In life, we are individuals first and foremost. And as individuals, we are able to do anything we want.
Other people can suggest things to us, and they may have a level of influence over us; but we ultimately control our own choices and actions. No one can force us to do anything we don’t want to do.
So my question is should we ever have to do anything we don’t want to do?
At first glance, the answer seems obvious:
No, of course not.
If you don’t want to do something, why in the world would you do it? Right?
Unfortunately things aren’t that simple.
Your Life is Not Your Own.
We are individuals. And yes, we CAN do what we want. But we do not live in a vacuum.
Our choices and decisions impact others. If you are in a relationship, or have children; your actions often have a significant impact on those people (whether you like it or not).
There’s no escaping this. Even if we are single, living on our own and fully independent – there are still going to be times that our actions impact others. Maybe it’s co-workers, or neighbors, or even just friends.
So no, I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone can ever just do what they want. Short of removing ourselves from civilization, moving to an isolated island and returning to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, our actions ALWAYS impact others.
Most of us don’t want to live on an island by ourselves though. We are social creatures, and we all crave social connection.
Actually, even if we WERE on an island by ourselves we would still desire/need connection. In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks was stranded for years, and the only thing that kept him sane was having his volleyball buddy Wilson to talk to (for those that haven’t seen it, Wilson actually was a volleyball). Yeah it was a fictional movie, but it struck a chord because people are social animals – I suspect that’s why solitary confinement is considered a form of punishment.
So we seek out connection. We look for people who we can talk to and listen to. People who make us feel valued, seen, and heard.
And for many of us, this is what leads us to look for a partner in life. Someone to build a life with, and someone we can envision one day “growing old” with.
Building a Relationship
Looking at romantic relationships (marriage/partner), one of the unwritten rules is that the other person has to matter to you. Your choices affect them, and their choices affect you.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change anything about the way you live or the choices you make. After all, for the relationship to work you still need to be you and your partner needs to be able to accept you as such.
Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you aren’t an individual anymore, but it does mean you are more than just an individual.
Because of this you need to keep in mind how your choices will impact your partner. Relationships require caring, empathy, and accepting influence. And taking your partner into account is part of that.
This brings me back to my initial question:
Should we ever have to do anything we don’t want to do?
If your partner wants you to do something and you don’t want to do it, should you be willing to do it for them? Or do you just say I don’t want to, or that’s not my thing?
It’s a difficult question.
Clearly that depends on what it is, and on the perceived expectation from your partner.
If your partner wants you to be their getaway driver for a bank heist, then it’s pretty easy to just say no. If they want you to have an orgy with the neighbor and a goat, again, pretty easy to say no.
But what if it’s a fairly reasonable request?
Let’s say your partner loves opera and wants you to join them, but you don’t like it. Should you go with them? How about if you are planning a vacation and struggling to find a place you both want to go, or even just trying to pick a movie to see?
Are relationships only about finding a person with similar interests, and then only doing things together that you both enjoy? Or are there time that you should do things you may not really be interested in doing?
In my opinion, for a relationship to be successful there HAS to be give and take. You need to be able to go outside your comfort zone and do things with your partner that isn’t necessarily your thing. If I go to the opera with my partner (and I don’t enjoy opera), it has nothing to do with opera. Instead, it’s about sharing moments and experiences with your partner that are important to them. You aren’t showing interest in opera – you are showing interest in your partner.
It doesn’t mean you should have to go with them all the time. But sharing moments that are important to them is about accepting influence from them. In some ways you can think of it as investing in your relationship, and in your future.
Doing Your Own Thing
In relationships, the balance between individual and part of a couple can be hard, and there are often conflicting messages.
Sometimes you hear things like “happiness is found in doing things for others”. Other times you hear things like “there’s nothing selfish about putting yourself first, taking care of yourself and making yourself a priority”.
So which is it? Is it best to do things for others all the time or should you just look out for yourself?
The challenge is, both of these are true. Looking out for yourself may SEEM selfish, but in some ways it’s not. YOU MATTER!!! Your needs, your wants and your desires are important. They need to matter, whether you are in a relationship or not.
Once in a relationship however, the other person needs to matter too. And when needs and wants conflict, it can’t just be about you.
Relationships aren’t just about getting your way, and doing what you want. They don’t only apply when both people’s needs/wants happen to line up.
If you don’t want to do something and feel you shouldn’t have to do anything you don’t want, then that’s fine. That’s an individual choice that you can make.
But if someone in a relationship feels they should be able to do whatever they want without taking into account how it will impact their partner, then that’s not a relationship.
They are looking for someone to be there on their terms only, and to care of their needs. What they really want is to pick and choose the parts of the relationship that work for them.
In that situation there isn’t much accepting influence, caring or empathy.
And without that, there isn’t much love.