Why Selfishness is Key to a Great Relationship

I am a big proponent of the self. Specifically, my self. I spend a lot of time thinking about myself (and writing about it, too). Which makes me self-ish. I’m not sure what else there is to be. The only person I experience is my self. The only person I think about with certainty is my self. In my mind, selfishness isn’t bad — it’s inevitable.

The only time selfishness even comes into play is when someone else’s self comes into the picture. After all, if it’s just me, then yeah, I’m being selfish — there’s nothing else to be!

But that’s the thing, it is just me.

Even if I am highly empathetic, thoughtful and considerate — that is still my take on what empathy, thoughtfulness and consideration is for another. The best I can do when I’m with another person is ask how they are and find out what they want from me, and be clear on how I am and what I want from them.

And then negotiate.

The context of the exchange between two people is a better measure of the strength of the relationship than anything else. It doesn’t have to make sense or add up to anyone else other than the two of you. As long as you are clear on the give and take, and good with it, then the relationship feels good. But once you start feeling funky about the exchange, the relationship begins to suffer (conversely, if you’re feeling funky about the relationship, check the exchange - it’s usually uneven).

You can’t enter this negotiation successfully without being selfish — clear on yourself, thoughtful about yourself, a little obsessed with yourself (the very definition of selfish) - so that you know who you are and what you want, and it’s helpful if the other person in the relationship is clear on who they are and what they want, as well.

Being in relationship for the sake of the other is painful (for both you and the other). You suffer the parts that don’t feed you, and feel obligation, resignation, frustration and anger which the other person feels, too. It’s no fun to be the Bully to your Victim. (And if it is, then you need to get your selfishness on even quicker and get the heck out of there. There’s a difference between selfishness and narcissism. And if you were parented by a narcissist, you might have a harder time recognizing that — given that, by its very nature, narcissism doesn’t acknowledge the existence or encourage the development of another’s self. For more on that, read this.)

Being in relationship with a selfish person makes life easier. You know that they are taking care of themselves, asking for what they need, letting you know when they feel hurt or neglected. And you can do the same for your self, your needs, your hurt.

In contrast, being in relationship with someone who does not focus on themselves, who instead focuses on the people who hurt them, the society that mistreats them, the wrongs that have not been righted - is rough. There is no end to the void that they look for you to fill. You can love this person and have great empathy for them, but it doesn’t mean you need to be the one to fill their void (and in fact, you cannot. Voids are, by definition, an emptiness that cannot be filled.)

In this situation, it is better to flip the Golden Rule and treat yourself the way you treat others. When your own needs are met, it is so much easier to reach out to an other and ask about their own, and more genuine, too. To have, as part of your own wants, a wanting for the person that you are in relationship with to feel fulfilled. To have that desire extended to all of the relationships that you are in, to the communities you are a part of, to the country you inhabit, to the world we live in.

Heck, selfishness isn’t just key to a great relationship, it’s fundamental to a peaceful existence.

When I grew up, selfish was a bad word, reserved for inconsiderate and thoughtless people. Embracing my selfishness has taken some practice, and it’s been helpful to feel the positive impact it has had on the people around me. Paying attention to myself, caring for myself and thinking about myself allows me to tend to others in a way that is free of obligation and comes only from a place of desire.

What's more loving than that?