We do it to be in control, or because we think it’s a moral responsibility: Whatever the reason, we often weaken our boundaries—or let them dissolve entirely—in the name of being spiritual. We become more and more tolerant. I'm certainly not advocating intolerance. I’m all for the kind of tolerance that happens when your heart is so big that you can give ample space to opinions that differ from yours. You be you; I’ll be me; maybe we can meet in the middle for green juice and a beer. That type of tolerance is deliciously sophisticated.
And you know I’m all for unbridled love—the golden-intersection-of-heaven-and-earth kind of love, white hot and steady—that kind of love—for self and others. (Which is rare, often comes with a series of initiations, and is worth holding out for, by the way.)
But when we combine a sense of unworthiness with the aspiration for self-improvement, we can become overly tolerant. We take a lot of guff because we don’t believe that we deserve better—but we’re trying hard to be better so we can earn better treatment. This often results in irrational, self-destructive loyalty, compassion, and tolerance.
When we’re painfully aware of our own imperfections, we might think, "How dare I expect someone else not to have imperfections?" We end up prolonging our involved suffering because we think that whoever we’re trying to heal, or train to treat us better, is also coming from a wounded place—and that it’s our spiritual duty to be in "the process" together.
If only I were more loving, they would…
A good friend of mine was married to a bit of a chump. Let’s call them Sasha and...Dick. Dick was a massage therapist. One day, he shared with Sasha that one of his patients had explicitly invited him to have an affair—which he politely declined. Sasha, being the regular meditator that she was, was super-chill. "Fidelity is so hot, babe," she congratulated her man.
"So, what did she say when you told her you couldn’t treat her anymore?" As Sasha explained to me, Dick "got that angry, shamefaced look." Because he’d already booked her for another treatment. Sasha then said, pointedly, "You’re not going to rub her naked body every week now that she’s put the moves on you, right?"
Three couples therapy sessions later, Dick reluctantly agreed to consider letting this client go. Sasha and I were having one of our regular multitasking morning calls while making our smoothies. "Am I being a demanding freak?" she asks me. "Maybe I should just try to lean into this and be more trusting, like Dick says."
"This isn’t about you being a crazy, jealous lady—which you’re not," I said. "This is about really basic respect. He should have shut this shit down the first time the chick propositioned him."
"Yeah," Sasha said, and paused. "But he’s just coming from that place where he’s all wounded and then gets all stubborn." Sigh. "I get it. Hurt dogs bite." I said. Then, "OK, loud noise." Which is where we both mute our phones and turn on our blenders.
Sasha plowed through dozens of relationship how-to books and worked herself into an overanalyzing frenzy about the principles of unconditional love, relationships being your mirrors, and how the divine feminine is supposed to give the divine masculine more "space." Meanwhile, many couples therapy sessions later, Dick still hadn’t stopped greasing up the potential adulteress—in a professional capacity, of course—on a weekly basis.
The relationship was doomed for many reasons. After Sasha and the Dickster eventually split (hallelujah), a bunch of us girls were in my living room. One of the new girls in our circle asked, "Why’d you stay with him for so long?" Sasha sighed. "I thought I could love him into changing. My loyalty was, like, insane."
Truth. More truth: It’s not just guys like Dick who take advantage of tolerant partners. It’s a two-way street. Many growth-oriented individuals use what we call "love" as a form of power to try to get people to conform to meet our needs. I love you, so I see you. I’m rooting for you and I can help you. Just let me help you. Subtext: I know better, and you need to change. Please change. And maybe "they" do need to change—desperately.
But if we were operating from real power, rooted in self-love and respect, we'd steer clear of people who obviously aren’t going to meet our most important needs. We would avoid taking on relationships as "projects" and instead seek relationships centered around growing together. We’d get with people who see us as clearly as we see them—and we’d co-write a true love story in that beautiful light.
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the five things couples who stay together do every day and the ways your sex life can show you what's wrong in your relationship.