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Celebrate Selfishness on Valentine's Day
by J. H. Huebert

The Collegian 
February 9, 2001

As Valentineís Day approaches, songs, cards, and movies repeating our cultureís accepted ideas about the nature of true love abound.   

Unfortunately, many of these clichťs, although they sound nice, are potentially destructive, and plant seeds that may bear fruit in unpleasant, unsatisfying relationships. 


For example, a new song by Jennifer Lopez asserts that "Love Donít Cost a Thing."  It seems that in general, people consider love to be something that you give without expecting anything else in return.  After all, if you demand something back, youíre just being selfish, right?  And arenít selfishness and love opposites?


Thatís the dominant view.  But if we think about it, love thatís given away for nothing isnít desirable and isnít really love at all. 


If you think about it, everyone is selfish when it comes to love.  Do you pursue a potential romantic partner because you want to do them a favor?  Of course not.  You do it because of the benefits that you think you would receive from such a relationship.  And you hope that you have enough to offer (in the way of values and other desirable attributes) that the other person will consider it worth his or her while to become involved with you.


If someone claims to love you "unselfishly," he or she is insulting you.  That person is essentially saying, "Iím not getting anything out of this, but you need me so badly that, though it pains me and I know I could do better, Iím selflessly sticking around."  The sort of person who would say that, implicitly or explicitly, is not the sort of person whose "love" I would want!  


Wouldnít it be better if everyone frankly acknowledged that theyíre selfish, and that each person in a relationship wants the other one around because he selfishly wants the things that the other has to offer?  Thatís something each person should feel good about.  


So love does cost something: your values.  And just as a person who doesnít bring money to the grocery store doesnít deserve to get food, a person who doesnít bring value to a relationship doesnít deserve to get love.


Another romantic-sounding notion, also perpetuated by pop songs and romantic comedy movies, is the idea that thereís "one perfect person" for you out there.  But unless you believe in some mystical being (similar to the tooth fairy) that magically brings ideal mates together, this is nonsense, too.  Worse, itís dangerous.  


If you think that the one youíre currently with is the only one for you, youíre going to be absolutely devastated, and perhaps sent into serious depression, when your relationship ends as, chances are, it eventually will.  Why put yourself through that?  Why not just enjoy it for what itís worth, for as long as it lasts (maybe another week, or maybe the rest of your life), without attaching cosmic, earth-shattering importance to it, and spare yourself potentially serious agony?  


Some people are so attached to the "one perfect person" notion that they canít let go of less-than-ideal relationships. Have you ever observed a couple going through an extremely unpleasant time (perhaps an extremely unpleasant lifetime) because they feel that they need to preserve their relationship at all costs?  These people--whether dating, engaged, or married--are often addicted to the ideas that the other person is "the one" for them, and that, should the relationship end, theyíll be doomed to a lifetime of loneliness and regret, because thereís no one else out there for them.  


Donít get me wrong--it surely is possible to find someone who could be a satisfactory (or, we would hope, excellent) companion for the rest of your life.  In fact, the reality is that, no matter who you are, there are countless such people out there.  


Sadly, too many people restrict themselves with the idea that there can be only one such person in the world, and these people often end up unhappily stuck with someone who wasnít so right for them after all.    


So if you find yourself alone this Valentineís Day, take it easy.  And if you do have a significant other, tell them without apology that youíre with them because you are selfish.  They should be flattered.


© 2001 J. H. Huebert