Reverse Osmosis

I’ve witnessed, often, how it is that two people start out being unique characters, but as time passes, they slowly merge into one, just with two bodies. At times this feeds the romantic notions of love where two become one, but at times it symbolises the surrender of one in favour of the other. Neither is bad, as long as it is a willing surrender rather than a surrender of hope.

The debates about what to look for in a partner will forever remain unfinished, but the one thing that stands true regardless of the approach, is that the adoption by one of the other’s mannerisms or preferences is generally a good indicator as to who is the more dominant personality in the relationship. It also indicates who is more smitten with the other.

I once heard that the one who loves less is the one who controls the relationship. At first I thought it was true, but I’m not so sure anymore. The depth of love, if measured on superficial expressions of endearment, will never reflect the impact on the wholesomeness of the relationship itself. Overt acts of commitment cannot be used as a yardstick either because it doesn’t divulge the motivation for such acts. But the point is not about being able to measure it, it’s about the net effect on each person involved in the relationship.

The relationship where both partners are on the same level of emotional maturity, coupled with a similar level of self-esteem is extremely rare. Setting those rare cases aside, I look at the norm and notice a consistent trend. The relationships that last demonstrate a visible level of compromise, while those that don’t are usually considered a failure because of either or both partners being inflexible, or defining a limit of flexibility that they’re not willing to cross. It’s easy to view the inflexible ones as selfish, but that assumes that flexibility is always healthy. It’s not.

Flexibility, like liberalism, can be unhealthy when you get to a point of compromising your core principles in favour of an ideal that you do not subscribe to. The repercussions of standing up for your principles may be so dire that you choose to begrudgingly compromise instead. As long as that compromise is a grudge compromise, it creates a tension that demands compromises in other areas as well. For example, if I were to compromise on something that I feel strongly about, it would automatically taint my interactions in other areas because my rose-coloured spectacles are suddenly opaque and no longer looking as romantic as they once did. The person at the core of the reason for my compromise suddenly symbolises my struggle rather than my happiness. So it stands to reason that any subsequent interactions that flirt with the core principle that I compromised will be strained or terse to avoid the core issue from blowing out of proportion.

Reverse osmosis then sets in. Sometimes slowly, sometimes without you even realising it. In this case, the osmosis is the adoption by the stronger character of the traits of the weaker character in order for that crucial balance to be struck. Without that balance, the fidelity of the relationship falls into question. So the one more committed to the longer term outcomes may find themselves compromising more, while the one more smitten will probably see that as a token of love and assume that they’re on the right track to begin with. Such are the delusions of those that lack self-awareness.

Life is about a set of difficult choices. The more polarised we are in our views relative to those around us, the greater the volume of difficult choices we find ourselves faced with. The less we compromise in our desire to hold on to our individuality, the more isolated we become. Isolation goes against the natural inclination of being human, and it’s in the face of such isolation that we bend and sway towards that that we otherwise would have shunned. That’s when reverse osmosis weakens us, but ironically tends to strengthen the social structure around us. However, a self-defeating social structure gives way to stronger ones. It’s like a cycle that plays out on different scales but with similar principles and outcomes.

Consider the above within the context of the weaker character adopting the traits of the stronger one instead. Consider the social structures that are spawned from such osmosis and the impact that would have when it comes up against the weaker social structures. In that way we find the slow but decisive erosion of one cultural norm in favour of another. Similarly, the alteration of the culture and value system enshrined in a relationship morphs as we give way to needs in our moments of weakness, when the larger-than-life principles that we once stood for are abandoned to maintain the peace.

Maintaining the peace has never been the true objective of such abandonment of ideals and principles. I think the true objective is closer to not having the capacity or the inclination to continue the good fight, because the bigger ideals that we thought we were serving for the greater good appear to be futile when the greater good abandons our efforts to serve it.

[I started out writing this post to articulate my thoughts on how individuals regress in unhealthy relationships, but it seems my train of thought was significantly distracted. Perhaps I’ll attempt such a post at another time. This is therefore another addition to my pile of incomplete thought processes.]

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