From the time we’re little children we are told to share. We’re told to be thoughtful, and to put others ahead of ourselves. “Don’t be selfish!” is a refrain heard in homes up and down every street in America. When it comes to little children and toys the lesson is necessary. When it comes to adults who are well-mannered it is essential. When it comes to marriage partners who can give and sacrifice for each other it is absolutely vital. When it comes to people who are dating? It’s poison.
There are few times in life when we need to be more self-centered than when we are seriously dating. I’m comfortable saying you should be absolutely self-obsessed during your search for a partner. I also believe that daters who practice a spirit of selflessness during their serious dating period often don’t end up with compatible partners. Let’s break it down.
If you’re thinking about a serious relationship, you’ve got to be able to determine whether this new romantic interest is going to be a good partner…for a looooooong time. You’re going to be tied to this person socially, romantically, financially, perhaps even legally. Whatever their set of unique gifts and problems turn out to be, you are going to have to live with them and build a happy life in their midst. This is no small consideration.
Just to take a dramatic example. Let’s say your new boyfriend is an alcoholic. He’s kind, loving, and supportive. As a person who is compassionate you want to help him, because you love him. He has times of peace and health, but a bender is always around the corner and when he drinks he’s terrible. It is easy to see that marrying this man is a risky venture. Perhaps he’ll get sober and stay that way, but the risk that he won’t and the consequences of that choice are great.
A person who is putting others first and acting selflessly would say, “This man needs me. He may die without me. I can’t leave him. I know he has a problem, but what kind of person would I be to abandon him?” Of course, many hundreds of thousands of marriages have started for just this reason. The woman can’t act selfishly when she needs to the most. In fact, selfish doesn’t even sound like the right word. We’re asking her to quit being codependent and enable his drinking, but what we’re really saying is, “NOW is your time to be selfish. Act in your own best interest or risk a very bad set of circumstances.”
Of course, most relationships don’t have an alcoholic. They do have people with anger issues, neurosis, jealousy, control issues, and a host of other negative traits that would make a long term relationship hard to handle. Your best shot at encouraging change with a partner in any of these areas is before you marry or move in together. If you’ve discussed it, and things aren’t getting better, it’s time to be selfish and move on.
Clearly, no one is perfect. Relationships take change and compromise — without a doubt. The point here is that once you discover a major personality disorder in a romantic partner the clock should start ticking. You should discuss it and talk about steps to improve it. If this person can’t or won’t make those moves, you’ve got to be selfish. You’ve GOT to be selfish.
If you’re single, repeat after me. You’ve got to be selfish. NOW is your time to be selfish. Insist on a relationship that works for you. Insist on a person you can be proud of. Embrace this time of selfishness, because once you’ve made your choice and your commitment it will be time to switch gears.