LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS (PART 4): INDEPENDENCE VS. RELATIONSHIPS
How can you be independent while being in a relationship? Don’t independent people by definition not need to depend on anyone else? Isn’t being in a relationship having to depend on someone else, therefore completely opposite? There is a lot of confusion among people, especially young people like myself, with how to negotiate our independent lives with our relationship lives. Perhaps you remember the Seinfeld episode outlining the eternal struggle between “Relationship George” and “Independent George” (here’s an excerpt explaining it), where George Costanza struggles to keep the two spheres of his life apart. While the show was abstract in exactly how this struggle might manifest itself, the episode works beautifully to illustrate how important people take their independence, and what efforts they put into maintaining it.
What is independence?
The United States of America, the country in which I live, talks a lot about independence and freedom, or rather they say the words independence and freedom, usually together. However, very little discussion actually goes on in this society about what independence is, what it’s not, and how it can grow smaller or larger. Freedom, beyond that, is often spoken of as synonymous with independence, so much so that there’s actually been a complete bastardization of the two concepts. We use the word independence when we mean freedom, and vice versa.
Independence is not freedom. Independence is more synonymous with Self-Reliance, which is the ability to have a self-sustainable wellbeing. Most of us young’uns living in the U.S. first experience independence when we go off to college or get kicked out of our parents’ house, and are for the first time in charge of what we do with every moment of our time and realizing that we have to feed ourselves or die of starvation, or at the very least, invite the Hangry Monster to be our constant companion.
Freedom, however, suggests the ability to act autonomously, without oversight or regulation. That’s the feeling that many of us college students get when we realize that we still need to listen to what our parents say, because it is still our parents who pay for our college educations, and someone has to front us the money to buy the food we put into our mouths. We have that independence to buy what food we want and to feed ourselves when we want, and to go or not go to class whenever we want, but perhaps we don’t have the freedom to decide exactly which school we study at or what majors we want to study. Or if you have a more freedom-loving parent who lets you decide what school you go attend and what majors to study, perhaps your freedoms are held back from the college institution you are attending, which often have strict rules on how to pass classes and what classes are needed in order to graduate.
Freedom is relatively similar to independence in many ways, but both are essentially quite different. One can have independence, but no freedom, such as in situations where your ability to move are stifled by governmental (or some other institutional) arbitration, but in which you live an altogether happy care-free life where you’re happy in your position and do not feel lack. For many youngsters, this may be like being a happy college kid, living up their new-found freedoms with your parents money, drinking at happening frat parties while under-aged, and experimenting with new and psychedelic drugs. However, these college kids still have certain institutions watching over them, such as their professors, parents, college police or the actual police, who punish them when they are caught getting out of hand with things such as not keeping up with their academics, over-spending on their credit cards, making too much noise at a party, drunk-driving, and many others.
You can also have freedom, but no independence, such as being weakened and lost in the wilderness, constantly relying on the kindness, strength and abilities of others to get you by. Independence can be said to be the power we give ourselves to act, and perhaps freedom can be defined by the power allowed to us by the world and by others. This is not so common amongst youngsters or most anyone, since almost everyone lives under some sort of institution, but you could compare it to those young Americans who backpack through Europe, and work at odd jobs in order to continue moving through the countries. These kids aren’t necessarily hindered in their freedom to travel around, and they probably get to bypass paying taxes and all sorts of other institutionalized hindrances (since they’re American citizens, not European citizens), but as they may not have much financially, they are at the will of those who will employ them on a short term basis or those who are kind enough to give them charities so that they can eat and have shelter overhead.
In short, independence has to do with you, your mindset and attitude of the way you relate to the world. Are you strong enough to act on your own, or are you in constant need of the help from others, running around completely blind? Independence is not something that you have to run towards or fight for, it’s more ethereal. Unlike freedom, independence can never be taken from us, we have to give it away. At least this is the case if we are aware that we have our own independence in the first place, but that’s a whole different article to write about (which I may write in the future). As for independence in the realm of relationships, this intro about independence will hopefully suffice.
The Myth of Independence
When I was single (I’m in the sixth year of my loving relationship), I was an extremely successful student throughout school and I was quite successful at anything I put my energies into, whether it be sports or personal goals. I promised myself that I would never become one of those needy people in relationships like I saw on television or in the movies. I would be independent, I would continue my successes with the strengths of my own willpower, and I would try to find a potential mate who would support my independence and never “interfere” with my goals. Of course, my experience was mostly from having watched relationships on television, where in order to create conflict and drama, sitcom couples would entrap their spouses with clever coercion. I was blissfully ignorant that, in fact, real-life healthy couples dealt with more complex issues that couldn’t be summarized in 22 minutes of commercially-interrupted episodes.
