Tough love

tough love

When we were kids, my brother and I were never allowed to skip school. It didn’t matter if we were sick, or if it was post-exam week and nobody else bothered to go to school. My disciplined doctor of a mother wasn’t the least bit sorry sending us off to school with a strip of Panadol, Clarinase, Zinnat or whatever medication suited our ailments, and she didn’t care if we were only one out of five other kids who went to school post-exams.

“Unless you’re dead or dying, there’s no reason not to go to school,” she always declared.

Needless to say, her tough love approach rubbed off on me. I grew up believing that as long as one still had at least three functioning limbs, and a functioning brain, there was absolutely no reason for them to not do whatever they wanted or had to do. And when people came to me for advice, I was empathetic to their plight, but completely unsympathetic in my advice to them. The way I saw it, they had to toughen up if they wanted to survive whatever hardship they were going through, and I had no concept of self-pity or self-commiseration.

So when a friend asked me for relationship advice because she happens to be in a relationship whose circumstances are similar to my own, I gave her the only advice I could: to deal with it the way I myself deal with it. (Naturally, I left out the part where I sometimes drown my sorrows in a bottle of white wine) This proved to be somewhat of a rude awakening for me, because I had always labored under the delusion that anyone in my position would have no other choice but to handle it the way I do, with a hardened heart and a complete lack of self-pity because the way I see it, we brought this on ourselves.

So it was with great consternation that I realized she and I dealt with our situations in completely different ways. She had no idea how her partner functions in a relationship because she chose to ignore the circumstances that came with it, while I had always believed that in a relationship like this, total awareness (and even foresight) of a partner’s behavior is absolutely crucial. She was all about making her life revolve around him and his circumstances, while I drew a line because I thought it was bad enough to live with the existence of circumstances without allowing said circumstances to come within 100 miles of where I live.

So with all of these realizations came the unsettling epiphany that either my friend had absolutely no clue what she was doing, or I had been dealing with my own relationship bullshit the wrong way. Never mind that our ‘counseling’ sessions (via WhatsApp, no less) had led me to mischannel my own anger at my own situation, but I was unable to comprehend why she couldn’t look at her situation through my eyes.

It made me wonder: how many ways can there be to deal with any situation, particularly a hopeless one? If you’re aboard a sinking ship, what can you do but jump (assuming you can swim)? If someone breaks your car window to rob you, what else is there to do but file a police report and replace everything you lost? If the person you are seeing happens to already have someone else 4744 miles away, what choice do you have but to suck it up and live with it, because it was your choice to be with them in the first place? All the bitching and crying (and alcohol) in the world isn’t going to repair the ship, track down your robber, or make your partner choose to leave the whelp for you.

Maybe I had been dealing with it the wrong way, but it was the only way that would have worked for me. So in the end, I told my friend to do what I do only if she thought it was worth it, and if she would be able to accept the circumstances. I conceded that she may not have the character to do it, but in a relationship that requires nothing but strength and discipline in order to survive, I hope she will toughen up anyway.

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