Are most people fundamentally selfish in relationships?

I’ve been reading about breakups (because I’m perverse), and a common theme seems to be how one person thinks everything is fine and is going happily about their business when suddenly their partner bushwhacks them with a breakup.

Now, the general consensus appears to be that the one who does the dumping has probably been thinking about it for a while and that’s why they can move on so quickly and easily, because they were emotionally detaching long before they ever thought to say it out loud. And most people seem okay with this. Like it’s just the way things are.

Does that strike anyone else as insidious? How do you do that? How do you sit there thinking about how it’s not working for you and maybe you want out while maintaining a facade of happiness for your oblivious partner? How cruel is that? How can anyone do that without drowning in guilt?

I get that, as human beings, one trait we all share is ferocious self-interest. That’s why there’s cheating, lying, etc. But it’s so dismaying to see that a lot of people think this is just how it is, that it’s okay to do this. I know we all like to hedge our bets, but deliberately concealing your true feelings from a significant other just to spare yourself some discomfort and personal responsibility seems so…cowardly. It leaves all the burden on the one being broken up with. The ex is left to deal with all the pain alone. And that seems just so unnecessarily callous.

Any thoughts?

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7 thoughts on “Are most people fundamentally selfish in relationships?

  1. theattack says:

    [Sometimes the person being dumped chooses to live in oblivion despite all the signs and direct confrontation that their partner is unhappy.

    Honestly I thought you were going a completely different direction with this. I thought you were going to say that the dumpee is too self-absorbed to notice the signs of unhappiness – not that the dumper is selfish for not being clear enough. I wouldn’t use the word selfish to describe your scenario, but I do think it’s only fair to tell someone when you’re unhappy. This goes for any stage in a relationship. No one can fix anything they’re not aware of. If they’re honest about it through the whole relationship, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise when it’s over.

  2. BreckEffect says:

    [I don’t know. I’ve been both dumper and dumpee, and I’ve unexpectedly dumped someone and I’ve been unexpectedly dumped. My feeling is that someone who does that (including myself in this) has been pretty immature about the relationship and didn’t fully invest themselves in it. If they had, they would have been talking about stuff as the relationship progressed – because nothing is perfect – and they would have been expressing their needs and what they thought about how the relationship was going. But both of those times were short relationships – like between 3-6 months. The stage where you are deciding if this is going to be a real thing or not.

    Long-term relationships that I’ve had where we broke up…it was never unexpected. It still hurt, and maybe one of us was a bit more ready to move on than the other, but you could have seen it coming from a mile away because there were issues that we had been working on (unsuccessfully) for a while.

    In my opinion, if someone breaks up with you out of the blue and you’ve been having (supposedly) productive relationship talks and he/she had assured you that they were happy and things were going well…in what is supposed to be a serious, committed relationship…I would consider that person one stop short of a psychopath. Because they lied to you, flat out, and continuously, with seemingly no remorse.

  3. ebees says:

    [While I think there are some people that are just extremely selfish and knowingly lead their partner on even though they know they are going to dump them in the near future, I don’t think this is always the case in relationships where one partner feels blindsided by the breakup. The dumper might be going back and forth over whether the issues they have are enough to end the relationship. They might know they are unhappy, but don’t want to hurt their partner. They might be giving their partner time to redeem themselves, or trying to wait it out to see if things get better. In an ideal world, these people would talk to the person they were thinking about breaking up with, but in some situations, nothing the other person has to say would change the situation. If the issue is “you don’t express your feelings to me enough”, a talk could definitely help. But if its “the longer we’re together, I think we are fundamentally different people and cannot share a life together long term”, communication might not change any of that. And really, would the breakup be that much less painful for the dumpee if a couple weeks before, they got a breakup warning? That would probably just be a really miserable, insecure, desperate few weeks before the dumper finally pulled the plug.

  4. LMcMack says:

    [There is some serious over-analyzation going on in your post, NHN!

    I think there are any number of reasons someone would blindside their partner with a breakup.

    *The partner is unsure of their own doubts and tries to work through their feelings on their own, so as not to burden their SO with something they feel is their own problem
    *Woke up one day with an inexplicable sudden change of feelings
    *They have a plan in place and don’t want to be talked out of it or swayed by long discussions and high emotions
    *They are an asshole

    To name a few.

    While I agree that any relationship deserves honest discussion when things are rocky, at the same time some folks are simply too scared to share their negativity and want to take the easy way out. I think in many of these cases, the person truly does not want to cause pain for their partner and could feel as if ripping off the bandaid suddenly and without warning is a better approach than long emotional discussions…

  5. Metacognition says:

    [Can I disagree and agree at the same time?
    It’s easy to say that the other person is “putting off” cancelling the relationship, but the thing is, they probably really do care about their partner’s feelings. They are warring within themselves between whether their conflict is big enough to bring up to save the relationship or if it’s something they could live with. The thing I’m trying to get across is that it’s not just selfishness or self interest that drives others to conceal.
    Now, very true, this is more typical within people who haven’t had many relationships. More than likely the younger crowd and thus the ones most likely to go through relationships quicker. I used to count a relationship as decently long term if it lasted 3 months while I was in high school. Now, I count it in years, but that’s me. I’ve typically been the dumped as well, so I’ve been on both sides of the equation.
    Thing is, there’s soooo much more to take into account than just straight up honesty. I’ve said it before on here: when you enter a relationship, you’re not trusting the other person to always be honest with you, you’re trusting them to always have your best interest at heart. If you believe it’s just to always be honest with the other person, consider the last time you told your SO everything that happened within your day.
    This becomes a problem when they’re faced with two options that both present the same idea.
    By breaking up with you, they prevent any further possible heartache, thus keeping you safe, but also possibly denying you (as well as themselves) what could be a great relationship.
    By waiting problems out, they give them time to grow, but also time to heal. Of course the hope is that it’s something they can live with and isn’t break up worthy. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Maybe I’m optimistic of humanity in general, but I think that most of the time, our actions come from a place of ATTEMPTED understanding. It may be flawed in the end, but the goal is all about the viewpoint of the other person (don’t get me started on the philosophy, I could probably write a term paper on it! :P). Even in the worse situation, I believe it’s more about how the other person views you rather than how you view the other person.
    And that’s more than my 2 cents. Probably closer to my $20.00, but there it is.

  6. Dennis Hong says:

    [While it may be comforting on some level to discuss how we should behave, and to express exasperation that so many people don’t behave as we think everyone should, ultimately, it’s a pointless endeavor. The bottom line is, people are assholes. Lots of them. More than anyone can ever keep track of.

    So, instead of putting all this effort into trying to change the world and everyone in it, in the name of making the world a better place, why not focus our efforts on changing ourselves, so that we don’t fall prey to the assholes of the world? Because, let’s face it, the assholes of the world aren’t going to be on here, reading these blurbs, and thinking, “Holy shit! Did I really do that? Oh, I was awful. Maybe I should change how I behave.”

    And that’s why it’s pointless to go on and on about how things should be. Better to focus on how things are, and what we can do to accept that.

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