Since the perpetuation of the species is the force that drives the longing for connection, it seems that we’d be wired to get along with each other with ease and pleasure. But, for a lot us, that doesn’t seem to be the case; especially when it comes to committed partnerships. Why is that?
The abbreviated answer to this perplexing question requires us to consider the fact that we live in a culture that continually encourages us to fulfill two seemingly contradictory mandates. The first is to accept, honor, and embody your “true self.” This message shows up throughout popular culture in the form of slogans, advertising jingles, song titles, and even army recruitment posters. We are urged to “Be all that you can be!” “Be true to you,” “Love yourself,” “Be authentic,” “Be number one in your own life!” and, “Trust yourself.”
There’s nothing wrong with any of these messages. In fact, for those of us who tend to forget that there are other reasons to be on Earth besides to take care of others, such reminders, if we take them to heart, can save us from a life of excessive self-sacrifice and unhappiness.
The second mandate has to do with providing for the relational (as opposed to the individual) aspect of life and has to do with serving the greater good, not just one’s personal interests and desires. One of the most painful criticisms that many of us hear is “You’re selfish!” – meaning that we care more about ourselves than we should. This admonition contains the implicit message that you shouldn’t care more, or even as much, for yourself as you do others (particularly the “other” who is accusing you of being selfish).