I remember a conversation I had with one of my daughters once, one of those discussions that outlasts the ride home so you sit in the driveway for an hour, finishing up shoulder to shoulder and gazing out in the same direction. We had somehow navigated to the topic of dating and the someday reality of choosing (waywayway in the future) someone to marry. But I was clumsy and bumbling about expressing my thoughts that day and I don't think either of us left the car feeling very understood.
Maybe you'll understand why, then, when I read a recent post by Meg Conley I cheered in recognition. (Have you discovered Meg in Progress? If not, you are in for a treat. If yes, you know exactly what I'm talking about.). These were the words I meant to say that day in the driveway, granting absolute permission--issuing both an invitation and a license, really--to be selfish in choosing someone to date and (someday, eventually) marry. I'll read this to my kids at the right moment; maybe you will find these words helpful, too. Meg's graciously agreed to let me repost her piece here today:
I was talking to a good friend the other day about the pitfalls of dating.
There was a boy. He wasn’t that nice and he wasn’t that mean. He talked like he cared and acted like he didn’t. When she walked into a room he would make his way to her eventually. They had dated and then didn’t and then dated again. At the moment, they were back to didn’t.
We laughed our way through the ridiculousness of the conversation until she wasn’t smiling anymore,
“I don’t know. I want more. But is that awful? Setting my standards too high? Being too selfish?”
And then the laughter left me, too. I wanted to hit out at the people, places, situations and inner dialogues that have convinced so many of my sisters that “wanting more” is an unforgivable act of self-centric thinking. As if somehow the pursuit of a life partner is an act of charity and to take our hopes, hurts and desires into account betrays the nature of the enterprise.
I can remember spouting off the same misgivings and gentle questions. Anxious and sure my worth depended on the eyes and evaluations of others. Thank the Heavens for parents that slapped the words out of my mouth almost before the left it. (Well, it wasn’t a literal slapping. More of a rhetorical beating. Really, I admire their restraint.)
They’d throw their hands in the air and talk emphatically. Didn’t I know that choosing my husband, the man I would make my life with, was the most selfish decision of my life? That it was one of the last times that I could sit as a single entity and decide to get exactly what I wanted without the interference of pledge or the obligation of a shared life, shared children, shared disappointments, shared hopes? Be selfish, they cried. Seek for the best. Make yourself what you want and don’t bend for a man that can’t appreciate the god given, mortal mess you are. Find a man to partner, not a boy to parent. Walk away if it gets too hard, too hurtful, too disappointing. Right now, you don’t owe anyone a damn thing. Not a week, not a month and certainly not your whole ever loving life. You don’t owe anyone anything. You only owe it to yourself to find what you want. You get to have what you want. Meggi, what do you want?
It seemed so counter-intuitive. I remember arguing with my dad over it once. At the time, I was dating a boy that made it seem like sacrifice of self was really the sacrament of love. And I believed him. How, I cried to my good dad, how can marriage – the most self-less of institutions – begin with my most selfish decision? Didn’t he know the heart hurt sacrifice of self had to begin beforehand? Didn’t that make the most sense? The good man looked almost disappointed in me. He and my mom had raised me for twenty years and these were the questions I still pondered. I have to admit, it didn’t say much for my learning abilities.
He said my name once,
and then cleared the tears out of eyes and throat with a wipe and a cough.
…you are selfish in choosing a mate because once you commit yourself to a person you’ve decided to never be truly selfish again. Sure, at times you will take time for yourself and splurge and do all the fun stuff we do when we say we are being selfish. But you will never again be able to live your life with only thoughts for yourself, not really. And that is a beautiful thing. If you and your husband are living your marriage correctly you will always be thinking of, working for and loving one another. The selflessness of marriage is the kind that lifts each party up to a place they could not have reached alone. It is not a sacrifice of self. It is a clarification of self. Marriage should make you more of who you are. It should refine you. Both of you. Anything less than that isn’t worth your time.
I think at that point I grumbled something about him always having to be right. He laughed and then was serious again.
Listen, it is important to remember that you are not just being discerning, and yes, even selfish, for yourself. You are being selfish for the children that will eventually come into the marriage. Is this the person that will help your sons and daughters understand their place in the world? Can you both create a sanctuary of love and learning for them? Maybe you aren’t at a place where you can see you deserve that, but surely you know your children deserve it. I hope your mom and I gave that to you kids and I hope you do the same for your own.
It was an eye opening conversation. For years, my parents told me I had great worth and deserved more happiness than my inward thinking heart could fathom. I didn’t ever believe them. But that day when my dad talked about my daughter, I knew, I just knew, that unknown girl was worth the price of a star and then some. I knew she deserved the kind of joy that could crack the universe in two. And somehow, knowing that about her helped me understand it about myself. I had to give her what she deserved and the only way to do that was to get exactly what I deserved.
So I broke up with that boy. I stopped asking those questions and started asking others. Who was I? What did I want? How could I create my own happiness? And I started living the life I hoped my daughter would lead. One with query and laughter and legs that moved me from moment to moment to moment. Until, somewhere in between a good book and a little grand adventure, I found, and was found, by the kind of man that made me want to be selfish one last, glorious time.
We’re not perfect. I can’t even see perfect from the place we reside. We fight and misunderstand. We hurt and are hurt. We work and sweat and love and kiss and start over again. It’s messy and hard and there are days when I can’t wait for the morning. But I can appreciate his God given self amidst all his mortal mess and he can appreciate me and mine. And sometimes, when the light of our lives is just right, I can see us lifting one another to that gold lit place.
Sisters, stop asking if your standards are too high, if you want too much, if you are being too selfish.
Figure out what you want. Don’t settle for anything or anyone less. And then, once you and that worthy man find one another, work, love and pray for each other as if your heart and souls depend on it.
I hope you do it for yourself. I know you’ll do it for your daughter.
You both deserve it.
Meg Conley is a writer that specializes in topics of womanhood, motherhood, childhood...basically all the 'hoods. Her blog, Meg in Progress, is quickly becoming a nationally recognized platform for women’s issues and day to day inspiration [and it's also where this post originally appeared]. She speaks at conferences about the glorious state of womanhood and is lucky enough to hang out on TV, HuffPost Live and Sirius XM radio routinely. When she isn't being honest about being a girl, she can often be found holed up in the bathroom sneakily eating left over Easter candy while hiding from her children.