This week my post is inspired by a throw-away comment from my son. We were sitting in the kitchen, eating vegetable soup together while he downloaded a new app for my iPhone that will allow us to stay in contact more easily when I’m in the UK. As is often the case, the carrier has updated their terms and conditions so, before I could complete the download, I had to agree the changes.
“You don’t really want to read the 55 pages of new terms and conditions do you Mum?” asked Dylan, just checking the seemingly obvious before checking the “I agree” box. I laughed and shook my head – of course I didn’t! And that’s when he said “Did you know that’s the biggest lie that people tell – not just once, but time and time again?”
“What is?” I replied, not quite getting where he was coming from “What’s the biggest lie?”
“Well, it’s like this” he continued with a smile on his face “We tick boxes saying that we’ve read and understood any number of terms and conditions, when in actual fact we’ve probably not even read a single word – let alone the countless pages of legal jargon that we’re expected to confirm that we’ve absorbed and understood!”
Hmmm… OK, I’d never thought about it that way. And it got me thinking further. I couldn’t help but make the link between my son’s observation and my own experiences in dealing with people where I ticked the mental “I agree” box without going through the terms and conditions. How often I’ve said OK because I’ve believed that what is being offered to me is…. well, exactly what is being offered! How often also, that at some point or other I have been disappointed to discover that actually, what appeared to be one thing was in fact something entirely different.
Imagine, then, that we could actually be offered a full set of legal agreement papers right at the beginning of any new connection. I’m not talking about a pre-nuptial agreements here, because that deals with how things are to be sorted out in the unexpected event of a split. No, I’m talking here about the possibility of having a legal description, associated risks, and possible side effects when entering in to a relationship with the person in front of you. I wonder what might be detailed? Would it be like a CV (another of the worlds’ biggest lies according to one of my favourite quotes “the closest to perfection a person ever comes is when he fills out a job application form”) where there would be a list of experiences together with references – both good and bad? Would the document include personal feedback or a scoring system from people who have already been involved with that person – and if they’re no longer a part of their life, provide the details of what happened? Might it be a list of beliefs, values and priorities? A set of requirements expected of the other person, or perhaps a vivid account of their hopes and dreams?
Of course, this is all just creative musings on my part. But then again, I wonder though… if there really was an imaginary set of terms and conditions that was offered to us each time we struck up a new relationship (friendship, business, romantic or anything else) – would we really take the time to go through the small print? Would we…? Or would we just skip through to the end and tick the “I agree” box so that we could just get on with it? Well, I know that just a few years ago I wouldn’t even have taken a second glance. These days, though, knowing what I now know through my own experience, I am tempted to believe that I would go through every last detail with a toothpick!
Personal Terms And Conditions
It made me giggle, imagining how my own personal terms and conditions might have developed over the years. How, before I learned about predatory people I might happily have signed on any agreement without question “Yes, I’d like to get to know you, I believe what you’ve shown me, and I’ll commit to this relationship wholeheartedly – in fact I’m looking forward to it!” And, being the kind of person I was – well, actually, the kind of person I still am in many ways – having made the commitment I would never even have thought about reneging on my promise!
These days, while I may well be willing to sign, I would certainly include a caveat that might read something like this: “Yes, ok, I like what I am seeing and hearing and, assuming things continue along these lines then I’ll be very happy to share my time and experiences with you. And… be assured…. should at any point any of this change, or I discover that what you’ve said is untrue, or you have misrepresented yourself in any way, then all previous agreements between us are absolutely null and void with immediate effect”
So these days, yes, absolutely I will keep my side of the bargain. One hundred percent. The difference is, though, now my answer is never just “yes”…. It’s always “yes… and…” because I will never again allow myself to be trapped in a situation that is damaging to my health and well-being. Never again will I remain so focused on my commitment “for better or worse” that I allow the worse to take over while better becomes a distant memory! Never again will I allow myself to be swayed by silver-tongued reasoning that excuses a behavior or situation that I know deep within is a bad thing.
I know for a fact that I went in to the relationship with my ex as an open and trusting spirit, fully prepared to give myself to what I believed was the promise of a fulfilling, loving, and life-long relationship between two people who loved each other and chose to spend their lives together. I hadn’t recognized that within his terms and conditions, any mention of the word ‘spend’ literally meant spending on himself…. Love, trust and material goods were going out (from me) and coming back in (to him). He’d ‘pay’ me with his usual smiles, cuddles, displays of devotion, and constant assurances that our life together was perfect. But in reality he was stripping bare every asset he could find and systematically destroying any spiritual, emotional or financial security. It was me who was left spent. Dried up, worn out, and on my knees.
I remember right at the beginning that there were enough subtle warning signs – the ‘small print’ if you like. His hand-wringing guilt when he admitted that he’d wracked up ‘a few debts’ before we met. His tears when explaining his unusually long string of failed past relationships – and the numerous troubled and unbalanced partners he’d encountered along the way. His sadness at having been denied access to his two small children. Perhaps the most telling, though, was when a couple of close friends advised me to check out his version of events – one even went so far as to tell me she thought he was either an angel or a devil, she wasn’t sure which. But I was hooked by then and I brushed all of these “red-flags” aside, dismissing their concerns as unnecessary over-protection.
So yes, I reckon it could be a good idea to have a set of legal terms and conditions that should be read though, understood and accepted before engaging in any new kind of connection – on whatever level. That way, even if things turned sour, at least the original agreement would be there in black and white. And if any of the points had been violated by the other person well, we could walk away with our head held high knowing that we’d done our best. That we’d kept to our agreement, and that the ‘bad stuff’ was not our fault. Instead of which (as so many of us have experienced) we have been left feeling high and dry; consumed with overwhelming emotions of shame and guilt, together with endless “what if” questions stabbing and pecking away at our very soul.
I don’t know whether having a terms and conditions ‘blueprint’ attached to everyone would actually make a difference. I do know I’ve found it quite interesting to consider the possibility! I also know that next time I’m invited to tick the box, sign on the dotted line, or agree to a load of complicated legalese, I will most certainly remember my son’s words and have a wry smile on my face while I at least take a good look at the headlines…. Well, it’s a start isn’t it?