I recently wrote a piece about relationships between men and women in which I stated the following:
Here is the real “work” of relationships and the heart of mutual respect…compromise. It is NOT about not standing up for yourself, it is NOT about not maintaining healthy boundaries; it is about having a clear headset that “what is good for the goose” is in fact “good for the gander.” Love understands that compromise actually opens up your options and gives you a greater freedom to experience life and each other more completely.
I had a friend take tremendous umbrage at my use of the phrase “what is good for the goose is good for the gander” in this context. In fact, she opined—I do not think you understand what healthy boundaries are—when I told her I could write an entire post about the veracity of this statement. I have to admit that I did originally question my own choice of the archaic phrase because I realized it was possible I would be told, in the words of the great Inigo Montoya, I do not think it means what you think it means.
Now, the literal translation of this proverb has been defined thusly:
What is good for a woman is equally good for a man; or, what a woman can have or do, so can a man have or do.
That sounds pretty healthy; certainly there should be equality in what partners can have or do. But to me, it is actually more about the equality of self-expression. It is freedom to be yourself in the context of your relationship and have that fully accepted without recrimination. To me that is the ideal embodiment of a healthy boundary.
If you are in a relationship that puts restrictions or conditions on your ability to express yourself honestly, then you have a problem. There are a lot of bestselling authors who want to convince you that there are “rules” to love you can follow to a successful end. But the “rules of love” have always seemed to me to be a contradiction in terms; rules are a governance of conduct, but love is unpredictable, undeniable and terrifyingly vulnerable.
I believe having “agreements of love” is a more sound policy.
Rules are meant for maintaining an institution; agreements are the bedrock of mutual respect.
Rules are rigid and confining; agreements are fluid and mutually agreeable. There is nothing more damaging to a love relationship than rigidity. When we are flexible, the relationship can blossom instead of remaining tightly coiled and defensive.
The definition of compromise is “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions.” But there is really only one core concession to make in love—you are “conceding” to accept the other as they are in the present, in each moment.
You are also “conceding” to be yourself, even the parts you find fault in, instead of building walls or putting on a false face. In mutual vulnerability, you agree to accept the perfectly imperfect nature of what it means to be human.
What is good for the goose?
We have a lot of gender specific ideas (myths, really) about “what women want”, when the REAL answer is simply respectful listening and timely responsiveness. Is that not also what is good for the gander?
Out of curiosity, I will now admit to googling “the mating behavior of geese” (YES, writers DO have the most interesting Google search histories!) and it turns out not only are they monogamous (mate for life), but mated pairs who have been separated for even a very short time will greet each other with an elaborate display. So fidelity and joy in the presence of the other is also good for the goose and good for the gander.
But fidelity is born out of mutual respect and joy cannot be legislated. And respect is in no way a fixed mark—it can grow deeper and stronger or fray, and once lost it is very difficult to regain. We can respect people we don’t always agree with; we can even respect people we don’t necessarily enjoy. But we cannot respect people we don’t trust.
When we have trust and respect in our relationships, the “agreements” we make are mutually beneficial (good for the goose AND good for the gander) and are rooted in the intrinsic premise that LOVE grows and expands; it doesn’t exclude and restrict.
We have been sold this idea that when we “commit” ourselves to one another, we no longer get to choose. Richer, poorer, in sickness and in health…even these vows so many of us make emphasize endurance over choice. But it is far more evolved and romantic to start each day with the understanding that while we could choose differently, we actively choose each other over and over again.
This will be challenging; yes, even more challenging than simply “enduring” each other.
And allowing each other the freedom of self-expression is never about betraying our agreements; it is an understanding that the more open and accepting we are, the greater the potential for happiness will be. Trusting the bond enough to allow the other to be whole without us, choosing each other not out of need, never out of obligation but instead because we don’t want to miss witnessing the evolution of a beloved in sacred partnership.
Again, it is the open-hearted acceptance of each other AS IS that is at the core of a lover’s compromise. No longer are we looking to the people we love to make us happy with their behaviors; in other words, no more jumping through hoops. Now we are taking responsibility for ourselves and luxuriating in the freedom to be who we are while extending this respect to our partner as well.
This is good for the goose AND good for the gander.
Photo: Getty Images
Read Kara Post-Kennedy every week here on The Good Men Project!
And thank you for commenting below and sharing this!