Healthy, fulfilling relationships are not based on transactional thinking. When I think of my best friends, for example, there isn’t any thought about what they will give me, or not give me. There isn’t this sense that they owe me something, or that they need to fork up some money, or a gift, or some time even in order to prove they are “a good investment.” The connections are so much deeper than that. And in a lot of ways, it doesn’t really matter much anymore what we do together, or whether I or friend X has paid for more of this or that.
I consider my immediate family in a similar way, although there is really no way I can ever repay my parents for all they have done for me – other than to be generous with my time, skills, and life with as many people as possible. But even there, thinking solely in terms of a debt you “can’t repay” isn’t really helpful. A healthy relationship with a parent is much more, and many of us instinctively understand that, even if we struggle sometimes to articulate it.
Somehow, when it comes to dating, a lot of us seem to think in business terms. What we can get from one another. What someone has to offer us. How “worthy” someone is of “our investment” in them.
Perhaps you might be thinking, “Oh, those are just common words and phrases people use,” forgetting that how we use language has an impact on our experiences and decisions.
I have certainly been guilty of this kind of thinking in the past. I remember internally tallying expenses I paid on certain trips, or nights out with a former girlfriend who regularly made more money than I did. We rarely argued about money, but I do think that the resentment I had about what I was spending, and her struggles to maintain a decent budget, negatively impacted our relationship. The reality was that any imbalance in spending was probably minimal and so it really was silly to feel resentment, and also let it influence how I viewed her, but I did it anyway. Why? Because some part of me saw the relationship as a series of transactions, and when hers slipped below a certain point, I felt cheated.
I believe she also had some of this attitude. However, instead of money, for her it was about attention and affection. If she felt something was wrong between us, she would withhold not only sex, but most physical attention and contact. Or sometimes, she would heavily increase all of that out of a desperate attempt to please me, or sooth whatever issue was between us. After awhile, I began copying her, almost unconsciously, to the point where during the last several months of our relationship, whenever there was a problem, we did this dance around physical intimacy all driven by a failure to clearly communicate with each other.
Reading dating blogs these days is often a depressing affair. People longing for love tripping all over each other to condemn the folks they are dating, or have dated, as seriously lacking in some shape or form. The lists of “must haves” some folks have are so long that it’s difficult to imagine anyone measuring up. In fact, it’s likely that behind those endlessly long lists are people afraid to be found out as lacking themselves. Instead of admitting that they aren’t perfect either, they dump the blame on others, and proudly proclaim how “smart” they are about dating and relationships.
Healthy, fulfilling relationships are not based on transactional thinking. They aren’t about lists. They aren’t about finding one person who can “meet all your needs.”
If you are trapped in this kind of thinking, it’s time for a break. Or to diversify your life, and stop being obsessed about the mythical “one” that’s supposedly the only person out there in a world of 7 billion+ that could possibly “get you.” It’s not too late to wake up. You can start right now.
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