I have been dating a divorced woman for the past eight months. In the beginning I’d go out of my way to do little things to make her life easier. I’d buy her flowers or bring lunch to her at work. And she worshiped me for it!
She’d write about how great I was on social media. She’d get excited and tell me she’d never been treated so nice. I wanted to continue to do these nice things because I loved the compliments. I felt like a breadwinner and a pretty awesome guy.
At some point these niceties became obligatory. There were no longer any thank-yous for lunch, just texts that would say “sweet pork salad, pinto beans, house dressing.” Suddenly being a nice guy wasn’t enough.
A friend recently shared the exact same experience. I imagine this is common as relationships mature. How can I avoid taking my partner for granted? How can we continually show one another we appreciate each other without breaking the bank?
So what should I do? I can’t keep upping my game in perpetuity. Am I doing something wrong, or is this just how life works?
Tim, every day is not Christmas, every day is not your birthday. If they were, they wouldn’t be special. If your boss brings donuts to work one day, she gets a thank-you. If she does it 18 days in a row, no one says, “Oh, thank you for the 18th time.”
Because you overdid it, now there is no way to top what you did. It’s the junkie chasing that high. It takes more, more, more just to reach the same old level.
You admit the gifts were all about you. It made you feel like a breadwinner and you did it for the compliments. That’s not why gifts should be given. In religious tradition gifts are said to be most valuable when they are given anonymously. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
But between two people it can’t be quite like that. It’s more like this.
Everyone expects that early dating behavior will be different from later dating behavior. At some point in dating you reach an equilibrium. As the connection gets deeper, external things level out. The internals rise and the externals lower.
If she were more emotionally connected to you, she would say things like, “I know you have a busy day, don’t bother with lunch.” Or, “We can watch a movie together tonight. You don’t have to get me flowers.”
Because the gifts weren’t given for the right reason, you started to resent her lack of appreciation. At the same time, you helped induce a spoiled response from her. The giving backfired. It didn’t yield the deeper connection.
Love is not about “How do I look to her?” and “How do I look to her friends?” Her friends are sick of hearing about what a great guy you are and she’s gotten accustomed to the gifts.
Unconsciously, we pick up a lot about how to act in a relationship from movies, TV and the
internet. Some of these influences are awful. They tell you how to be a “good boyfriend” rather than what love is about.
Giving should be casual and natural, not rigid and formal. It needs to come from the heart and your feelings for her. The best guide is act from what arises spontaneously and from within.
It could be this relationship can be easily remedied or it could be already spoiled. It’s up to you, honestly, to find out which it is.
~ Wayne & Tamara
Column for the week of September 19, 2016
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