For those of you who haven’t been following the sometimes vociferous debates in response to Evan Marc Katz’s latest two posts, do yourselves a favor and check them out. I’m a huge fan of strong opinions but was a little shocked to be told that my dating/relationship style was “selfish” and “toxic,” so I decided to think a little bit more about where my attitudes toward dating come from. One of the other commenters, Kenley, writes
The truth is being a great date or partner is about balance. You have to be both selfish AND selfless…the tricky part is figuring out when to give your needs/wants/desires priority vs when to give the other person’s needs/wants/desires priority. And, I think that balance is different for different people.
Not only do I think that’s the truth of it, I know that for me, how much to give and how much to take has been a huge struggle because of my experiences growing up.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, my mother was quadriplegic by the time I was in high school. The dynamic of my home was pretty much my dad calling all the shots on what needed to be done re: taking care of her, paying bills, cooking, cleaning, laundry, trying to rein in my crazy sister (who by this time was getting arrested, dropping out of high school, getting pregnant…) and me being the one who actually did it all. Now, in retrospect I don’t blame my dad for his reaction: his wife was dying. However, despite the fact that I can empathize with him, clearly this didn’t foster a healthy family unit (today, we talk about 4-6 times per year, and I talk to my sister even less).
Many people believe that the dynamic of your home while growing up, even if negative, tends to register as “normal” to you, and therefore we have a tendency to replicate those dynamics in our adult relationships. It certainly seemed like this was going to be the case for me - my experience with relationships led to me losing my virginity to a guy who was even more controlling than my dad, and physically and emotionally abusive to boot. My second major relationship wasn’t much better in terms of a healthy balance – again and again, I was the one who was expected to compromise and do all the work, while the guy sometimes would reward me by…well, I guess a temporary reprieve from the usual dynamic was all the reward I got, actually.
After a brief swing to to the other side of the pendulum, I ended things with a guy who was a complete and utter doormat, desperate to please me in any way that he could. I actually ended things not because he wasn’t a fine fellow (though he actually turned out to be clinically depressed, which explained a lot) but because I hated who I was becoming – the person who held increasingly impossible-to-meet standards that were enforced in an ever more nasty manner. I felt no different from all the exes that I (rightly) despised, and that knowledge made me sick inside.
So my dating life became a struggle to find the balance that Kenley describes: clearly, I was willing and able to make sacrifices and compromise for another person. I’d done it tons of times, mostly to my detriment. I also wasn’t comfortable being the demanding one. And further, I have enough strongly-held lifestyle beliefs and values that are in the minority that make it difficult for me to find happiness with a significant percentage of the population.
As a result, I became a lot more assertive (note that I didn’t say unreasonable or rude) about what my criteria were for a partner. I also became a lot more proactive about ending things as soon as I knew that the possibility just wasn’t there. I got a lot of flak from my friends for ending things after one date (“you’re too picky!” “how do you really know it wouldn’t work after meeting them just once?”) so I briefly experimented with a three-date minimum…only to realize, every single time, that I felt the same way at the end of date one as I did at the end of date three, except now the guy had dropped a fairly significant amount of time and cash on me and was that much more likely to take my decision to end things personally/as a rejection. So I went back to doing things my way.
And ended up with a guy that is absolutely perfect for me. I am happier than I’ve ever been – and guess what? I realized it on our first date. I don’t have to worry that I’m giving too much of myself to him, because he gives all of himself back. And while I’m flattered that EMK would think that I left all those previous fellows “scarred,” I think the far more likely outcome is that they don’t even remember my name.
What’s your philosophy on give-and-take? Leave a comment below. Then try these fine posts: