It can be so tempting to go with the flow, can’t it?
I think it’s why we get so comfortable throwing around, “I’m good with whatever” and “oh I don’t care, you pick” in our relationships. We don’t want to feel demanding, or needy, or high maintenance – so much so, that it can almost feel like a relief when someone else takes the wheel, and all we have to do is jump in the passenger seat. It’s a low pressure job, right?
I think some of that compulsion to not rock the boat comes from being the kind of person who loves the feeling of harmony – but it’s also a product of the world we live in.
We (particularly women) are often rewarded for being “easygoing” and “low-maintenance,” sometimes even with literal praise. That reward sometimes shows up as positive reinforcement (“I love how easygoing you are” or “I’m so glad you’re not difficult, like so-and-so’s girlfriend/mother/etc.”) or more commonly, it may look more like negative reinforcement — namely, the noticeable absence of conflict or labels like “needy” and “difficult”.
Either way, it’s easy to slowly internalize the message that we are most appreciated, valued, or even loved when we make the fewest waves. And as we start to notice the correlation between going with the flow + the harmony that follows, the whole thing can start to feel like a win – and so the cycle continues. Rinse and repeat.
But what happens when indecision and going with the flow becomes our autopilot? What happens then?
Here’s the thing: falling into a habit of giving away our deciding power, no matter how high or low the stakes, can slowly eat away at our sense of self-trust, groundedness, and clarity.
They may not always feel like huge decisions — Am I really ok with the fact that my boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse wants to reschedule our date for the third time? How much is too much money to spend on a couch? Does an ideal vacation for me mean hustling and exploring, or lounging and relaxing? — but every time we decide our voice has less of a place in those decisions, we get a tiny bit more comfortable with the idea of taking up less space. We subtly train ourselves to shrink for the sake of ‘not rocking the boat’, when instead we could be learning to stand as we are, in spite of the discomfort we feel. We could be learning to honor the things we feel and want and need - to work in that tension, instead of aiming to avoid it entirely.
At our core, we all have an inflexible framework — the pieces of us that are so essential, we can’t compromise on them without compromising pieces of ourselves. And it doesn’t mean we’re inflexible people.
Picture a house. You can change the paint or add shutters, replace the roof or get a bold new front door, change the art on the walls and move the furniture around, even knock out a wall or two… and it will still be the same house. But if you strip that house down piece by piece, at what point are you left with just the bare bones framework – where if you compromise even one more piece, the whole thing collapses?
The key to keeping that house standing and in tact is maintaining its structural integrity — so why not follow the same philosophy for living and behaving in our own relationships? In looking up the word “integrity”, I was struck by how simple and poetic its definition is: “The state of being whole and undivided.”
Imagine what could happen if we decided that honoring the wholeness of who we are and what we bring to the table was more important than striving for harmony at any price.
The truth is, shifting the way you live in this way might mean you may get fewer pats on the back from the people around you. You may rock the boat, and you may feel more short-lived tension in your relationships than you feel totally comfortable with. Do it anyway: find your inflexible framework, and do your damnedest to keep it in tact. Because choosing to root your decisions in self-trust instead of in fear will only help you feel stronger, more centered, more vibrant, and more you.
Be brave enough to trust that little twinge you feel in your gut when the decision at hand doesn’t quite feel like your own, and let that tension remind you that you always have the opportunity to say, “That’s not for me, thanks.” Because the fact is, there are parts of yourself where you can’t afford to be flexible. It doesn’t mean you’re an inflexible person, or less worthy of love. It means you know and love yourself deeply enough to be willing to show up wholly as you are, with softness and yet without apology.