“It’s one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
During my freshman year of college, my group of friends would always hang out in my room.
For the most part, I enjoyed playing host.
Then certain things started to bother me. People would constantly be eating my snacks, and I would constantly be cleaning up after them when they left.
Day after day, I would provide my friends with food. They would make a mess eating it while sitting on my bed. And they wouldn’t clean up after themselves.
Perhaps this sounds trivial to you, but over time I found it very annoying.
And after a few months of this, I became resentful toward my friends.
The problem here was that I couldn’t help but “keep score” in my relationships with them.
What do I mean by this?
Every time I gave my friends food, I would mentally record it, and expect to get something of equal value in return.
In my mind, I was giving way more than I was getting.
And then every once in a while when they would come in and offer me some of their food, I felt even worse.
“How can they think that this is enough after all I’ve given them?”
If they thought they were giving me a sizeable gift, then suddenly I felt obligated to pay them back to keep the balance in my favor.
In hindsight, I see how disturbed this way of thinking is. But at the time, it all made sense to me.
Keeping score got me nowhere, other than feeling bad and deteriorating my relationships.
This kind of mindset is toxic. It causes nothing but harm.
Think about your own life and your own relationships. Chances are you are keeping score in some of them.
And I bet it’s having the same effect on you.
Luckily, I’ve changed the way I think about these things. Sure, I still keep score sometimes (everyone does), but I do it far less frequently than I once did.
My roommate Jeremy and I got along exceptionally well.
There were many things that I gave to him. And there were many things that he gave to me.
The relationship between roommates is very complex. I knew he was doing things for me that I would never even realize.
And then it hit me: All relationships are like that. My friends have done things for me that I will never be able to pay them back for.
(In fact, during our sophomore year we spent most of our time hanging out in other peoples’ rooms, most likely eating their food and making a mess in their bed.)
Once I realized this, I knew it was time to give up on score-keeping. Now I feel far better about all of my relationships.
It’s really easy to stop keeping score when you make a couple of simple shifts in your mindset. Here are a few:
1. There’s a lot you can’t “track.”
Relationships can be wonderfully complicated.
There are so many factors involved that it would be impossible to keep an “accurate” score. Don’t even bother trying.
I guarantee you, people are contributing to your life behind the scenes in ways that you will never know.
Be grateful for this.
2. Everyone has a different scoring system.
Preferences are subjective.
I love dark chocolate, and other people prefer milk chocolate. (They are out of their minds.) If I give someone a piece of milk chocolate, I lose nothing, but they gain tremendously. How do you “count” something like that?
You might believe that you’ve provided others with a huge amount of value, but they view it as no big deal. And vice versa.
Perhaps when my friends would offer me some of their food, it was a significant sacrifice for them to give it away. I need to respect that.
3. You might be “ahead” in some relationships but “behind” in others.
No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to balance out all of your relationships.
While you’re upset at someone because you think they don’t contribute, I’m sure there is someone else out there whom you are neglecting just as much.
Be grateful for those people.
Whatever extra you might be giving to certain individuals, consider that good karma and a form of paying it forward for all the people who have given you so much.
4. It’s not a “competition” against an “opponent.”
When you keep score, this is how you are acting.
The people you love are not your enemies! It’s absurd to think of them this way.
Every time you tally up your contributions, you are pulling your relationships further apart. Instead of cooperating with your friends to create abundance, you compete with them over scarcity.
This is not healthy, and it gets you nowhere.
5. Keeping score is sweating the small stuff.
When you keep score, you spend a lot of time focusing on minor things that don’t really matter.
Who cares that I gave my friends fruit snacks on any given day?
By thinking about these insignificant details, you distract yourself from all the good things about your relationships.
Instead of thinking about the things you give up, think about the great experiences you’ve had together.
I’ve come a long way since freshman year.
In the process of shedding the bad habit of keeping score, I’ve learned a few things about how relationships work.
For one thing, you must still tend to your own needs. Don’t swing too far in the opposite direction.
You can’t let people take advantage of you. Luckily, it’s still pretty easy to spot a moocher even when you aren’t keeping track of every detail.
Conversely, you should ask for support when you need it. Your friends are there for you, and you would do the same for them.
Your relationships should be treasured. It's only when you stop keeping score that you're able to appreciate all the great things they provide you.
Photo by mark.groves