I swipe left on yet another dating profile extolling the virtues of selfless women while admonishing the “selfish” ones. I am self-centered and unashamed of it. This is my one life, and I will no longer be bending over backward for anyone else as I live it.
Being selfish is defined as putting oneself first without consideration of others, but it’s interesting that the idea of being self-centered has such a negative connotation. Shouldn’t we all be self-centered? Shouldn’t what we want and need matter in this life we’re living? I would argue that it’s possible to put our needs first while still having consideration for others.
In point of fact, it’s not just possible; it’s absolutely necessary. As a single parent of two, I’ve come to realize that taking good care of my own emotional needs helps me be a better parent to my children. I have to take good care of myself to prioritize my family. I’m more likely to be short-tempered and impatient with my children when I fail to take care of my own needs. Mothers sacrificing themselves for the family unit might have been in vogue during my childhood, but it’s probably also the reason why there are so many adults who struggle with self-esteem, healthy boundaries, and advocating for themselves.
I used to self-sacrifice for other people — particularly partners. I would put their needs first and resent all the ways my needs weren’t being met. It took me a long time to realize that my needs weren’t being met because (a) I wasn’t meeting my own needs and (b) I was staying in relationships that were out of balance.
There’s nothing admirable about making ourselves sad and sick putting everyone ahead of ourselves. It may look loving on the outside, but it sure as hell isn’t self-loving. We may want to question why anyone who loves us would be okay with us putting ourselves last in service to their needs.
When I see those dating profiles, and they are legion, I have two thoughts. The first is that someone has obviously been hurt but hasn’t healed. This is a red flag in and of itself. An un-healed partner is going to damage us, however unintentionally. Instead of dealing with life as it is now, they’ll be recalling their previous hurts and reacting to past trauma instead of present reality. While we’re all in some stage of ongoing healing, we should still be aware of dating profiles that indicate the healing hasn’t even begun and steer clear.
The second thought that comes to mind is that this person may have codependent or narcissistic tendencies to expect another human being to put them first. It’s a dating profile, so my assumptions could be right or wrong, but if this is my first impression, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to take it at face value and move on. My interest, if there was any, is lost. I’ve prioritized my healing, and I’m looking for a self-aware partner who is doing the same.
I understand that there are people out there who have made choices that have hurt others. Whether intentional or not, I can recognize that there are people in the world who keep choosing their own pleasure — using and abusing the people around them. This can create a ripple effect of hurting people hurting people. But the problem is so much deeper than “selfish” individuals. The problem lies in an unhealthy and often immature dating culture that doesn’t emphasize the importance of healthy boundaries or effective and honest communication.
The problem may not be that past partners have been innately selfish. The problem may be that many adults throw adult-sized tantrums when they are rejected. No one likes the experience of rejection. Heartbreak aside, there’s such a sense of shame that comes with it when someone we want didn’t want us back. Considering how many of us have un-healed trauma with related triggers, it’s understandable that we might react to the experience of rejection badly. It’s rarely our finest moment.
Yet, too many people emerge from this in full victim mode, ready to tell the world of the wrongs they suffered at the hands of this cruel person. I’ve been there. Maybe wrongs were done, but maybe the more accurate take on the situation is that it was a poor match to begin with and then it ended. It’s a much less salacious headline, but it might be more accurate. This doesn’t invalidate the hurt we experienced. It just recognizes that sometimes it’s just not a good fit, and we need to accept it, focus on healing, and move on.
We can keep being angry at the people who hurt us, or we can learn the lessons and choose to heal. The first scenario is all too common and often leads to those snide dating profiles. The second scenario allows other people the grace to make mistakes, allows ourselves the grace to heal and move on, and opens up the possibility of finding the right relationship.
Our lives are our own. We get to choose how we’ll live them. We get to decide the shape of our lives and who we want to populate them. We can be considerate of our relationships while still prioritizing our needs.
The problem with dating may not be “selfish” people. The problem may be all those people who refuse to prioritize their needs and are then angry that they didn’t get what they wanted. We don’t need to demand that our partners put us first. We need to learn to put ourselves first, to find partners who do the same, and to learn to grow interdependent, healthy relationships that don’t rely on one partner sacrificing themselves for another.
Yes, I’m selfish — if “selfish” means prioritizing my own needs and not sacrificing myself for someone else. I’m not ashamed of it. I want a partner who is a little selfish, too — one who understands that taking good care of ourselves makes us better partners. It doesn’t mean we have to throw consideration out the window. It just means that we keep making good choices for ourselves so that we can be healthy for all the relationships in our lives.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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