‘The person with power in a relationship is the one who wants it less.’
That comment set me thinking. Applied to my experiences, it is a truth that holds good for both, love and friendships where the latter are between people of the opposite sex. Of course, I was aware of it deep down, but refused to acknowledge it. I do that a lot: not allowing uncomfortable things to rise into the conscious mind even though I am perfectly aware of these thoughts simmering just under the surface. It feels sane to keep a lid on them. Except when someone challenges you. Then, you really have little choice but to examine that which you know, but don’t want to know.
The ideal situation is, of course, to have relationships that are equal in all ways. They exist, I am told. However, I come from a socio-cultural milieu that makes this extremely difficult for me to comprehend in practical terms. I have always seen one person in a relationship to be the one calling the shots. From my perspective, it is usually the man though I have seen some where it is the woman.
My interpretation of the power play may, however, be different from the norm. For me, the person in a position of power in a relationship is there because I granted them that status. It’s not like I am weak or can’t call the shots. I could, and do outside of that specific relationship, but the fact that I relinquish that power completely and give it to another is my way of saying ‘I trust you, love you, believe in you, and hold you in high regard’.
I realise how misunderstood one can be with that attitude. The other person sees what they want to see: they see a weak individual who is needy; someone who is willing to give up all power and submit to them, who needs their constant presence in order to hold them up, be there for them, make decisions for them, fulfil their emotional needs, and protect them. The independent types feels obligated, trapped and compromised; wanting to withdraw and get away from the clingy creature. The irony is that the clingy creature then strives harder to show them that they need not fear for their freedom by reassuring them that they are free to choose, to call the shots, to reject, to walk away if they want to, thereby plying them with even more power. The balance of power shifts continuously in the favour of one over the other, with one giving it freely and the other being burdened by it. It is a comedy of errors.
The one with the power soon forgets that the power was granted. They begin to slight the other by flaunting it, believing that they are superior in some way, that being powerful is their right. To assert their freedom of choice, which they have anyway, they threaten to leave or tell the other to, especially when a conflict arises. Therein lies a tale: the expectation that the other will crumble, back off, compromise, go silent, not challenge their authority, accept defeat, or ‘fall in line’.
So, victory ensues since that expectation is fulfilled. The one with power fails to see that the other has backed off because harmony is important to them, not because they can be cowed. They also fail to see or appreciate the courage it needs for the ‘clingy’ person to live with the constant knowledge that they are on probation every minute and that they may be required to let go any moment. A third failure is that they do not make the effort to understand the other’s view point that living with the constant awareness of another human being gives a wonderful feeling of connectedness to some of us, irrespective of whether that person wishes to grace us with their presence in our lives.
And so, the superior confidence from one: ‘I don’t need this relationship. It’s not my need; it’s yours. It doesn’t really affect me either way. I can live without it perfectly comfortably. You are here because you want to be. If you don’t agree with me, you can get lost.’ Power can be wielded with cruelty, and often is. There is a thin line between candour and cruelty.
To the question, do you want me to stay or leave; the answer would be, ‘that’s for you to figure out/choose.’ Faced with that situation, the dilemma of the other would be: If the person in power wants the relationship less, how much is ‘less’? How can it be quantified? If that relationship is a part of my existence; what kind of measure would I apply to define ‘more’ or ‘less’? What measurable standard could I use to decide whether I ought to leave or stay? A person who cannot find it within themselves to say, ‘Stay, I value you too’ then quantifies the ‘less’ for me by omitting that statement from any conversation.
Repeated slights reduce the capacity to withstand the misuse of power. There will come a point when it becomes necessary for the clingy person to accept that their interpretation of power in a relationship will neither be understood, nor appreciated by the one who wields it. Then, even the most tenacious, the ones who love most deeply and loyally, feel defeated enough to give up: Hit the mute button and go silent. Not literally, that is, but in a way that the depth in the connection is given a quiet burial.
In my dictionary, giving up and letting go simply mean that I no longer strive for the connect, or being understood. Nothing changes on the surface. The emotions are still engaged, but no longer in view: We continue to live in the outer world, we talk, we laugh, we move from one day to the next, go about our routines, but there is no access to the inner world of the mind anymore. Total isolation.
2 thoughts on “On Power Equations in Love and Friendships”
We once moved together
Thoughts one of the other.
That was once
When we woke
Together as the day dawned
And halted to rest as the night fell
Moments shared, waited and anticipated.
Then followed life:
My days and your nights
My dreams and your desires
Separately moving, distant
Insular, exclusive, defining one and the other
The message flashing:
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Nicely put. I believe people grow out of step when they don’t make the effort to give time to communicate, appreciate and think. Time is in such short supply. That which makes life worth living, the personal connect, is the first to be dropped from the priority list. Shouldn’t be that way.