Thursday, 18 February 2010

Asserting Your Independence Even in the Best Relationship

Image thanks to elizabeth welsh

Being in a long term relationship can be wonderful. Having a partner to come home to after a particularly hard day, cuddle on those particularly cold nights, and form ambitious plans for the future with, is a joy in life that appears to be one of the major aims of western culture. And you can see why: independence in a woman drips with negative connotations: old maid, spinster, crazy cat lady... You get the picture. So daunting is this picture that, to some women, being in a relationship can seem like the Holy Grail; our ultimate goal. You only have to watch a few episodes of SATC to get a taste of that.

Offering it up on a Platter

As a result of our persistent cultural hunger to ‘pair up’, once we do find ourselves in a long-term emotional partnership, we are more than willing to dish up this independence to our new found prince charming on a platter: ‘take it, it’s yours, that’s so not me anymore.’ Often we do this subconsciously, without even realising it, until (perhaps) the proverbial rug is pulled beneath our feet and we find we have placed all our eggs in the wrong basket.

The Different Forms of Independence

Giving up your independence comes in many forms, and your idea of what this entails may be significantly different to that of your friend, or your mother, or you grandmother. It can be financial, arguably the most dangerous and quite probably the most impractical form of submission from independence. It can, of course, be emotional; it can be in terms of security, for example, one of the big reasons that women stay in even the worst relationships is because they feel they have no other option.

Splitting the Atom

The point is that this should never need to be the case. Just because you are in a relationship and your partner is part of your life, they need not be your whole life. This is a vital thing to remember. Repeat it with me:

‘I love you, and you are a wonderful part of my life, 
but you are not my whole life.’

You wouldn’t jump from a plane without the security of a parachute; don’t jump into a relationship without the security of a life that can and will exist with or without your partner, however scrumptiously charming they are.

Isn’t this all a tad cynical?

Many amongst you will be asking: who wants to think about life without the person they love? Surely, if you’re thinking about that, you’re not really made for the other person? What about trust??

All valid points, you might even imagine I’d been hit hard by a break-up to form such a sceptical opinion, but that’s not the case. In fact, I’ve been in a serious relationship since I was eighteen, moved in together after a year and some days still can’t believe my luck. The fact is, I don’t feel I’m being sceptical, I feel I’m being sensible. Who can honestly say they’re not going to change one iota of themselves in the next forty, fifty, even sixty years? You can’t say that, it would be lunacy, and your partner can’t say that either, even if they want to. A male relation of a friend of mine was married for years and had two children before deciding to get divorced and undergo a sex change... His wife didn’t see it coming; perhaps he didn’t even see it coming.

Hopelessly Devoted?

You can be devoted without being hopeless and you can be committed without being one-dimensional. Don’t miss out on life because you’ve got lovers’ blinkers on. You’re an individual above everything else, remember that. You lived without your partner and you should always feel you could live without them again, even if you would prefer not to.

What’s more, a relationship between too independents often brings a stronger bond. Too heavy a reliance on one another can contribute to the building of resentment, pressure and perhaps even claustrophobia in a relationship.

When you each have separate pursuits, you enrich the other; you excite and inspire the other. You give much more to your partner, and to yourself, if you maintain yourself as an individual. You are never just ‘the Mrs’, ‘the other half’ or, heaven forbid, ‘the ball and chain.’ You are a single entity, and your partner, however wonderful, is lucky to be with you each day, and vice versa. Don’t take a great relationship for granted by depending on it too heavily; revel in it rather than solely rely on it.

♥ ♥ ♥

What are your thoughts, love-bugs of the world? Do you feel independent in your relationship? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? What does being independent mean to you? Get talking!


Amelia Jane said...

You're so very right! A few of my friend's relationships are falling apart at the moment (spring fever?) and often one or the other is left feeling 'lost' and like they don't know what to do with themselves now because their lives were their relationship. As you say, it's not cynical at all, and I think watching my parents divorce has influenced the way I view 'happy ever after' as both had different interests so they were able to pick themselves up reasonably quickly through their different support networks of work and friends.

LauraCassidy said...

Excellent advice! I totally agree.

I have made the mistake of surrendering my independence in the past (spending far too much time with a boyfriend and his friends and in turn neglecting my own friends). Will never make that mistake again!

Marthe said...

I think I am a little dependent on my boyfriend. we met when I was 17 and I'm now 23.. Which means that I figured out who I am (and I'm still working on this) with him by my side. So I guess I could use some exercise in being more independent, not rely on him to make me happy.

And this is partially why I'm enjoying blogging so much, it's something that is mine alone... :)

Zmaga said...

I agree with you. I think it's unreasonable when people have nothing in their lives beside their "significant other", when they bail on their friends and neglect everything else just to be with their partner. It's okay for the first couple of months, when you're totally smitten, but, as Carrie Bradshaw would put it, you shouldn't put your single self on a shelf.

Emily said...