Beyond that, there are independent “ideals” that exist in our society, perhaps foremost being the hero, and even more so, the superhero. Superman, Spider-man, and Batman are independent powerful individuals, capable of single-handedly thwarting evil plans. They, usually, do not act with oversight or regulation that is imposed on them, and even more importantly, they’re best known as loners. They kill, maim, entrap, coerce, and even steal when necessary. In the world in which we live, it is nearly impossible to act with such independence, but NOT because of the world itself. We are social beings, with a feeling of responsibility to allow for the natural flow of societal barriers in dealing with crime and injustice. Very few of us are heroes, and the heroes we have are ironically often very specific in exactly when and where they’re heroes. After all, there’s an inherent paradox even in independence and heroics, why sacrifice for others if it’s unnecessary, and does sacrificing yourself not entail a betrayal of independence?
Real independence seems extremely boring in comparison, which is why it’s usually never talked about. Real independence is a lifelong journey, requiring no bold moves, no heroics, no great acts of charity or innovation, and even more confusingly, it can be done in the most warm comforting relationships. However, real independence is just as rare to find as a real hero, but it’s much more powerful.
You can not learn to be independent without the help of another. It’s a key paradox of life. On our own, we lack the abilities to act with independent spirit in the world. When we are born, we are allowed guardians who look after us, who make sure our learning stage is not stifled by danger and pain. When we move into the world, we’re not independently capable of achieving our goals, so we make partnerships with companies, peers, and even strangers in agreements where we share money, products, skills, and time. In this stage of entering society, we are not independent, but we’re learning. We’re learning how to problem solve, we’re learning what it looks and feels like to be static and frozen with fear. We leave the nest with a gigantic set of unknowns, and we slowly cross them off, making mental notes on all our experiences. We make compromises here and there only to be able to peak into an important area of understanding that we need to learn.
In each of us burns a desire to be independent. For some, the burn is hot and wild, lashing out at others and at the world angrily. For others, the burn is only warm embers, barely providing much energy at all. We all have the yearning to be able to act without needing to consult with another person, we wish to be supermen who can exist as puppeteers of the world instead of being subject to its whims. But with all the baggage that gets added to independence, most of it is bullshit, excuses. “If only my boss would do this,” or “As soon as I get enough money I’ll do that,” or the most common “I’d never be able to do that.”
There are two components of independence. The first is the will to act. Without the self-created willpower to drive forward, to act confidently in reaching for a goal, you’ll require others to provide that drive for you. The second component is wisdom. You have a goal, now you need to see your way through all the steps and past all the obstacles, and that takes well-earned knowledge and experience. You can have the deadliest weapon in the world, but without the wisdom to aim it, you’re powerless.
Relationships for Independence
Wisdom and willpower are two things that a relationship is geared to help you learn.
Love, both in graciousness and in receipt, is the greatest willpower possible. Learning to love, learning to act on love, and learning to reason through love are skills you can only learn with the help of another. All other driving desires are weak and unsatisfying in comparison, disallowing a confident, self-reliant intent and action. Once you’re free to say “I’m doing this because I want to help,” and that desire comes from a mature inner self for totally unselfish reasons, you’ve discovered a world of independence and willpower that cannot be found outside of a loving relationship. And when that independence and willpower is reciprocated to you by your loved one, there probably is not other freeing feeling you will ever feel in your lifetime in the realm of relationships or even in all other realms of experiences. You will have discovered a powerful and extremely meaningful independence and a never-ending pool of willpower that no movie or television show will every come close to showing you. Perhaps it can only be discussed and shared properly by people who have already experienced such an independence.
Wisdom is an ethereal power, but it is grounded in the wisdom we have of ourselves. You do things a certain way that you’re not aware of, and you’ll continue to be unaware of those tendencies until another is kind enough to point them out to you. In short, you fuck everything up without any one else’s help.
The truth is, a successful and meaningful relationship will further strengthen your independence, not hinder it in any way. Independence is not the decision you make to be alone, independence is not the rejection of society. Independence is when you’ve been given gifts of willpower and wisdom that empower you to act confidently, powerfully, efficiently, and effectively. It is a state of mind, in which actions become nearly effortless.
Acting independently and being in a relationship are not mutually exclusive states, and beyond that, they reinforce each other’s power and satisfaction. Please understand though that not all relationships will allow you to become more independent. If you are in a relationship that does not help you grow, that stifles your creativity and which leaves you feeling angry, depressed, or afraid on a consistent basis, please consider changing your situation. Working towards conscious confident independent action does not require you to act alone, or be alone. Because, ultimately, love is selfless, a truly loving partner cherishes opportunities to help you become more self-reliant, able, and independent. This includes helping you become independent even of them and their aid to you, not so that you can eventually reject them, but quite simply for your happiness and well-being.
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