Don't feel bad about being selfish sometimes. A lot of selfish things in life are just masquerading as selfless.
I've been thinking a lot this year about my day-to-day life and how selfish it really is. I make breakfast and grind fresh coffee every morning for myself, and I wake up exactly when I want to most days, even if that means occasionally skipping said fresh coffee and succumbing to a $5 latte at Starbucks. I hang out with whomever I want to at whatever time, and I can drink a beer on a Tuesday and get a nice Belgian trippel buzz without worrying that the cats will judge me when I get home. I can read or write or watch TV shows on my own schedule and at whatever shameless rate of binging I choose. I am not responsible for anyone except myself, my two cats, and occasionally, a few house plants. I can go to the gym at 10pm and no one else will care except me and the other weirdos who like working out in a weight room that smells of sweat that's been sitting on machines since 5am that morning. Beyond the responsibilities of my job and general adulting stuff like making sure I see the dentist and cash checks and all that jazz, my life is pretty much all about me. I choose projects, I sculpt my own path forward, complete with lofty goals of meditation and completing marathons and writing novels, and usually it's just my own procrastination that stands in my way.
Sometimes, I feel guilty that my life is so me-centric. My friends are married and have kids, and meanwhile I'm pondering brunch options while still lying in bed at 10am on a Saturday. I can spend a whole day at a cafe uninterrupted, and damn, is it awesome. But then I wonder, does my lifestyle lose its meaning when I'm living it just for me? I mean sure, I am constantly trying to help others, but let's be honest, my Netflix-watching definitely outpaces the amount of time I've ever volunteered at a soup kitchen (ok, I've never volunteered at a soup kitchen, you caught me. But I donate to enough non-profits that I feel vindicated to walk by canvassers in front of Whole Foods guilt-free).
I re-read that last paragraph and felt a little guilty. I sound horribly selfish, don't I? But I'm trying not to feel bad about it. There is nothing wrong with being independent and focusing on self-growth--after all, developing into a better version of myself will, hopefully, make me more pleasant for others to be around.
But then I question my lifestyle whenever I watch my friends and family navigate the world of potty training and mortgages and selling homemade walnut bread and ocean breeze candles at craft fairs. Does surrendering to another person's wants and needs--whether it's a partner or a child--really make us more selfless? Unpopular opinion alert: I'm not so sure it does. At our core, we have children because we want to know what it is like to love someone unconditionally, but very few of us really know what it means to love without conditions: we raise children hoping they will fulfill certain expectations, or do amazing things with their lives that we ourselves weren't able to do, like take that awesome road trip through Tahiti (I don't think people road trip in Tahiti but it was the first example I thought of so just roll with it), or you know, become a CIA agent or a cellist or whatever weird aspirations your parents imposed on you as a kid (my father was pretty torn up about my brother getting a tattoo, as he was convinced that this destroyed his chances of becoming a secret agent). Or, we hope that it will add a new layer to our relationships with our significant others, or at our basest biological level, we feel the urge to replicate our genes and see what our face and another person's face look like in a mashup. More likely, I suspect it starts out as a selfless endeavor, and then you wake up 18 years later and realize that you haven't had a fresh cup of coffee and sleep deprivation has changed who you are as a person, so you're probably a little bit salty about it.
Let's approach this another way: can investing in ideas and self-development be just as valid as forming interdependent relationships with others? Falling in love with someone--whether it's limerence, long-term partnership, or the unconditional love that many ascribe to having children--always results in some layer of dependence (not to be confused with codependence) even for the most independent and self-assured among us. After all, dependence comes in many forms: financial, emotional, and physical, to name a few.
One does not have to be a hopeless romantic to love others with the expectation of love in return. We care for others in the hopes that the selflessness will give us purpose. It's the same argument made about altruism--that we are selfless for our own self-fulfillment. And at the end of the day, is that really so different from sitting here and writing this blog post, enjoying the process as much as the outcome because it makes me feel like my life had a little bit of meaning today? Probably not, but I am pretty excited to watch Netflix while eating leftover Thanksgiving pie after writing this post, and the very act of feeling gratitude gives me enough life purpose for today.