They hurt. They are almost inevitably part of the spectrum of bullying and abuse. We choose them, unconsciously, because love is inextricably linked to being made to wait, being cast aside and slavishly trying to please the other whilst accepting minimal attention ourselves.
I will out myself on this subject because I have a long history of attracting, and being attracted to, people who only want me when there is something in it for them. To put it another way (and none of this reflects particularly well on me either), I am the kind of person who, through insecurity and willingness to please, is more than capable of going the extra mile for those who, expecting nothing else from their serfs, only contact me when they want something.
I attract selfishness. I attract the domineering. I attract the dysfunctional. I attract the power-mad. I attract, in a word, abuse.
I let people get away with outrageous behaviour because I am too scared to confront them and take the risk of rejection. I let people ignore me, put me a long way down their list of priorities; I even let them insult me and pull my character to pieces in the name of tough love.
Bullies, insensitive people, the domineering and bossy all tend to come with a slightly sinister glamour attached to them. They can be extremely charming and charismatic – and are more than capable of manipulating their inferiors by holding the metaphorical carrot just out of reach.
But, bottom line, it is all about them. You are only useful in so far as you can fulfil one of their needs. You separate existence as a human being with your own rights, needs, desires and character is denied. You are there to please, to serve, to cosset – and that’s the end of it.
The lengthy historical relationship between Royalty/aristocracy and servants, plantation owners and slaves is well-documented, harrowing (in the latter case especially) to read and of genuine social concern. It epitomises inequality in the sphere of relationships most chillingly and accurately.
Most right-thinking people, quite rightly, rail against any form of slavery – but, too often, there is a level of hypocrisy at work in this condemnation: Slavery: evil; servants: oppressive and wrong; but to treat friends and colleagues as inferiors, to expect them to step into the shoes formerly occupied by the serving classes? Well, that’s different, isn’t it? That’s all right because slavery has been banned, so what you are doing to others cannot be thus named…
An unequal relationship (whether between man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, adult and child) is not, to my mind, a healthy one. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it has more in common with dictatorship than relationship. It is not primarily about relating; at the heart of it lies one person dictating the pace and the other obeying.
I, along with an awful lot of other people, tend towards these unhealthy bonds. I am manna from heaven for dictators large and small! I have given in to the buggers, bowed down before them, buffed their extensive egos, fawned and flattered; in fact, I may well have to reach for a bucket (for purging purposes) if I continue this list of servile behaviour! My whole attitude with such individuals has been, ‘You, great high and mighty; me, very small slave.’
To make this totally clear: I am not here talking exclusively about male/female relationships. This tendency goes right across the gender divide – and I have allowed girls (when a child) and women to gain ascendancy over the friendship every bit as much as boys and men.
Only I can insist upon healthy bonds and equal connections in life. No one else can do it for me. Only I can stop myself from running the extra mile when I know full well that such an action is expected but not reciprocated. Only I can stop serving the ego-inflated demi-royalty in our society.
But I can see signs of hope: I do not enjoy being a slave. Constantly walking on eggshells, wallowing in the mud of insecurity and being afraid of rejection if I do not please and obey no longer appeals to me at any level. I have consciously sought equality in my friendships since moving to Glastonbury seven months ago – and I suspect it is no coincidence that I have made more (and, by and large, better) friends in that short half year than I did in the whole seventeen years I spent in my previous house.
I suspect that, by becoming aware of my servile side, challenging it and being willing to overturn it, I can actually change the dynamic in my relationships and insist upon equality.
The quote below is bitter, but I think it reveals a nugget of truth:
My final words: If you do not respect someone as an equal, any claim of relationship is little more than a sham and a lie!