A little selfishness is a good thing, even in a relationship.
I grew up in a home where giving was loving. When I began dating I began giving, sometimes a bit too much; it would go either unappreciated or unreciprocated, and I’d start to become resentful. How can I learn to give in a comfortable and healthy way without compromising who I am and what I need in a relationship?
It may seem counterintuitive, since we are raised with the idea of giving as a virtue, but giving too much too soon is not helpful in relationships. It can lead to resentment (as you’ve described), unattainable expectations, the appearance of desperation, or early burn-out.
You must be selfish in order to be the best giver. You may think, “What? Selfish? But that goes against everything I believe!” Yet in the embryonic stages of dating, you must be selfish to determine whether someone is a good match for you. Does he or she have qualities that you need, and strengths and weaknesses that complement your own? Can you respect this person? Would he or she make a quality spouse and parent to your future children?
When you can confidently answer "yes" to these questions, you can rest assured that your needs will be met and begin to give in a greater capacity without fear that it won’t be reciprocated or valued. A marriage without giving simply will not survive. To be the ultimate giver, though, you must establish that your core needs are being met so that you will be giving and receiving from the right person.
One may think if they give and give, they will be more liked and accepted; this is not true, and one-sided giving is unhealthy and painful. Healthy giving can exist only between two people with confidence, strength, self-worth, and generosity.
A couple of words of warning: Even when you’ve decided that this is it and you are ready to build a relationship, it’s still important not to overdo it with the giving while dating; you may set expectations that are too high to maintain in marriage. Furthermore, a sense of self-preservation is critical if you are being abused emotionally, verbally, or physically and need to protect yourself. Giving will not help you regain your safety or self-worth. If you find yourself in such a relationship, please seek help from a mentor or therapist.
Additionally, my personal belief and professional observation is that the healthy direction of giving should initially be from the man to the woman, with her responding to his giving graciously. This is why men should pay for dates, open the door, etcetera. Some will disagree. My experience tells me, however, that this dynamic helps men feel masculine by protecting and caring for their partner. It also opens the woman up to feeling feminine and cared for. This allows both partners to be empowered in the roles they play best in relationships.
May your “selfishness” lead to clarity and ultimate giving for the shortest distance to your longest relationship.
By Rachel Burnham