Compromise. We internalize this term with both positive and negative connotations as little children. Compromise is a common strategy at my brother’s dinner table. My nephew J.J. announces that he is full and ready for dessert. My sister-in-law explains that if he has room for dessert, he is not full, and therefore needs to finish his hot dog. “I don’t want the bun,” he declares impishly with that irresistible grin. The compromise? Finish the meat, and he can have dessert. Dispute settled.
Positive? Both sides get something they want. Negative? Both sides accept less than they originally wanted. We learn the art of negotiation early on; compromise will become a tactic in navigating relationships in J.J.’s adolescence and a mainstay in fostering successful relationships as he matures into adulthood. The dialogue each week at his dinner table is recited practically verbatim. He’s internalized, as you and I assuredly did in our own childhood, that a willingness to compromise will see fulfillment of some of his desires.
I’ve had to compromise in my garden. Though I cherish my two towering magnolia trees, they permit only a few rays of light into the front yard. To me, flowering plants are much preferred to non-flowering plants. My mother decorates her home each summer with petunias, impatiens, and geraniums. Though I knew that petunias were sun-loving flowers, I planted them in my first attempt at filling my first garden beds. Nearly two months later, their blooms are gone, but their leaves provide pretty ground cover. The geraniums’ blooms thrived briefly, but the first summer storm snapped their long stems, and now, their remaining leaves also provide pretty ground cover.
My garden is still growing, even if it’s not what I originally expected it would look like. The impatiens and salvia offer sparks of color, the gardenia’s occasional white blossoms please me, and my knock out roses boast healthy leaves with no blooms. Last week, I walked up and down the rows of Home Depot’s garden center for almost an hour searching for flowering plants that would flourish in shade. Having done my research, I knew what I was looking for, but none of those plants seemed to be in stock. Dismissing the nagging feeling that I was cheating on Home Depot, I headed over to Lowe’s. Another hour later, I had come up empty handed. There were rows of impatiens of every color, but I needed to experiment with new plants if my garden was to ever look as full as my neighbor, Mrs. Washington’s.
I kept coming back to the blue hydrangeas. They lured me in with their heavy bushes of petals… my favorite color! I would read their tags, forcing myself to settle on the words “Full sun”, and walk away in search of alternatives suited for shade only to find myself gazing at them a second, third, and fourth time. I remembered the half dozen plant varieties I’d doomed to failure and ultimately decided I would not be tempted by their beauty or fragrance a moment longer; I knew if I planted them, I’d be sentencing them to death by shade.
The day waned, and other time-sensitive commitments were waiting. Not wanting to go home empty handed when the urge to dig in the dirt had overtaken me completely, I decided to compromise. Returning to the tiny selection of shaded plants contained in one solitary aisle of the great garden center, I expanded my search. The coleus plant does not flower, yet it boasts vibrant color in its foliage of green, pink, red, and maroon. I purchased two, and in the ninety-five degree afternoon, introduced them to their new home in my garden bed.
The coleus plants have not disappointed. They complement the pink begonias beautifully and fill the empty spaces strategically. Compromise has come to be a necessity in my garden. In truth, I’d never considered begonias before I began battling my front yard’s climate, and I’ll admit they’ve grown on me as much as they’ve grown exponentially in size. Still, every day when I water the coleus plant, the same thought recites itself in my mind. “They’re nice, but they’re not wonderful. I want to see flowers.”
While I regret potentially disappointing those who have come to look forward to my reticent accounts of failed attempts, there are no new online dating adventures to report on this week. The time spent reviewing potential candidates amounted to no more than a new Facebook friend who will likely be deleted due to overly personal posting (a pet peeve of mine). Earlier today, I was bemoaning my singleness with my friend and a mutual acquaintance we bumped into at Water Country somewhere between the Rambling River and the Wave Pool. As we relaxed on lawn chairs, I voiced my frustration. My friend mentioned an EMT she knew that was single, and I asked how tall he was. The acquaintance said, “You can’t be picky.”
Grateful for sunglasses and an already wet face, I retreated into my mind and turned my head away as tears formed, letting the ladies continue their own conversation. My emotions were a mix of disappointment, anger, and fear… an admission I’m not proud of as those are not the sentiments of the mature and hopeful woman I’ve been aspiring to be throughout this search thus far. I thought of the endless time I’ve clicked “Hide match” when a profile contained something that contradicted my carefully crafted list of uncompromisable qualities for my future husband. I thought about my ex-husband and my ex-boyfriend. I thought about the children I don’t have yet. I stole a peek at the offender’s toned abs, recalling her comments about her wonderful husband and two wonderful sons. If the heat index hadn’t been above a hundred degrees, I might have also thought that my blood was boiling at that point.
I wanted to turn around in that chair and cry out, “Why can’t I be picky? Because I’m thirty-two and single? Because I’m not a size four? Because I’m divorced? Because all the quality men are already taken by women like you who were smart enough to make the right choice the first time around?” I’ve worked hard to convince myself in this process that setting high standards is my best strategy for ensuring a successful match that will result in a lifelong partnership with the man that I will grow old with on a front porch swing. I’d settle for this white wicker loveseat, but do I settle on the man?
Do I lower my standards? Do I compromise? The positive connotation of compromise is that I will settle a dispute. I will get something I wanted. Maybe if I lower my standards, I will expand my search and find a good man to grow old with. The negative connotation of compromise is that I will get something less than what I originally wanted. Maybe if I lower my standards, I will get a good man, but will I get a quality man, and will we end up growing old together? I’ve said myself that if I had made my list of uncompromisable qualities years ago, I wouldn’t have chosen the man that I ended up divorcing. I also wouldn’t have chosen the man that I broke up with months ago.
The list exists as a direct result of failed relationships that I’ve learned from. As much as I wanted those blue hydrangeas and would have planted them the first time around, I’ve seen what happens to sun-loving plants in a shaded garden, and I walked away. It would have been a tragic compromise. They would live if planted in the soil in front of my house, but there would have been no brilliant blue blossoms, just green leaves like the petunias and geraniums. When selecting a life partner, do I really have to settle for pretty ground cover? I compromised with the coleus. After choosing a life partner, do I really want to quiet the private thought, “He’s nice, but he’s not wonderful” every day of my life?
I want to see flowers. There’s still hope for my garden. I bought a trellis yesterday because the evening glories planted a month ago have started climbing, and soon their vines will be laced between the slats of my porch. Begonias aren’t a plant that I wanted, but I’ve come to appreciate them. Coleus doesn’t flower, but I’ve accepted them as a welcome addition to my garden. Still, I refuse to marry begonias or coleus just because I’m thirty-two, single, and a size six on top and eight on the bottom. These child bearing hips are going to wait on the evening glories. One day, they will grow higher and begin to bud, and it only takes one perfect plant to make my garden perfect to me. It only takes one available, quality man to make a marriage perfect to me.
We learn at an early age that compromise will see fulfillment of some of our desires. It’s a negotiation necessity. Compromise with parents on dinner and dessert. Compromise with friends on movie selections. Compromise with gardens on plants. But by definition, compromise means accepting something less than what you wanted. And when something has been compromised, it’s been exposed to potential danger. Is that any way to start your forever?
Picking a husband isn’t an afternoon planting adventure where you visit two stores and call it quits. I’m going to keep shopping until I find what I’m after. I refuse to compromise on my choice in a husband. I won’t settle. I will be picky. I’ll wait with the evening glories for that one, perfect bloom.