Last fall I sent one of my friends a text. It was about something a guy had done to get my attention and I had thought it was cute. But it was also a bit of a lamentation that the smallest amount of effort seemed worth celebrating. I realized the bar was set too low. And I don’t just mean in my dating life, but in so much of my life.
It really got my thinking about raising the bar in the way that allow others to treat me and in how I treat others, because of course you should treat people the way you want to be treated. Cheesy, but true.
Minimal effort was no longer good enough either way.
One of my favourite poets, Tonya Ingram, has a poem that goes;
“You are not hard to love. A mountain does not become small for those who cannot climb.”
I’ve thought about these words a lot in the last few months. The idea of space, of being allowed to claim and take up space is something I talked about a lot in theory during my undergrad, but I hadn’t really taken it to my real life or applied it to my relationships.
The feminist scholar Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, iconically quoted by Beyonce in the song Flawless***, says in her book We Should All Be Feminists
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”
Now I know this isn’t quite the same thing, but bare with me. Adichie is talking about breaking systemic barriers of sexism, and I’m trying to apply that to my own interpersonal experiences. It’s different, but similar concepts.
I think it’s okay to take up space. I think it is good to know your worth and that you are worthy to take up space. And the people you choose to have in your life should be respectful of you, your boundaries and the expectations you have set about how you want to be treated while you live your authentic life.
“When you know what you deserve red flags become deal breakers” – Hayley Ringo
For me, sometimes this means embracing if I want to be a little extra and not letting people shame me for wanting to take a lot of photos or have really girly girl’s nights. When I talking about raising the bar, I mean that people should let you be your most vivacious self without feeling bad about it. They should let you take up space. They should respect and value your interests, your passions, your ideas and opinions. And most importantly, they should not make you feel like you are hard to love.
My favourite quote from We Should All Be Feminists is;
“I’ve chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be.”
It’s not just femaleness, it’s whatever you identify as you, you deserve respect. You are worthy of that. You are worthy of time. Of patience and time and all those other good qualities. In the season two finale of This Is Us a character said “choosing our people is the closest thing we come to controlling our destiny”, and I think that is really true. So be intentional about choosing people who will show you they care.
Moral: You can take up space. You are not hard to love, you are not too big. You get to ask for what you need. Do not shrink yourself.
If you think this sounds entitled, I’m not saying that you should run around demanding people treat you with respect and then play games with them. This is a two way street, and one of the best ways to set an example of showing people how you want to be treated is to treat others that way.
Set your boundaries, have high expectations, and hold yourself accountable to living up to them. Raising the bar isn’t just about the way others treat you. It’s about you growing to be a better person too. It’s about you treating people the best way you can. If you don’t want people to walk all over you – start by being empathetic, understanding and kind.
Don’t make excuses, take responsibilities for your actions, know your worth and be the best you that you can be.