tasty and fulfilling relationships
When I think of good friends, people who truly enrich my life, the emotions I experience could be characterized by images such as: ice cream and fireworks, birthday cake, sparkling wine; wearing pink shoes, twirling in a floaty skirt, dancing “like no one’s watching”; playing with crayons. In all of these scenarios, I am happy and relaxed, but beyond that, I feel effervescence, exuberance, whimsy, and therefore I celebrate.
There are other people I have relationships with that create very different emotions in me. I dread knowing I will see them, and sometimes I worry about it for weeks ahead of time. While in their presence, I feel judged, and disapproved of. Instead of ice cream or birthday cake, my stomach hurts. I can’t ever relax, so I won’t be caught off guard if they decide to be mean or spiteful. Others are not actively unpleasant, they just ignore everything I say, and “respond” only to things not related to what I said.
And in those relationships that are troublesome and painful, they do indeed share an origin of obligation imposed on me. Some also include coercion of various sorts, and routine violations of my boundaries. When I’ve protested, I get to hear that I’m being “too sensitive”, that I need to grow a thicker skin. No one apologizes, but sometimes they attack me verbally. My very being is treated as if it’s a problem that needs correcting.
I had been trying to figure out how to distinguish between these two kinds of relationships (beyond the obvious — one makes me feel good, one makes me feel bad), when a certain phrase popped into my mind: enthusiastic consent. It is commonly used these days in discussing sexual relationships, but I think it’s much more broadly applicable.
People in my life have been asking me why I’ve made some of the decisions I’ve made (that they don’t agree with), and I’ve been struggling with how much to tell them of my reasons, given how negative so many of them are. If, however, I turn the issue inside out, and reframe positively, everything becomes not only easier, but honest in a breathtakingly bold way. To wit, I don’t enjoy the company of these people, and in several cases, I never have. Now that fear of abandonment, fear of what will be said behind my back, fear of being labeled ‘a bad person’ or ‘an unnatural child’ are not being held over my head, I can decide for myself who will share my life with me. And I have decided that I want to optimize relationships that are loving, enjoyable, insightful, life-affirming, nd growth-enhancing. If a potential relationship could not be characterized as something I’m really excited about, because I feel really good about being with this person, then I am going to take a pass.
I wonder where else I can apply this idea of enthusiastic consent?