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Ladies, Stop Giving Up What You Love to Make a Relationship Work

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Photo by Luke Dahlgren on Unsplash

I had a thought recently: Ariel: beautiful mermaid or world’s worst role model? If it seems like I’m picking on Disney, forgive me. It’s just that I had a train of thought that seemed to veer head on with this particular Disney movie. I’m a mother of two small children. Thinking in Disney movies and Nick Jr. cartoons is a thing that seems to be outside of my control. That’s my disclaimer.

But let’s take the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, a movie I watched avidly as a child and can still sing all the lyrics to as an adult. First of all, I love mermaids. Everything about the idea of mermaids fills me with a happiness I can only attribute to my inner child. It brings back all of my love of the ocean, of swimming, of feeling free, and of feeling beautiful. Being a mermaid seems like a cool thing to be, after all. It’s spawned countless memes, birthday cakes, and fashion trends.

But Ariel is perhaps the worst role model ever. Not just for girls either. I was thinking about relationships- not just mine but relationships in general. It seems that so many of us enter into relationships and then just give up the things we love for no good reason. We’re Ariel deciding to be a boring human instead of an interesting mermaid. We’re Ariel deciding that we want to do all the things that will make us attractive to the Prince on land rather than trying to find a merman who’s interested in the things that we enjoy.

No, no, no.

I’m not innocent of this. In my last relationship, we both seemed to give up things we loved. He gave up fishing. I don’t know why. I kept encouraging him to go- with or without me. I thought it was important that he continue doing the things that he loved. But he didn’t.

While I can’t answer for why, I can say that I did the same thing. We started spending more time watching football, a sport that I care nothing about unless we’re talking about the original football that involves kicking a ball with a foot and not the American version that is so popular where I live. We started watching more television, shows I cared little to nothing about. I stopped watching my classic films as much as I liked, and I didn’t listen to as many records as I prefer. My romantic comedies fell by the wayside, and I didn’t go out to run as often because that would be time away from him. He didn’t encourage me to continue these things, nor did he ask me to give them up. But I did. And he did. Is it any wonder it didn’t work out?

It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, and I notice that it happens to so many people I know. It’s great to take an avid interest in the other person’s interests and hobbies- but not at the expense of our own. In a healthy relationship, the other person isn’t asking us to give up the things that we love, nor do they encourage it. In fact, a healthy relationship can only exist when both partners feel free to have separate interests as well as shared ones. I can think it’s great that the person I’m dating loves a particular movie or book without sharing that love. I can even admire it. But I don’t have to absorb it, taking it on as my thing. Nor do I need to expect that someone else will do the same. While it’s nice to share interests, it shouldn’t be expected in every facet of our lives.

Recently, I listened to a radio show segment that involved callers talking about the worst mistake they ever made for love. Only one man called in to share a dumb mistake he’d made. All the other callers were women, sharing how they had given up careers, made financial sacrifices, and even went to jail for some man they were in love with. In all of these calls, none of the relationships had lasted. And yet, each woman had given up so much to be with a man that wasn’t even her forever relationship.

I listened and wondered why it rarely occurs to us that if the person we’re with is okay with us giving up something essential or making a huge sacrifice for them, then they are clearly not the one for us. Instead, we see all of our love and not the things that we’re losing for someone else. While we may regret those choices, we don’t get a convenient do-over. We just need to stop doing it in the first place.

We don’t need to model Ariel’s example of relationships. She shouldn’t have had to give up being a mermaid to find true love. Either she could have worked it out with Eric while living her own life, or she could have found a more suitable partner. I’m not necessarily talking about a merman- just a partner who wouldn’t ask her to give up her friends, family, way of life, and beautiful mermaid tail just to be with him.

She didn’t give up a little hobby: she gave up her whole freaking identity! If it seems like I’m over-thinking the movie, that’s fair enough. Over thinking is kind of my thing. But it’s also true that the messages we internalize as children stay with us. I remember sighing at the romance of the story, all the while ignoring the unhealthy messages and blatant misogyny of the story. Sure, it’s an adorable movie, but I think too many of us seem to do what Ariel did. We give up ourselves. We think that the relationship is more important than our separate selves so we just merge with that other person.

And do you know what happens when we merge with someone else?

We lose ourselves.

I’ve been there. I’m not sitting in some lofty place of judgment. I’m sitting in the mud right there with you saying that we’ve got to find a way to hold on to who we are so that we don’t just latch on to the next person who comes around and try to become what they want us to be. Or what we think they want us to be. We need to spend a little time alone, getting to know ourselves so well that when we begin to drift away from ourselves we instantly realize it and feel a sense of discomfort. We need to figure out who we are and what we want and not allow anything (or anyone) to take us away from that.

Sure, relationships involve compromise. But that compromise should not be the essence of who we are. We shouldn’t have to give up our authenticity, our interests, or our very souls just to be paired with someone else. We can love someone, feel attached, or even have a great deal of admiration and caring and still not need to be with them. It’s hard, I know. But who we are as people matters, and the right person isn’t going to want us to change who we are to fit their mold. They’re going to encourage us to be the best version of who we are, but they aren’t going to ask us to make ourselves in their image or be someone we’re not.

That’s not love. It’s sure as hell not healthy. And yet we do it. I do it.

I love the idea of the mermaid life. But I don’t love the idea of a story that mirrors Ariel’s. She’s not a role model. She’s just a cartoon with a few catchy musical numbers and admittedly gorgeous hair. We can let her serve as the example of what not to do. Sure, check out the hot prince. Form a little attachment or engage in a love affair. But the second that he asks you to give up yourself and join him in the castle, it’s time to go your separate ways. It’s time to find someone who understands that relationships should add to our lives, not take away from them.

Keep swimming. You know how they say there are plenty of fish in the sea? There are. And the right one isn’t going to ask you to exchange who you are for who he (or she) wants you to be.

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