Some years ago, I wrote an article called “Being Used.” It was about red flags in relationships, demands and whether or not you had a relationship or were being treated as a commodity.
I feel like I neglected to point some important things out.
The article is about demands. It’s about when you’re unhappy to be giving something, when someone misbehaves when asking for something. It’s not against giving in the first place. I don’t know if I made that sufficiently clear.
Let’s say you’re talking to a friend and she says, “Hey, I really like your car. Can I have it?”
You think, shrug, toss her the keys and say, “Sure. Enjoy.”
There is nothing in the world wrong with this transaction. The person asked. You thought, decided you were perfectly happy to give it and did so, feeling fine about it. It was your car. You could do what you want with it, after all. You start taking the bus and are happily using the time to read a novel on your way to work.
There’s nothing wrong with giving – even dramatic stuff like major amounts of time or resources, as long as you’re perfectly content to do so and feel good about it. (Mostly. I can’t think of a parent who doesn’t grumble at least internally cleaning up vomit at 2 in the morning when their child is sick, but for the most part a loving parent does it quite willingly).
What if the scenario went more like this?
“Hey, I like your car. Can I have it?”
“Nope. I like my car, too and I want to keep it.”
“But I need it to get to work!” she says.
“Can’t you take the bus?” you ask.
“No, I can’t walk that far because I’ve got joint problems. Besides the bus is on a weird schedule and I either get to work an hour early or fifteen minutes late and I’ll lose my job if I’m always late.”
“Woah, that sucks,” you say. “I can give you a ride sometimes, if you like. But I’m keeping my car.”
“You’re being mean! I need that car! How can you be so selfish? You can walk just fine and the bus schedule maps perfectly to your work schedule!”
You grumble and hand over the keys, not wanting to be mean and selfish, grinding your teeth every time you take the bus.
Notice the difference? It’s a problem only when you feel like it’s a problem. It’s a problem when you’re not okay with it. It’s a problem when you’re mistreated if you say no. It’s a problem if it interferes with what you want to do and you resent the demands.
Be giving, sure, if it makes you happy. Enjoy it. Just do your best to keep your boundaries and try not to let people guilt you into giving what you don’t want to give.