Asserting my independence in my committed, wonderful relationship is often a challenge, for many reasons.... We just had our third anniversary, but our first apart. It's been a long-distance relationship at least half the time we've been 'together', and because of that, direct and honest communication has always been essential. For the most part I feel that we have struck a great balance, between independence and support. But now we are at a crossroads and things are getting a little trickier.
I graduated last spring, he's graduating this May, and in the fall we're finally going to be living together when he begins graduate school. It's been narrowed down to three different schools, in three very different places, and though we both seem to be ranking them similarly, the imminent decision-making has got me a little confused. Where he decides to earn his PhD is also the place I will be living for the next five years, so obviously I have some say in this. However, it is more his decision than mine, because we are going to this as yet to be determined location because of his lofty ambitions, and my ambitions are so muddy and confused it doesn't really even matter where I end up. It's so hard to balance my natural independence with my equally instinctive nurturing side, that wants to be nothing but supportive as he makes this enormous step towards the future. It is quite the exercise in grace, maturity and cooperation, to be navigating these heavy months of debate.

Thanks for the post, I'll be giving it a lot of thought over the next few weeks...


cereal and cartoons said...

I don't think you're being too cynical at all! This is exactly what I have been thinking and feeling for a while and just didn't know how to express it myself (you have summed it up so brilliantly!) I've been with my boyfriend in a very stable, happy relationship since the age of eighteen, and am now twenty-three. We have practically grown up together and though I'm so grateful for having someone like him in my life, I feel that without even realizing it, I gave up a lot of my independence. I was thinking the other day about the kind of person I might be if we had never met, and he wasn't such a large influence in my life, and I honestly couldn't imagine it. But I feel like I would be a very different person, maybe following a different, more creative path then the one I am on currently. And it really made me take a step back and try and focus on my own goals and aspirations. I'm currently studying, and while he has a career plan set out and basically knows what he wants to do with his life, I still unfortunately, am totally befuddled as to what direction I want to take. I'm pretty easy going and it usually takes me a very long time to decide on important things, and as I don't really have any set ambitions as yet, I find it often easier to just go along with his opinions then to try and work out what it is I want. I think, especially when you're in love with someone, it's easy to get swept up in it all and lose focus on what is important to you personally, in favor of what you feel will be the most beneficial for the relationship. But I'm realizing now that a good relationship should be able to support and nurture both partners in their independent needs, and that is something which I am definitely working on in my own. Thanks again for the post, very interesting stuff :)

Juliet said...

This is a great post, I think it's definitely something important to remember and it's really quite scary how easy it is to throw your independance away without even thinking about it. I was in a relationship for nearly 5 years where I had almost none at all, it was very controlling and made me so unhappy and yet I think it was the little things that made the big problem in the end. Once you relinquish your independance it can be really hard to get it back so your post is a really great reminder <3

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this post! I am finding myself at this point right now. I have been with my partner for 5 years and we just bought a house together and now I am freaking out! i have realised that I have lost most of my independence, friends... the only problem is I dont know how to get any of it back? Any tips! Please!

Anonymous said...

I partially disagree with your post. Whether we want it or not we are independent, and keeping that in mind is important. On the other hand, you seem to only present the case for keeping independance in one's mind only because of the possiblity (in fact inevitability through death) of seperation (talking about your example with the sex change). I believe this argument to be flawed and divisive. Having a whole personality independently of your partner has nothing to do with actually not being with your partner. If push comes to shove, with an attitude like this one can readily choose to leave a realtionship, instead of mending it, only to find out 6 months later that they need someone to be with. Well in fact they do. Everyone needs people around them including family, friends and partners (with the exception of hermetic monks). Independence had better be aserted as creating one's own interests and possibly sharing some with their partner. Independence is not a tool just to feel secure that one is not dependant on the other, it is a tool of self-growth. Unfortunately the threat and fear or promise of separation seems to be a fashinable way of asserting independence and it is even implicitly portrayed as feminism (and since it was used as a tool in the feminist fight for actual civic rights, it lends it undeserved legitimacy in the fight for interrelationship rights). There is no need to resort mentally or actually to seperation to face any problem between to people in a relationship. Seperation should be the result of the realisation that two people's core objectives in life diverge. Using separation as like you suggest, I think, actually achieves what you disapprovingly dissmiss as the stereotype, i.e. the old lady that is alone with her cats. Not only that but it also creates separated families and traumatised kids who grow up only to recreate that pattern that they have seen, because: "why would they ever have believe in lifelong relationship, since all families these days seem to end in a divorce?". So I agree with being independent but I disagree in that it is associated with separation. Believing that one is in anyway free of a realtionship, just because they are free and able to leave hides the truth of interpedendance. That is only my opinion and I hope it is useful. I apologise if it reads like a polemic. All the best, K :-)

Anonymous said...

very wise! Independence makes that person more special. You could live on your own, but you choose this person to share so many big parts of your life. Losing yourself in a relationship is a fine line; A beautiful thing but easily crossed to the other side.

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