Suppose for a moment that a new grocery store opens in your neighborhood. One day you decide to go and check it out. You walk in and are immediately impressed because the store seems to be stocked with anything you could possibly want.
As you walk around looking at all the itmes, you notice something strange. None of the items have a pricetag and not only that there are no checkout stations.
Perplexed, you walk over to the owner of the store and ask him to explain. He tells you that his store works differently from any other. You walk in, tell him what you need, how much you need and how often you need it. He proceeds to retrieve every item on your list, bag it up, take it to your car and then follow you home in his vehicle so that he can unpack all the groceries and put them away according to your direction.
So you ask how much this is going to cost you. He explains that all you need to do is tell him thank you or how much you appreciated what he did when he is done. Since you don’t need to give him any money there is no need for a pricetag on any item and there is no need for the checkout lines either. What would you think of a store that opporated in that manner?
I believe that there are two things that I could say about such a store that are likely to be true. The first is that such a store would be incredibly popular. The second thing is that such a store would not last long.
I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships as of late. More specifically I’ve been thinking about romantic relationships. However, what I am outlining in this post applies to a wide spectrum of relationships.
I am going to speak in general terms in this post. If you know me well, you know that I don’t particularly care to speak in generalities. I would rather take things on a situation by situation basis. However, I am going to speak in generalities here because constantly pointing out how this doesn’t apply to everyone or that not everyone acts this way would make this post longer than it needs to be and more redundant than it is going to be. Just know that I am well aware that scenarios I will talk about here do not apply to everyone.
The old saying goes that it is better to give than to receive. While I believe this to be the case I have another belief about this saying that I think is equally true. People look at this saying and reach the conclusion that it is therefore bad to receive.
I do not believe this is the meaning of the saying whatsoever. I believe that it would be more accurate to say that receiving is both good and necessary but giving is better. A little longer, a lot less catchy but considerably more accurate.
But there is a reality that is in play that complicates the matter considerably. It is much easier to define what we want than it is to define what we’re willing to do to get it.
A few months ago, I was on the phone. I was talking to a woman that I have entertained thoughts of dating a time or two over the last few years. As we were talking she listed off all of the things that she would expect her boyfriend to do for her. She clearly stated exactly what she wanted from him, what she’d want him to understand about her and what things would be non-negotiable for her. Now let me be clear before I continue telling this story that there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing what you want in any relationship.
As I listened to her lay everything out I began to ponder a question. When she was finished I decided to stop pondering the question and asked her directly. I asked her what she would do in return for all the things that she wanted.
It was at this point that her answers shifted. When she was talking about what she wanted she was very specific. When talking about what she was going to give in return her answers were not only vague but were not in proportion to what she wanted.
It was then that I set aside any notion of us dating. We are still friends and I am not telling you this story to paint her in a bad light. The truth is that most of us are able to tell people what we want and not what we’re willing to sacrifice to get what we want because we are more often asked about the things we want and we are told what we will have to give up in exchange.
The scenario I described as taking place in that phone conversation is the real life version of the grocery store analogy that opened this post. Much like the grocery store, no person can be sustained merely by thanks and appreciation.
As much as we’d like to think that those two things should be enough they simply are not and cannot be. If you doubt me on this, then I suggest conducting a little experiment.
Recruit your best friend in the world to help you. Tell them that you are going to refrain from consuming food or water to see how long you can survive on grattitude. Instruct them that when you indicate either hunger or thirst that they are to immediately express to you how much they appreciate everything you’ve done for them. After a few days of this, if they are really your friend they will disobey your wishes and give you food and water so that you can remain among the living.
The truth is that you cannot give if someone else isn’t willing to receive. Nor can you receive if nobody is willing to give. We all have needs but in order to meet those needs things must be sacrificed in return.
I could in theory spend all of my money on books, movies and other forms of entertainment. But I don’t do that because I need to eat, I need to be clothed and I need a place to live.
I know several women who have expressed some form of this desire. They want the fairy tale romance like those that exist in the movies. But consider this question. What do you really know about Snow White’s Prince Charming? What does he need to be happy? What does he want from Snow White in a romantic relationship? What is he willing to give her in exchange?
The problem with the fairy tale romance is that we see everything that leads up to the characters falling in love but see much less of what they do to remain in that state.
Ideally, a relationship be it romantic, friendship or otherwise will be a relationship of equal give and take. We’ll get back to the concept of equality in a bit but I think most people would agree that an ideal relationship is one in which both parties benefit.
In the case of romance, it would be my goal to make sure that my partner’s needs are being met. It would be my partner’s goal to ensure that my needs are being met. It is give and take. But what happens if one of us starts to focus more on ensuring that our own needs are being met?
