When you think of “ultimatums”, what comes to mind?
Manipulativeness, maybe? Ultimatums are typically considered a negotiation tactic, and not a very pleasant one.
But there’s a different thing that can happen, where an ultimatum is made, but where articulating it isn’t a speech act but rather an observation. As in, the ultimatum wasn’t created by the act of stating it, but rather, it already existed in some sense.
I had a tense relationship conversation a few years ago. We’d planned to spend the day together in the park, and I was clearly angsty, so my partner asked me what was going on. I didn’t have a good handle on it, but I tried to explain what was uncomfortable for me about the relationship, and how I was confused about what I wanted. After maybe 10 minutes of this, she said, “Look, we’ve had this conversation before. I don’t want to have it again. If we’re going to do this relationship, I need you to promise we won’t have this conversation again.”
I thought about it. I spent a few moments simulating the next months of our relationship. I realized that I totally expected this to come up again, and again. Earlier on, when we’d had the conversation the first time, I hadn’t been sure. But it was now pretty clear that I’d have to suppress important parts of myself if I was to keep from having this conversation.
“…yeah, I can’t promise that,” I said.
“I guess that’s it then.”
“I guess so.”
I think a more self-aware version of me could have recognized, without her prompting, that my discomfort represented an unreconcilable part of the relationship, and that I basically already wanted to break up.
The rest of the day was a bit weird, but it was at least nice that we had resolved this. We’d realized that it was a fact about the world that there wasn’t a serious relationship that we could have that we both wanted.
I sensed that when she posed the ultimatum, she wasn’t doing it to manipulate me. She was just » read the rest of this entry »