Compromise… for what?

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As long as you’re not changing who you are and abandoning yourself in the name of keeping a relationship going, you’re on the right track

There’s an old Eartha Kitt video interview that resurfaces on social media every couple of years because it holds a lesson worth remembering.

While talking about relationships and compromise, the iconic singer and actress throws her head back and laughs dramatically, gloriously, and says: “Stupid. A man comes into my life and I have to compromise? ... For what? A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned!”

Kitt makes an important point when she talks about compromising oneself in a relationship to make someone else happy. Compromise is a good thing — self-compromise is not.

That’s how I’ve come to understand the video: Kitt isn’t referring to watching a movie you don’t want to watch, or spending a weekend with your in-laws. She’s talking about doing things that go against the essence of your beliefs and who you are. She’s talking about diminishing yourself for someone else’s benefit.

For a long time, I couldn’t distinguish between the two. I thought all compromise was bad: after all, the idea that umakoti uyabekezela is really about compromising your values to stay in a marriage, isn’t it?

Or at least, that’s how it’s been sold to black women; that it doesn’t matter what your husband does and how unhappy it makes you: you stick things out and keep the marriage going because it’s your duty as a woman to do so.

I love everything about this eccentric woman. Her wicked laugh, her confidence, her passion and love for life. From the 1982 documentary "All by Myself: The Eartha Kitt Story".

But since I made the decision to get married, I’ve learned – in my short time as a wife – that a marriage is about the people within it and you establish your own boundaries, and terms and conditions. This isn’t the marriage of our mothers and fathers. It’s supposed to be something that’s on our own terms – whatever they may be.

That was the only way I could get into marriage as a feminist. Because for a long time, I felt that a heterosexual marriage was a noose around a woman’s neck: something that benefits men far more than it does women. Since women, now more than ever, are independent financially, or at the very least capable of being so – why bother getting married?

After I made the decision to become someone’s wife, I started reading up on marriage and marriage advice (probably should have done that before saying “yes”, but that’s crying over spilt milk). One of the phrases I came across – and I’m most probably misquoting – was: “Marriage is about learning to forgive every day.”

This made me balk, because it felt like a fancier way of insisting that a woman must bekezela. What kind of things are we talking about forgiving? Could marriage really be so messed up that you had to let your lover get away with murder daily?

It took a while for me to realise what exactly that phrase meant.

Daily forgiveness is not about the big things, but rather learning and choosing to forgive the smaller things. Think of the Beyoncé quote from her song All Mine, where she implores her lover to “stop making a big deal out of the little things”. There will be many “little things” to get upset over when you’re in a serious relationship with someone, especially one that’s a little harder to walk away from, because it involves families, the law, and sometimes even children.

Those little things might seem cute and insignificant at first, but, as the old proverb goes “familiarity breeds contempt”. Some of those things can slowly grow from being adorable to becoming agitating, but it’s best to try to get over them, because there will always be big things to worry about.

Why spend time fighting over the little things when you will undoubtedly need your energy for the bigger things? Forgiveness in a marriage – and any intimate relationship – is a must. And so is compromise.

But as long as you’re not changing who you are and abandoning yourself in the name of keeping a relationship going, you’re on the right track.