The Phoebe Paradox


I have always liked making people happy. I love planning birthdays. I remember minute details about a person’s likes and dislikes so I can surprise them somewhere down the line. I like bringing breakfast for the entire staff out of the blue. And I get joy out of people liking the pictures I take of them (and don’t get me started on the euphoria of a profile picture).

No, I’m not Mother Theresa. If anything, there is a school of thought that would call me purely and utterly selfish. I do these things not out of altruism or otherworldliness, but because it makes me feel good. Plain and simple. Is there anything more selfish than that? (Cue flashbacks of the Friends episode where Phoebe struggles with the same existential question. Don’t worry, no bees were harmed in the making of this post).

Now, even though I love doing these things, I find myself consistently upset when the same isn’t done for me. Why don’t I have my favorite croissant waiting on my desk in the morning? Why isn’t someone celebrating the big achievement I just made? Where are the spontaneous mid-laugh, sunshine glistening off my hair, Instagram-worthy pictures of me? Ugh, such douches, right? Wrong. I’m the douche.

This isn’t some self-deprecating emotional martyrdom. It’s true. That coworker wouldn’t have been upset if I didn’t bake them my peanut butter swirl brownies. That friend wouldn’t be angry that I didn’t get her favorite cupcake to cheer her up after a bad day. And no one expected me to stay up crafting the perfect personalized picture collage dating back to high school. Were they happy? Ecstatic. But that doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t ask for it. I did. I made that decision. I unilaterally created a standard and blamed others for failing to live up to it.

It’s only recently that I realized why I did that. Everyone expresses love in their own way and, as much as you would like to think you’re mature enough to realize that, you don’t. You only believe there is one way of showing love – your way. When I love someone, I want to make them happy – be it through brownies, pictures, or a basket of their favorite junk food for their first day of work. I will make the effort and I will put in the time. That is how I show love. The more I love, the more I’ll do. So if you’re not doing that, if you’re not going out of your way to do these gestures that make me happy, then that can only mean one thing, right? Wrong.

You know what? That’s just not fair because this is how show love, this is a paradigm I created, and this is a choice I made. My fiercely protective sister may forget to take me out to celebrate my promotion, but she will physically assault anyone who so much looks at me the wrong way. My mom still has no idea what my title at work is, but she will not leave my bedside when I am sick. My friend may not instapicstitch my life, but will move mountains to make sure I can go on that trip with them. And you know what? That’s fine. Better yet, that’s love.