I thrive on helping people. Whether I’m creating a schedule to push my friend toward the finish line on her doctoral thesis, sweating it out while moving my homeboy into his new apartment, or reworking my mentee’s résumé so he can apply to a new internship, as a woman, as as person, my helpfulness is legendary. Which is great for everyone involved — until it isn’t.
As far as my more intimate relationships go, my willingness to assist has bitten me in the ass with more than a couple men. There was the boyfriend who I knew I had to dump the day he asked me to write a paper for him. The one who seemed to think “please” and “thank you” were dirty words. And even the one who thought he didn’t have to work as long as I did.
I’m not alone. Women in this country are routinely socialized to be caretakers, of our siblings, our friends, our men, and later our parents. But a look back at my dating history makes me wonder at what point do we tip over from being sweet to being doormats? In short: When are you giving too much?
Well first, we need to address three key questions when you’re considering making a sacrifice — of your time or your energy when it comes to small things, of your security or your future when something big is at stake — for someone else:
1. Why do you want to help? Does assisting make you feel warm and fuzzy? Do you want him to feel indebted to you? Do you want to put a smile on his face? Do you just want to avoid drama. Research shows that doing something just to jump out of the way of conflict will only result in more drama later, while doing it to reach a positive outcome (like his happiness or yours) will boost the quality of your relationship.
2. How will it make you feel? If taking a long lunch break to drive across town and pick up his medicine will make you feel good, then go for it. If you know you’ll spend the whole time in the car talking bad about him for jacking up your schedule, bow out.
3. Would he do it for you? This isn’t about being petty, it’s about reciprocity. Does he go out of his way to assist you? Even if you would never ask, if you needed him to spend the day cleaning your apartment before your family arrived, would he grab a broom and get to work? Because no matter how small of a trade-off it is, if you’re the only one giving, resentment is sure to follow.
Part of loving folks is doing your part to make their lives better. But that care can’t be to your own detriment — you can’t be there for others if you don’t show up for yourself. Never be afraid to choose you. If he can’t deal with that, then he’s not the one.
(Photo: Portra Images/Getty Images)
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