Despite my adamant protests, my friends and family tell me that I’m a caring person. I’m still not convinced. I have little patience for incompetence, and I say nasty things behind people’s back more than I think a “caring” person would.
However, I used to often put other people’s needs before my own. If I liked you, or thought I had the capacity to seriously like you, I liked making your life easy — sometimes at the cost of my own convenience, yes.
While all of this sounds hunky-dory and, arguably, romantic, this dynamic led to passionate flings that fizzled almost instantaneously. For a few months, I’d be that “caring” person. I’d commute across town for new partners. I’d be available for phone calls when they had a bad day. I’d acquiesce, seeing the movie they’d want to see. But then, about 14 weeks into dating, a trigger would go off. I’d receive a text that would be so minor, so silly. Something like, “Hey, I’m getting hungry. Can you leave the gym early so we can grab dinner?” I’d think to myself, eat a damn snack and let me work out in peace. Then, in a fit of testosterone-induced rage, I’d think to myself: This is too much work. This isn’t fair.
Then I’d break up with the person, completely blindsiding them.
So none of my relationships stuck, and the thought of going on another date sounded as appealing as sticking a needle in my eye. I was tired of getting excited, then acting selflessly, only to feel my “caring” actions were going unreciprocated. I know a relationship doesn’t evenly split 50/50 when it comes to providing comfort, support and sacrifices, but 20/80 doesn’t seem right, either. It’s also unsustainable.
I realized I needed to make changes. From the first date forward, I was going to focus on me. My needs. My convenience. I wasn’t always going to be the one who offers to travel to meet someone. Why should I have to wait an hour commuting on the T or pay the $20 Lyft ride each way?
I started to make dates walking distance from my apartment. Instead of saying, “I’d be happy to meet anywhere,” I’d pick the place. Ninety percent of the time, people said “Great!” Ten percent, I’d get, “That’s a little far from my place, can we pick somewhere halfway?” and of course I’d say yes. Halfway is absolutely fair.
For folks I met online, I started FaceTiming before the first date. First off, people loved it. They thought I was being adorable, since I’d be huddled, shirt off, under the blankets, talking to them before bed. Second, and more important, this ritual weeded out complete duds. There’s nothing more infuriating than going on a date and realizing in seconds that you have absolutely no attraction to the person.
The more selfish behavior carried past the first, second and third dates. I was forward and would tell people what I need from them: to maintain a strong sense of independence while dating me and, similarly, to not put all their needs onto me. I explained that my motive was for the relationship to work and that, given my repeated history of caring too much and burning out, this was the only way I thought one could succeed long-term.
The first time I said this to a man I was dating, I felt like the biggest jerk. I even prefaced it with: “I know this sounds terrible, but you have to a have a serious life outside of me, and friends outside of me that offer support. I can’t be there for all your needs. I’m happy to help you with issues where I can, but that’s it.”
He looked at me, perplexed. “Why does that sound terrible?”
“What?” I replied, matching his expression.
“You’re telling me you like space in your relationships, and you’re not the overly emotional or caring type. That’s fine. I like you because you’re funny, hot, interesting and still a good guy. You give me enough.”
That’s when I realized I wasn’t being selfish. I was simply being upfront and honest about what I can offer and what I expect. But I had a fear, after being so giving, of appearing as if I was only taking. I didn’t want others to resent me the way that I had begun to resent them. Instead, I was surprised by how positively most people responded. Letting them know from the beginning that my main focus was on me wasn’t as selfish as it sounded.
Maybe being realistic about what I can and can’t offer doesn’t make me less caring. It just makes my relationships more likely to succeed.