They didn’t seem like people I would like. I was walking down a long aisle at Walmart behind a couple and a boy who I assume was their son. They were snapping at each other about some disagreement.
He called her a “bitch” several times. She had a choice word she called him, but I won’t even repeat that one. They didn’t seem to care that anyone else was around. The young boy just walked in silence.
Then I noticed the back of the woman’s t-shirt. I had trouble reading the typeface at a distance at first, but then I realized what it said.
“Take me as I am or watch me as I go.”
My first thought was to laughingly think a man would be lucky to watch her leave, but then I thought more seriously that the slogan sounded like an attitude they might both share. And then it occurred to me that this is a common attitude among modern people who don’t want to see their own flaws and their own responsibility to improve themselves.
I think I know where this attitude came from. It’s a backlash against manipulative and controlling people who try to turn a relationship into a “Pygmalion project,” to use psychologist David Keirsey’s phrase. Some people come into a relationship or marriage with the attitude that the other person should be molded like clay to become whatever the manipulator wants the person to be.
Such relationships are one-sided. One person decides what’s right and what the other person is supposed to be. One person is in control and the other person is the flawed one who has to change. This is very common — and I’ve seen both men and women be the manipulators. (In many cases, manipulating is combined with rescuing.)
This idea of “take me as I am” seems to be a backlash against that sort of manipulation, but it’s a very shallow reaction — and it’s one guaranteed to create something equally bad, similar to what I saw this afternoon.
When people are allowed to feel that it’s reasonable for them to be whatever they already happen to be, this grants a license to each person to continue being the worst of whatever they are. This isn’t really any better than the different sort of dysfunction in which one person is controlling the other.
The “take me as I am” attitude is selfish. It sees a relationship as a place where two people are fighting for control and self-identity. It misses the whole point of a healthy relationship.
In a healthy relationship, there is agreement on goals and shared values. The relationship itself is a union with its own goals and needs — and the individuals agree to certain things for the benefit of both themselves and the union.
One of those agreements people share in a healthy relationship is a dedication to mutual self-improvement.
This requires honesty and vulnerability and trust. It requires two people to be honest with themselves and each other about their own flaws and shortcomings. It requires trusting that the other person isn’t going to use your honesty about your flaws as a weapon. And it requires trusting that the other person will be just as committed to mutual self-improvement as you are.
I know my flaws and I’m willing to be open with my partner about them. I want her help in making myself a better person. In return, I expect the same commitment to self-knowledge and self-improvement. And I will be there with her helping her do the things she needs to do to be a better person.
This kind of a relationship creates stronger marriages and it makes individuals happier. Just as important, though, it teaches children what a family — and what a marriage — should be. Remember that your child is going to grow up and emulate your relationship decisions. He or she is likely to end up with something very similar to what you have. It’s very difficult to break such generational programming.
If you come from a dysfunctional family where the marriage didn’t work in this healthy way, you’re probably going to be drawn to making unhealthy choices and sticking with dysfunctional relationships. But if you want the programming to change — for yourself and for your children — you’re the one who has to make the difficult choices to change things.
Insist on a relationship (and marriage) based on mutual growth. Not a single one of us is perfect. Insisting on our right to remain the people we are merely guarantees that things will get worse over time. A relationship based on love and understanding and trust can lead to growth — for the relationship itself and for each individual.
The way I am right now is all I have to offer to a woman, but I can assure her that I want her help in becoming a better man. I want her to be just as committed to becoming a better woman.
Two people with that commitment can have a healthy marriage that’s very different from that of the selfish man and woman throwing profanity at each other in the store today.