A short essay has been floating around the web recently. In it, a man contemplating marriage is given some sage advice from his father. The advice reads:
“Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”
That sounds pretty good, right? putting your wife and future children’s happiness above your own. Let’s just give a pass to the fact that this carefully excludes those who don’t want children, and most same-sex couples. In fact, lets just remove reference to children, because that’s a bit much of a can of worms for my liking.
So, putting your beloved’s happiness above your own. Doing what’s good for her instead of what’s god for you if it comes own to a choice between the two. It’s romantic, it’s sweet, but I have reservations.
No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”
This helps make clearer the issue that I see with this philosophy. This is a relationship that can easily become asymmetrical, and that can lead to some abusive situations. A girl who Loves with a Selfish man is a mix that could go very bad. But let’s assume that both parties are holding up their ends of the bargain.
What this philosophy completely fails to understand is that relationships are a partnership. It’s about compromises. It’s about balancing giving against receiving, and putting in a measure of sharing. True love isn’t just asking “What can I give?”. It’s about saying “How can we make this work for both of us”.
No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.
No, you’ve utterly lost the idea of “us”. It can’t be each of you giving to each other all the time. If you always think about what you can do for your partner and vice versa, then there will be fights over who gets to cook dinner, and grim silence when you’re trying to choose what to watch that night. Compromise. Co-operation.
The dichotomy of ‘Selfish’ and ‘Love’ is far too simplistic. It ignores the shades of being in the middle, and it’s a huge spectrum. Sometimes you have to be selfish for your own good, and that doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner. Sometimes, you give so much that you can’t love any more for a while. That’s not wrong either. Sometimes you give and keep on giving, even after you know you can’t cope any more, and that’s not good.
Relationships shouldn’t be solely about “What can I do?”, nor “What’s in it for me?”. It should be more “How can we do this together?”