Yes, ok, spoiler: by selfishness I don’t mean callously putting your own interests above and beyond anyone else’s, and trampling on loved ones in the process. Obviously 😉
But, something I value tremendously in those I am close to is a certain level of selfishness. I’ve come across thoughts like ‘love is putting their interests above your own’. That strikes me as less love, more co-dependency. At most, from The Rake (with whom I intend to spend the rest of my life until we are old and grouchy), I’d expect him to consider my interests alongside his own, of equal weight… at MOST. But in other relationships, I hope and trust that people will put their own interests above mine. I’d do the same for them.
Why? I’m not a mind reader, and nor is anyone else. If people can not only confidently identify their own needs and wants, but also have the confidence to convey them to me, without holding back for fear I might disagree, then I can decide how to respond. If someone were to selflessly decide that ‘although I want x, I’m pretty sure she would prefer y, so I just won’t mention it’, that takes away my autonomy and capacity to make informed choices.
Plus, with any luck, if you focus selfishly on your own needs and wants, you’ll find someone – or someones – whose needs and wants correspond neatly. If you don’t, you’re always working to someone else’s agenda. Dan Savage talks about selfish lovers apparently being (paradoxically) better in bed; this may or may not be true, but wouldn’t it be great if my ‘selfish’ wants in all areas of life were also the one which my partner/s were most happy to fulfil or for me to fulfil?
All relationships involve compromise, obviously, but no-one should compromise on the things that are really important to them. If you have wants and desires that rely on someone you’re in a relationship with, say, also wanting to have children within five years, or calling you once a day no matter what, or listing you in a relationship on Facebook with them… No matter how irrational it might be, if you have things you want that are important to you, you’ll only make yourself (and someone else) unhappy if you compromise on them. And no matter how much you adore someone, if you’re setting your own needs aside to focus on theirs, they may not even realise you’re doing this – and then who’s looking out for your needs?
When your selfishness corresponds with that of others, it stops being selfishness at all – I am getting what I want out of my relationships, and feel extraordinarily fulfilled by them, but so are the other people involved (…at least as far as I know!). That selfishness can stop you from ending up in relationships with people who may be awesome, but want completely different things; it allows you to be clear about what you want, confidently ask for it, and feel able to move on if you don’t or can’t get it.
(Plus, fairly often, my selfish needs include showering my loved ones with affection, kisses, adoration and praise. Oddly, that seems to work out well for everyone.)