I have been in relationships where this has happened. I believed that my partner was more concerned about getting what she wanted out of the relationship than she was with what I wanted out of it. As a result of this I suddenly became a lot more selfish because I now needed to make sure that my needs were being met.
When that happens it can spell trouble for the whole thing because no both parties are only looking out for themselves at the expense of the other. Upon realizing what happened in my case, we had a conversation about it, attempted to motify our behavior and move forward. For a time it worked but eventually the pattern started to repeat.
I say this happened in one relationship but in truth it has probably been an issue in every relationship I have ever been in and not just the romantic ones. There are people I am no longer friends with because they took more than they gave and I gave more than I took and it led to frustration. And there are people out there who would say that I took more than I gave and they gave more than they took and that’s why they’re no longer my friend.
I mentioned equality above. If you ask any normal person if they are in favor of equal treatment they will hopefully say yes. The reason that problems arise is that very often people have wildly different definitions of equal.
In fact, I would argue that a lot of the political issues in the United States today and even the world can be boiled down to an argument between those who support equal opportunity and those who support equal outcome.
In one of my romantic relationships I was asked by my partner to cease contact with an x-girlfriend. Now let me say that if you think that such a request is outlandish in the first place, it wasn’t in this case. I gave her plenty of good reasons to make such a request. In fact, at first I agreed to grant that request.
I changed my mind however, when I asked her if she would do the same thing if I asked. If I asked her to stop talking to an x-boyfriend would she do so? She thought about it and she answered me honestly. She told me that the answer was no and that even though she knew it was unfair it didn’t change the fact that she wouldn’t if I asked.
It was then that I decided to deny her request and remain in contact with my former girlfriend. This did not end our relationship, we worked it out but my unwillingness to accept what to me was a clear double standard did lead to a lot of arguments.
I still will not allow myself to fall into that type of relationship. As an example, I would never agree to a long-distance relationship in which I would have to travel to my lover’s location to see her but she was unwilling to travel to my location to see me.
But even as I say that I know that equality is not so simple. For example, say I spend $20 on a birthday present for a friend. Then assume that on my birthday my friend spends $50 on a gift for me. Is that equal?
If you were to determine equality simply based on cost then you would have to say no. However, let us expand that example a bit.
What if I spent that $20 after looking around at different things that my friend might like. What if I knew that there was something that they really wanted and got lucky to find it at a very cheap price. And what if they simply pulled a $50 bill out of their wallet and gave it to me? Maybe in the expanded version of this scenario the time I spent and thought I put in to getting them something they’d like is enough to make up for their extra $30 in cash.
Suppose I am dating a woman. We’ll call her Jillian. We’re calling her Jillian because I’ve established elsewhere that I love that name. It will also get my friend Melissa’s attention and because I have a fictional character that bares that name, perhaps it will inspire me to resume my fiction writing once again.
Say that my relationship with Jillian plays out like the one I mentioned in the phone conversation above. Jillian has told me that she wants to be romanced. She wants flowers at work. She wants to be taken out to dinner and a show on a regular basis. She wants me to cook for her after a hard days work. In exchange, she will tell me how much she appreciates what I have done.
What is my insentive to act the way she wants me to act? A cynic might say that I will act the way she wants me to act because I could get sex out of the deal. My counter argument is that if sex were my motivation I could likely obtain that elsewhere with little effort at all.
But what if instead of telling me she’ll be appreciative, she said this. She would make an effort to become interested in things that I enjoy. She would drive me places I wanted to go to even if she didn’t really want to go at all. She would help me to cope better with my own stress.
In that case, my insentive is more clear. Things aren’t nearly as vague and we are both benefiting from the arrangement. We are benefiting because our needs are being met and because meeting each other’s needs makes us feel even more accomplished and satisfied.
I admit that sleep hasn’t been my friend the last three or so days. So if this seems more complicated than it should be that is at least part of my excuse. Regular readers of mine will recognize that it is also just how I tend to do things around my corner of The Internet. I have written many posts that include some variation of the phrase: “I’m not really sure what my point is supposed to be”.
I think my point is this. We often tell people what we are willing to sacrifice in relationship by asking them what they want from us and agreeing to give them that. We should instead tell them things that we are willing to give them and have them tell us if those are the things that they actually want. You will always know your own capacity to give better than you will know someone else’s capacity to want.
As the title suggests, this post might explain why I am still single and why I have very few close friends. However, while I may only have a few friendships they are very healthy and are so far as I know, in balance. I can live with that….at least for now.