Lately I’ve been reading a lot of life advice on Facebook, and a huge majority of it centers on living for yourself, doing what you want, letting people go who don’t improve your life, forgiving others in order to move on with your own life, and not letting others determine how you live your life. It seems selfishness is the new black. Of course, all of this can be good advice under certain circumstances, but it struck me that taking this literally as a mantra by which to live your life is a good way to be alone for the rest of your life.
There is nothing wrong with being alone if that’s what you choose, and if you really feel like you can’t compromise in the details of your life, then it’s probably a good choice. But if you happen to fall in love, you may need to rethink the whole “living for yourself” thing.
I am a very independent woman, who does not like to be told what to do. I consider myself a feminist. When I divorced my first husband, I reveled in the freedom to do whatever I wanted, make choices without considering what anyone else thought, and being able to completely change my life if I wanted without worrying about how it affected someone else. I was happy, and I vowed never to tie myself down with anyone again. And that is a valid choice. It didn’t make me selfish or shallow. However, “living for yourself” while in a relationship is selfish and shallow and is guaranteed to end in disaster.
Even before I met my current husband, I realized that the secret to a good relationship with anyone is unselfishness. When I fell in love with him, I decided I would always consider his needs above my own because I love him. Of course, if he did not respond to me in the same way, we would have had problems, and eventually, I may have felt differently about him because of it. But he does put me before himself. I believe that when someone you love puts you first, it’s a natural reaction to reciprocate in kind, and when this happens, both people’s needs are met and both people feel loved and valued. In contrast, acting out of self-serving motives and without considering the needs and desires of your mate leads to arguments, resentment, and eventually a break-up. When someone who is supposed to love you, cares more about himself, you feel unloved and unimportant, and then the tendency is to react by protecting yourself, becoming selfish in response. When you protect yourself from someone you love, you lose intimacy, and eventually love.
Sometimes it is necessary to act selfishly. Sometimes it is survival. As I said above, under certain circumstances, taking care of yourself first is good advice, but it is never good advice for making a relationship work. Sometimes you need to leave people behind, let them go, but adopting a permanent attitude of self-protection and complete independence means choosing to be alone or in constant conflict.
As far as forgiving others so that you can move on, I think this is terrible advice. If you merely forgive others for your own sake, you probably haven’t really forgiven them at all. You’ve just moved on, and put whatever they’ve done to you out of your head. Forgiveness should always be a gift to someone out of love. You love who hurt you more than you dislike what they’ve done, and you love them enough to give them a clean slate. You love them enough to be vulnerable to the possibly of them hurting you again in the same way. You don’t hold it against them, expect them to repeat the mistake, or ever bring it up again. If you can’t risk it, don’t forgive them, but let them go and forget about it. You don’t need to forgive them for you; they need it if they want to stay in a relationship with you.
When I fell in love with my husband, I knew I had a choice to make. I knew I had to give up making all the decisions myself; I had to give up the freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I decided that what I was gaining was better than anything I was giving up, and I’ve been lucky because being unselfish is easy with him. He treats me with such concern, such unselfish love, that I automatically care more about his needs and desires than my own. Sure there are times when I want my way, and it’s not the same as his, but all we have to do is realize how important something is to the other, and then it’s easy to compromise. That is love, and love is unselfish.
So I don’t think I’ll be utilizing any ten-second psychology from Facebook any time soon. These sage-sounding aphorisms make good memes, but not good relationships. There is enough selfishness in the world; I don’t want it in my relationship with my husband or anyone else I care about.—Christina Knowles