“I love you just the way you are…” croons this lover to the live-in partner who has just tracked in mud again on the new Berber carpet, and rear-ended a parked car trying a new paralleling maneuver. “Love me, love my shortcomings,” swoons the “Tolerator” partner. Their theme song echoes the ideal of unconditional love and acceptance, standing in the wings giving stage directions whenever possible. The Tolerator type of lover labors under the “myth-conception” that true love means loving and accepting everything in the play of love. There are two main subplots in the play to consider. One, I accept everything about you. Two, you have to accept everything about me. Well, not EVERYthing, but everything “important,” especially my imperfections. Replies the mate, “I wouldn’t want to change a hair of your chinny chin chin, Sweetie.”
Not in the beginning, anyway. When the first wafts of “true love” grace the air, the fragrance is sweet. Universal acceptance rides on the breeze. For the Tolerator partner, love is often blind, deaf and mute where shortcomings are concerned, and profusely tolerant of potentially clashing differences. Isn’t it cute the way he leaves little potato chip crumbs on the kitchen counter? The ants make such creative little designs around them. And, don’t you just love the way he plays puppets with the corn on the cob? So he dripped a little butter on the Irish linen napkins: he is so clever! And isn’t she a marvel? My lover can do seven things at once: cook dinner, file her nails, play with the cat, apply a mud mask facial, keep an eye on the evening news, converse with a buddy on the phone while watching Junior leapfrog across the divan. Never mind that she frequently burns the casserole and has little room left over for lovemaking: she’s so competent! And, don’t you just love the way her hazel eyes flash when she’s complaining about her night cream?
Tolerance towards their partner at all costs is the Tolerator’s hallmark. But tolerating a behavior is not necessarily the same thing as simply respecting or honoring the right of our mates to express their individuality. Tolerance, as indicated here, is a kind of “putting up with” attitude, and certainly there is a place for tolerance in a healthy relationship. Partners often have peculiarities or idiosyncrasies that rub us the wrong way that we’ll need to make reasonable peace with. The problem for a diehard Tolerator comes from a lack of discernment about what kinds of behaviors to tolerate, how often, and under what circumstances. The tolerance credo pushed to extremes seems to give permission for crazy-making to be part of the ongoing relationship. This can lead to all manner of avoidance behaviors, including addictions. It’s one thing to respect or even “tolerate” that he never puts the toilet seat back up when staying over at her place, even when she’s fallen in at night on more than one sleepy occasion and has asked him to be alert. It’s quite another thing to “tolerate” him flirting with other women when it deeply hurts her and their therapist has recommended that he desist. On the other hand, it’s respectful of their differences that she put the toilet seat back up after using the facilities at his place, and if she is uncomfortable with flirting, primarily out of low self-esteem, he shouldn’t just tolerate her having jealous outbursts.
While it’s true that some tolerance is required in order to be with our very human lovers on a continual basis, it is equally necessary to develop awareness of our individual needs for quality living and communicate about that clearly to our partners. Without judging them, blaming or criticizing, we can express our preferences, or, in severe cases, our “bottom lines,” and give them the opportunity to consider changing, if it suits them. Sometimes changing takes a major commitment, as in the case of work-aholism or drug abuse. Certainly in an extreme case such as “putting up with” physical, emotional, or psychological abuse, discernment is potentially life-saving.
So far, we’ve looked at a Tolerator lover’s style regarding his or her partner. How about when the shoe is on the other foot? What attitude are typical Tolerator types apt to adopt about how they themselves should be treated? The truth is that it’s very human to want to be unconditionally acceptable, to be loved and cherished, no matter what. It’s a basic need as a child, although seldom available. To hold up as inspiration that we might be able to give and receive love without conditions is a superlative calling; however, falling short of that, we need much discrimination about what to expect or even ask our lovers to put up within us. It’s one thing to know that we deserve love and respect as a person and as a partner, another thing to demand that our neglectful, insensitive acts, our actions that do not take our partner’s rights and differences into account simply be “tolerated.” Especially if we are not even working on self improvement. Another variation is that we do take our partner’s preferences into account, but expect him or her to give over to our way, because “true love” means they wouldn’t really think of asking us to act differently if it means we have to be uncomfortable in the process.
Asking someone to behave differently is not the same as asking them to “be” different, and this is an important difference to realize. Mature unconditional love “accepts” that individuals are just that, — individual, different and unique beings, and appreciates that. The individual can be loved in essence regardless of behavior. Falling in love initially seems to inherently bestow this, even if we play it out imperfectly. After the honeymoon period ends, and we “fall out” of love, we have to go to work on our love connection. As we observe particular behaviors in ourselves or our partners, we can learn to respect the right to indulge in them, whether we like them or not, as part of accepting unconditionally the right to be -and fact of being- just who we each are. Yet, in order to have a relationship, we have to continually adjust to accommodate differences, and learn to do it in a way that lets us grow, grow closer, and fully benefit from those differences — and shortcomings.