Reciprocity has been on my mind this week. It's the "Golden Rule" promise that you probably learned in grammar school: treat others as you would like to be treated. Or, if you were Ms. Durnan, my lovely 3rd grade teacher, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." She had that banner up on the wall in her classroom, wedged between the broken analog clock and the blackboard that was more green than it was black.
And it stuck with me; I've done my best to follow that rule my entire life. I go out of my way to be polite to people even if I don't get along with them. I put myself in other people's shoes and ask myself how I would like to be treated were I in their situation. I assess my tone and my internal, instinctual reactions to situations and wonder if it's appropriate to the scenario before I act on them. I've gotten really good at stifling my immediate thoughts and feelings toward people in order to give myself time to decide if that is the path I want to walk.
This all has some very obvious downsides; it's somewhat dishonest at times, it can lead to subtle manipulation, and it can result in putting others needs before your own. Like all things, Ms. Durnan's Golden Rule can become toxic and unhealthy if left unchecked.
This got me wondering: what does healthy reciprocity look like? It seems obvious, but reciprocity only works if all parties involved agree on what to reciprocate on, otherwise you end up in a one-sided relationship. If only one of you listens while the other talks (instead of taking turns), if only one of you pays attention to the other's needs, if only one of you makes decisions that takes the other into consideration, then there is no reciprocity. Any relationship without reciprocity will either dissolve quickly or it will end in an explosion of epic proportions with both parties walking away hurt and confused.
Lack of reciprocity can lead to feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, and confusion. When someone you value fails to show that they care through their actions, you start to wonder if you're unloveable or if you're the problem in the relationship. Are they not reciprocating because I've upset them? Did I do or say something wrong? It's the laziest form of gaslighting to not reciprocate someone's efforts and attention. It can also lead to exhaustion; doing all that heavy-lifting in a relationship will leave you with little physical, mental, and emotional energy. It can also lead to depression and memory-loss.
Reciprocity in a labor of love. It means watching a movie you're not all that interested in because you know how excited the other person is to see it (and how many times have they patiently sat through the many episodes of your favorite show just cause you asked them to binge it with you?). It means making a conscious effort to remember that they don't like mayo on potato bread but love it on rye. It means taking the time to read something they wrote because it's important to them. Reciprocity is showing up and making an effort because they show up and make an effort, and it's communicating the gratitude you feel for all the ways they show you how much you mean to them.