I once decided to not date a girl because of her feet. She had toes that veered in an unusual manner away from her body as if they were trying to escape something. I can still remember standing in line at the high dive, looking down upon them, thinking how inconceivable it would be to date someone with such a defect. To my simple seventeen-year-old mind, this would be an expense upon my ego, by way of friends’ perceived reactions, that I couldn’t afford.
There’s a phrase in our relationship lexicon that takes a similar tone; normally used in women’s circles as a softer way of explaining their latent singleness. It’s called ‘settling’. Yet this fluffier vernacular, usually regarding more legitimate complaints than a girl’s poor toes, doesn’t strip away the intended meaning. When we say we’re not ‘settling’, what’s really meant is we’re not willing to pay the cost, often emotionally and spiritually, for being in a particular relationship. We will not the forfeit our expectations. In other words – we will not pay the price of admission.
There is a price of admission for every relationship. Whether it’s a new romance or a twenty-five year marriage, there is a cost to start one or stay in one. Sometimes the cost is minimal. Maybe he’s a bit of a slob or she leaves her make-up all over the bathroom counter. He is habitually late and she routinely overcommits. Habits and behaviors we just accept in the other person no matter how infuriating for us or the cost to us. But often that price is much heftier. He has a porn addiction or she abuses alcohol. Characteristics that strike at the very heart of we are and what we believe.
This price comes in a myriad of forms, emotional, spiritual, and regrettably physical. We surrender our own feelings, say, about alcohol to remain in a relationship with an alcoholic. We abdicate our moral beliefs to her pill addiction, turning a blind eye. Initially, our sacrifice may bestow feelings of selflessness and virtue. Through our nonjudgmental acceptance we hope they might change and adapt. And while there is a Christian truth in that, we must also understand that when those expectations aren’t met, our suffering, once held in high regard, will burden us under the pressure of moral stagnation. His heavy drinking, viewed first as ‘part of who he is’ begins to exact an unbearable toll the longer he continues doing it.
Recently the Queen and I were talking through the advice we will give our children about relationships, marriage, and sex. Through our personal experiences, and most notably our personal failures, how should we share with them the best ways to avoid our past mistakes as they move towards that next season of life? When we look at this task through the lens of our own flawed histories it appears daunting. How can we offer an ounce of sage wisdom in the dark shadow of such epic misses? There’s a tendency in some to overcompensate, we may become so cautious that we try to prep them for every possibility, so much so that we drown them in ‘advice’. The message invariably gets lost in a well-intentioned flood.
So as she and I considered the question, I kept coming back to this single idea about the price of admission in relationships. The Queen and I agree that one of the most fundamental factors our kids should understand is that relationships in general, and romantic ones in particular, come at personal cost. Real love is never cheap.
Because it’s this selfish Candy Land notion that ‘true love’ shouldn’t require sacrifice that gets so many people in trouble, especially young people. All relationships cost something; that is if we hope for them to last and grow over time. There is a price we all must pay if we wish our relationship to be a mutually safe harbor into which we can anchor our true selves. To be sure, being my true self implies I’m going to piss off the Queen, at times. That’s the ‘cost’ of being in a relationship with me. It’s the same for all of us.
But that’s only the beginning. Once our kids grasp this unalterable fact, the next step is helping them place a value on characteristics and qualities in another most important to them.
Just as our financial budget is built on priorities, our relationship budget, of sorts, must be based upon the same concept. We all have a limited storehouse of currency, which in this case is paid out in spiritual, emotional, and moral denominations. And as with anything, the higher the importance we have for a thing the more value we will inherently place upon it.
How much is the value of sexual purity?
What is faith worth?
What is the price of a clear conscience?
What will never be for sale under any circumstance?
It’s the Queen’s and my hope that we can develop in them, at an early age, what we regrettably failed to do in ours until later in life, hold a knowledge of and conviction for what is and should matter most and not deviate from it when temptation comes; built atop an immutable foundation of spiritual truth, moral purity, and emotional clarity. As they look out upon the many relationships that potentially lie before them, what qualities will be most important and what is the price they will pay for them?
Will they pay the high price for a relationship lacking a moral center?
Will they undervalue the importance of sexual exclusivity?
Will they overvalue material success and financial gain?
It’s our wish that when our children find themselves tempted by the world to spend that currency on the wrong things for the wrong price, they will recall those lessons that may provide a clarity of mind, heart, and soul to recognize that in relationships there are some prices that are just too high.