My best friend got the “we need to talk” text from her boyfriend yesterday. We all know how this ends. His reasoning for the breakup? He felt he was too independent to be tied down in a relationship. By asserting himself as an independent person, he felt atoned of any hurt he may have caused in ending a long-term relationship.
Western culture has a fetish with independence. American prides itself on being built by independent forefathers. We respect our neighbors by leaving them alone and we’d ask Google how to fix our sinks before we ever asked a parent. We live in a world where independence can be asserted with a left-swipe. Drake boasts how everyone got a deal but he “did it without one.” You get the idea.
Much has been said about how important it is to establish an independent identity, financially, emotionally, and sometimes physically. However, I have noticed a strong trend towards over-independence. Independence is a necessary and effective tool in establishing our own identities. It is extremely powerful. We (meaning I, honestly) often mistake being independent with being free from rules governing relationships. Independence gives you an out when things become hard with a friend, family member, or significant other. We are so frightened of the mundane, of the everyday, we let people go in order to preserve their novelty. We cannot be disappointed that way. In fact, we cannot be anything at all except the same as we are.
This prospect is frightening. Connection and change are vital energy sources. When we deny ourselves meaningful relationships, we slow our creative forces that feed off of and thrive with these links. Without community and connection, we have no foundation on which to assert ourselves as individuals.
Perhaps our definition of independence is wrong. Please understand, I believe we must learn how to be independent in order to thrive. It is vital we learn how to manage our lives without continually falling back on somebody else. When we navigate the world as independent beings, we do not allow our thoughts, feelings, and actions to be dictated by outside forces. We are capable of taking care of ourselves. We are clear-headed enough to know when we move with fear and know how to transcend beyond that. Vulnerability, intimacy, and affection: we often think these things are the opposite of independence and thus we find them frightening. However, I think it is a disservice to separate independence and these emotions. We can have healthy boundaries, but still be open with our partner. We can voice our affection and feelings without giving away pieces of ourselves. Our culture goes to the extreme with independence–and it is hurting a lot of people.
Here are 3 important hallmarks of an independent person:
1. Knowing your worth versus seeking your worth.
Happiness does not exist in another person. We all feel smarter, sexier, and funnier when we first get into a new relationship. Yet, putting your self-worth in the hands of another person is dangerous. How often do you enter a relationship seeking validation for who you are? On the other hand, are you scared to engage in certain relationships because you have no sense of worth? Friends, family, and romantic partners sometimes expose things we don’t like about ourselves. A truly independent knows (or is working on knowing) their worth.
2. Investing in relationships versus thinking relationships are temporary.
I can speak personally to this one, as I find myself clinging to the idea that relationships are transient. It’s almost easy to think of people as playthings in our Tinder enlightened world: relationships exist solely to serve my needs and my wants. It can be scary to enter into a new relationship, be it platonic or romantic. It is much easier to think, “how can this relationship serve me now?” A true independent person is not afraid of investing in relationships because they know they have the capabilities to heal if it ends badly.
Those whom I have loved– either fleetingly, deeply, or for too long– and then leave because of fear, go on to live lives I play no part in. And it is painful to build some sort of life with a person and then suddenly find a different way of living without them. We swear to ourselves we will never let somebody know us so fully, that we will maintain some sort of distance in our next relationship because we are so afraid of feeling this pain again. Sometimes, I or my partner truly needed to be free of the relationship. But often, one of us was making a conscious effort to avoid the messiness of connection. We reacted to pain, instead of allowing ourselves to feel it. There are times we must get out of relationships because they prohibit our growth. Yet, we often end meaningful connections precisely because we are so afraid of our growth. It’s okay to not be ready for personal growth, but we need to acknowledge when we react out of fear.
I’m curious to know if my Dumplings have similar experiences. Do you struggle with independence, be it too much or too little of it?
Also by Caitlyn: Heart Opening Flow Yoga for the New Year
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Photo: Emily Gibson