongoing struggle to find that balance of being fully me while still pleasing others.  Back in February, I explored this need for honest truth in our relationship lives, concluding that loss of self for the sake of a relationship does not lead to a happy life. It’s not a good idea to “give up me to be loved by you,” as the classic book says.

Healthy or not, backed by psychological science or not, it is often true that we are attracted to those who have characteristics that we seem to be missing. An introvert feels that that wild party person will fill life with greater fun or connection. A serious planner loves the spontaneity of that ”live-in-the-moment” person.  In the words of Jerry Maguire, “you complete me.” In the best incarnation of this trend, we seek out relationships with those who help us grow, challenging us to be the best ME we can be. It’s healthy to be a little putty-like, flexible, inspired to try on new interests, characteristics, even personas. And, ideally this is mutual. You both want to meet in the middle, stretching yourselves to be more. In long-term relationships, a sign of health is the ability to adapt to the growth of one’s partner.

(In the worst case scenario, we come to hate the very traits that drew us together in the first place. That spontaneous person fails to follow through on any planning.  The introvert needs more quiet time. We lose track of what we liked about each other at the beginning. But I digress . . .)

The grown-up challenge to the adolescent “but everybody is doing it” refrain may apply, even though you might cringe at the comparison: “Are you really going to jump off a bridge because your best friend is?” Don’t be a lemming, and follow even one other lemming off the cliff if that doesn’t feel consistent with who you are.  Do you have to homeschool your kids because your friends are and the schools do seem so scary and inadequate? Must you embrace S&M just because Fifty Shades of Grey is hiding on everyone’s ebook shelf and it might enliven your own gray sex life, even if the thought seems laughable or offensive to you? Do you have to start running because your partner does and it’s “good for you” when it makes your knees ache?

Check out this checklist about sacrificing too much for a relationship. When considering what and how much to change when the inevitable push comes from those we love, it is important to be mindful, thoughtful, careful in evaluating what parts of ourselves we do want to alter. Is this inherently good for me? Can this person inspire in me a healthy degree of change, versus complete transformation or loss of me? Will this benefit me outside of this relationship? Is this consistent with my values? What do I want to do?

The biggest challenge of our lives is to be our own version of our best selves, in the face of pressure to be someone else’s ideal, whether that someone is a loved one or the culture. Be neither a sponge–squashed and shaped to others’ ideals– nor a brick–rigid and unaffected–in your own continual evolution to be YOU.

 

One Comment

  1. Ann, this is true in that we all have done some of what you have written about, we’ve all been lemmings, but then I should really say…I’ve been a lemming and many other things in the process of growing up, fitting in, discovering who I am!
    On the journey I found out that I can change no-one so in a long and fruitful and fulfilling marriage I decided to change the one person in the relationship that I could, myself!
    And that has been my salvation! When I think to myself, I no longer like this about my partner or my life, what can I change so I can live without going crazy!???
    This works really well for me and allows for a lot of creativity and internal meditation in order to change my mindset.
    I will only conform if it will help me grow; instead of complaining I will find a way to live with my situation.
    Am I a brick? Yes, I can be counted on if I have given my word!
    Am I a sponge? Yes, I will absorb everything that will complement the me I am working towards.
    If it wasn’t for the other influential people in my life I would not be who I am!
    Thanks again for this, Ann, looking forward to seeing you soon!

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