“People accept the love they think they deserve.” These words haunt Tumblr, circa 2014. And it’s arguably the most iconic line from Perks of Being a Wallflower. I get its popularity; it resonates with many people and there is absolutely truth in it. But, it’s also true that all love is based on compassion. There are so many possible situations on the spectrum between the love that you deserve and “This love is intolerable and I can’t accept this person in my life.”
All long-term relationships require compassion and forgiveness, whether they be platonic, romantic or familial. Compassion can also be a very dangerous emotion. Sadly, sometimes compassion is misplaced, and forgiveness is undeserved. Sometimes, people even prey upon others’ compassion just to keep toxicity alive.
Where does the line get drawn then? When should you give up on someone’s love? I think it is drawn when someone’s love is not only less than you deserve, but it is actively worsening the quality of your life. It is drawn when someone keeps making the same promises, but the behaviour remains stagnant. It is drawn when accepting someone’s love forces you to compromise your self-respect.
But you don’t always get to demand that people love you as you deserve. Every person has their own story, their own attachment style and a whole jumble of variables that can affect how they treat other people.
For example, think about a partner that is going through a depressive episode. They might be withdrawn, not putting as much effort into themselves as they usually do or they might not be particularly engaged in the relationship. If you look at it on paper and say, “My partner sucks at responding, only ever wears sweatpants and I feel like they never plan dates,” there is a strong argument to be made that you deserve better than that treatment. However, this way of thinking ignores the key element of compassion in relationships and ignores the big picture. How does your partner treat you when they’re not depressed? Is it worth it to accept this version of love until they’re able to love you better again?
Or think about a father with the stereotypical inability to express emotions verbally. Maybe it can be frustrating or even hurtful how they can’t say that they love you or that they are proud of you, but they show it in other ways. It is true that you deserve a love that makes you feel validated and secure, but you also can’t force people to love you in a certain way. If your father is only able to tell you that he cares through material gifts, sometimes that’s just something you need to accept to find peace within a relationship; don’t just tolerate it, but truly accept that you cannot control other people’s emotional output.
If learning to accept a flawed form of love is better than refusing it at all, don’t be afraid to allow imperfect relationships in your life. But, make sure that your core values and sense of self-worth have a strong enough foundation that you can accept relationships that display attributes where you deserve better.