Tiffany had a plain face and a slender build. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back and piled atop her head. Her makeup was minimal, and her faded jeans and workshirt suggested either a woman bereft of vanity or one who had stopped trying. She looked to be somewhere in her late twenties to early thirties.

“My boyfriend doesn’t appreciate me,” she started, once she had delivered a cup of latte and sat down. “When we first were together, I was happy to do anything he wanted. We partied with his friends, saw movies that he picked out, ate out where he chose, and at first I was okay with that. But when I started suggesting places I wanted to go or things I liked to do, he wasn’t interested. In fact, he didn’t seem interested in anything I had to say.”

“Do you think you changed from who you were?”

“Does speaking up for myself count as a change?”

“I would think so.”

“Then yeah, I guess I did. Before, I was so in love that it didn’t matter to me. Now that I look back on it, maybe I was afraid that I might mess up a good thing. So what happened was, I became a doormat and he just walked all over me.”

“I take it that now you’ve started speaking up about your needs and preferences.”

“I have.”

“How has he responded?”

“Not well. He blames me for questioning his judgment and – what else? Oh, undermining his masculinity.”

“I see. So the problem is he doesn’t appreciate you if you’re going to have a mind of your own?“

“That’s it.”

“Well, are you willing to go back to being a doormat?”

“I couldn’t. Not now. I see too clearly now. I’ve had my eyes opened.”

“Oh. Can you tell me a little about how your eyes were opened?”

“Talking with my girlfriends, mostly. Seeing how they could speak up to their boyfriends about what they wanted and it didn’t break up their relationship. It made me feel dumb, to be honest, for thinking I had to be quiet to keep my boyfriend. Also I read some books, and I took some courses in women’s studies, and I started to see the bigger picture.”

“Which is…?”

“You know, about male patriarchy and how women are oppressed and held down.”

“So now you see things with a new awareness. And I’m guessing your boyfriend hasn’t read those books and doesn’t have that awareness yet?”

“I left a few books lying around the apartment. Did he read them? I seriously doubt it.”

“Well, perhaps he read enough to talk about ‘undermining his masculinity.’”

“Maybe. I just think he’s wondering whatever happened to the doormat, because she doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Must put a strain on your relationship.”

“You can’t imagine.” Tiffany’s face contorted with pain and the tears began to leak from her eyes. “He hasn’t come home for a week.”

“Oh dear.” Ned pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to Tiffany. She dabbed her eyes.

“We had a fight. He said I was different, and I said I was the same, I just hadn’t been speaking up before. But I said, ‘This is the authentic me, so you need to deal with it.’ He said, ‘I need some time to think about it,’ and he walked out.”

“Is that what you wanted?”

“No, God no! I miss him. I thought we had a good thing going. I just wish we could go back to the way things were.”

“Even if it means being a doormat?” She sniffed.

“Not that part,” she said. “I want him back, but I want him to love the real me.”

“You may get lucky,” he said. “He may love you enough to come back and say you were right. But I wouldn’t count on it. It seems more likely to me that he’ll come back to see if you’re ready to apologize and turn back into a doormat.”

Tiffany broke down again into sobs. He waited until they had diminished to sniffles.

“Relationships are not static things, like rocks.” he continued. “They are dynamic. They have to be, because people are dynamic, with a range of emotions. When relationships are satisfying, it’s because they are in balance. So, for instance, your relationship was in balance as long as your boyfriend called all the shots and you were the doormat. You were happy, he was happy, things were stable. But your awareness of being treated as the unequal partner altered the balance.”

“Are you saying I was wrong?”

“I’m not talking about right or wrong. I’m just talking about balance. You’re not the same person who walked into this relationship. I’m guessing that he is exactly where he was when you met. So for there to be a balance again, he has to change to adjust to the new you, or you have to forget all you’ve learned and go back to being the old you. If he changes, you can work together to find a new balance. If he doesn’t, you can go return to your mousy, doormat self or you can say this doesn’t work for me and I’ll get out.”

“You don’t think he’ll accept me as I am?”

“Tiffany, I don’t know the guy. Maybe he will. Do you think he will?”

“No. Not really.”

“If you’re right, then you have to decide what’s more important to you: keeping this relationship alive, or being who you really are – in which case, you’ll need to find a new relationship with someone else who respects that.”

“I might not have that choice,” she said. “He may just decide to give up.”

“True. And how would you handle that?”

“Oh, pretty badly.” She smiled. “I get pretty emotional. But if he won’t let me be myself, then living with him means I’ll just be sacrificing myself all the time just to keep him happy. And that doesn’t sound fair.”

“It’s certainly not good for your long-term happiness. I’ve known a lot of women who tried that and then at some point just rebelled. It makes for interesting movies but it’s a hard way to live.”

“Then on the other hand, I may make sacrifices to keep him, and he might still up and leave me, and then it would all have been for nothing.”

“Also true.”

Tiffany sat and thought for a few minutes. “I guess I first have to see what he says when he comes back – if he comes back – and go from there.”

“I heard that as the statement of a strong, confident woman who has choices and who’s determining her own destiny.”

“Gee, thanks. You’re sweet to say so.”

“Good luck. Let me know how it works out, okay?”

“I hope I don’t just dissolve in a puddle and beg him to take me back if I promise to be the mousy little doormat again.”

“Be strong,” he said.