Can the American Dream Coexist with American Ideals Around Coupledom?

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
— Oscar Wilde

As kids, growing up in the U.S., we’re instructed to follow our dreams. Individuals who come from modest backgrounds and work their way to the very top of a given industry are celebrated and celebritized. Our society’s enamoured with success stories and enthralled by the American Dream.

When raising us, our parents teach us that it’s bad to be selfish. Yet, we learn that doggedly following our dreams and living the life we want to live is somehow exempt from the stigma that typically surrounds selfishness; in fact, it’s often considered a noble and worthwhile pursuit.

At the same time that we’re taught about the American way of life (i.e., liberty and the pursuit of happiness), we are socialized and conditioned to idealize monogamous relationships. We’re encouraged to find a partner with whom to share our lives - a spouse, a mate, a lifelong companion.

And, unless you happen upon a partner who shares in your dream and your trajectory, these two societal ideals - when combined - can often incite conflict.

Due to our cultural tendency to pair-off, many of our major life decisions inherently involve another person. And while it may not be considered selfish to pursue your own dreams, I would contend that it is selfish to blindly pull others (namely, your partner) along with you, without respect or regard for their own dreams.

Imposing your will, your ambitions, and your path on your partner can push you outside of the realm of nobility and down the slippery slope to the more sinister sphere of selfishness.

So how can we reconcile these two societal ideals - pursuit of the American Dream and pursuit of a shared life - that seem so prone to conflicting with one another? Is it possible to have both? I welcome and would love to hear your thoughts on whether (and, if so, how) the two can happily coexist.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter:

Be true to yourself and your desires, goals, and dreams. Don’t give up on pursuing them, or you’ll be likely to suffer from regret or regret’s bitter sister, resentment.

But if you subscribe to the concept of monogamy and find a partner whom you’d like to share your life with, recognize that by choosing to be with them, you adopt the added responsibility of honoring the life that they’d like to live as well.

In other words, you can ask your partner to join you on a given path, but doing so shouldn’t take the form of an ultimatum. Because choosing to have a companion necessarily entails consideration and compromise.

And opting to be in a relationship means choosing to show consideration for your partner in addition to yourself. It means considering, honoring, and respecting your partner’s dreams and their path in addition to your own.

What are your thoughts on the potential conflict posed by the American ideals of pursuing one’s dream on the one hand and sharing your life with a partner on the other? How have you learned to address this conflict with your own partner or past partner(s)? Must we choose one ideal at the expense of the other, or can the two coexist?

In my opinion, being in a relationship is not about being selfless. But I do feel that it’s about extending your consideration and regard beyond just yourself. How about you?