Can You Get to Know Yourself While in a Relationship?

I couldn’t help but wonder (as Carrie Bradshaw would say)… can we become self-sufficient and independent while dependent — in any sense of the word — in a relationship? And do women, whom are always striving for productive introspection, have to be single to authentically know ourselves? 

As I sat down to start the ever-anticipated, ever-dreaded, ever-competitive hunt for my first ‘big girl’ job, I started to think about all the challenges, people and — I’ll admit — paychecks I would get. When the thought of independence began to cross my mind, I got to thinking about what level of self-sufficiency would I be able to rise to in an occupation that so famously underpays their employee population of mostly females. And then I had the thought… how much self-sufficiency did I truly want?

I have been in a partnership throughout my entire young adult life, and I hate to admit, very much dependent on my counterpart. It hasn’t all been bad… not bad at all actually despite my guilt and self-hatred over it, but, as Carrie Bradshaw would say: I couldn’t help but wonder… can we become self-sufficient and independent while dependent — in any sense of the word — in a relationship? And do women, whom are always striving for productive introspection, have to be single to authentically know ourselves?

In this modern age of self-care, ‘healing,’ self-love, and everything in between, the old adage: “You can’t receive love until you love yourself first,” has never been more relevant. And while this is mainstream stuff, now more than ever, I can confidently say that this has been marketed more relevant to women than men.

We women have never been given as much opportunity for independence as we are now (though much work to be done still remains) but, whether it be our nature or the sneakier effects of the patriarchy, the desire for a relationship is the same. But to the many of us confused youths currently being thrown out in to the big, bad world, the desire to know ourselves is at competitive heights as well.

And this isn’t just about knowing what brand of cropped, high-waisted jeans work best for our body, but what we want from life. There are so many messages in the world about what a joyful life is, and a girl can only sort through so many mixed media image contradictions of embraced stretch marks on one page, veganism versus ketosis versus gluten-free versus food freedom articles on the next, all the while reading captions sounding off on someone’s perfectly imperfect relationship, and then perusing solo travel photography before she is confused.

Combine that with the included movement towards authenticity (a movement that is trying so hard to combat the transfer of curation from social media to daily lives that it has done a 180… that is to say, it is all but feeding more opportunity for social media content), and a girl — nay a young woman! — who is already being assailed with mixed messages may now have moved from confused to floundering. The “just do what makes you happy’s,” the “you do you’s”, and the “trust your body’s” are useless without knowing oneself.

Something our media makes impossible, but doesn’t the goal being alluded to still hold merit?

And if one believes it does, the question is: how can we get to know ourselves? If a girl digs a little deeper, she would then see that we are being given marginally more specific — though still capitalistic — advice to achieve reaching our authentic selves. In this realm, we are being told that we need to be okay spending time alone, traveling by ourselves, getting out of our comfort zone independently, connecting with our inner child, and making time for self-caring me time; all the while “witnessing” our aloneness.

I don’t disagree with any of it, but something nags at me: Can any of this be done while already in a relationship? Can I truly reach the recommended level of aloneness to get to know myself? And is “by myself” synonymous with “independence”?

Which leads me to also ask: Is “supported” synonymous with “dependent”?

Sure, I can take a solo-trip or carve out time to buy myself my favorite coffee without my partner — but am I reaching the same level of “independence” and “by myself’ness,” and thus personal growth, that I could be if I didn’t have a partner paying the bills, or some fraction of them; ultimately helping me to afford to do those things?

And yes, I can meditate for 20 minutes a day to “witness my thoughts” and “sit with my inner discomfort,” but is it having the same effects if the entire time I can hear my partner playing Xbox in the next room or I can smell the cooking dinner they are making for not just them, but for us?

And if this all I’ve ever known — let’s say I’ve been with this person since I was 17 years old, or some other scary young age — is the necessity for my aloneness, i.e. independence, compounded? Do I have to be or to have been a single adult to truly have a successful relationship with myself, and thus a successful relationship with another? Can I grow in the ways I need to, to the amount I need to, while being supported financially, emotionally (and now even more so while being COVID-19-unemployed…)?

All I can gather in response to my questions is a summary of what I concluded. When I was beginning to redefine my idea of the independence that I wanted for myself, I had become quite resentful towards my relationship. I distanced myself for a bit, a wiser part of me telling me that these questions did not require drastic action. I reflected, and I was so wholly consumed with thinking about what I wanted from life that when I did finally include the other human in my relationship, I divulged that maybe I would want to do something drastic:

Maybe I should be by myself because what if I go my whole life without living alone. Is that not a failure? You had time alone in college, but I haven’t and I don’t know, sometimes I just feel that way, maybe I’ll move hundreds of miles away to live somewhere completely different like I used to dream for myself. I need a life change, etc. etc. etc.

And he did not even falter.

His partner in life, the girl he sometimes shared a pillow with, his best friend, his confidant, his love, however, he identified my importance to him… daydreaming of moving away from him? Questioning her ability to grow in their relationship? Possibly making drastic, stressful, challenging changes to her life that would surely affect him?

He said, “I understand. It scares me, if you were to go, what I would do. But I understand, I feel this way too, sometimes.”

Pause. Such magnificence in the words, it scares me, but…

“You do?”

“Yeah, of course I do. Everyone wonders if the relationship is right, if it fits, how to make it fit. Everyone thinks about what they’re doing in a relationship and if it’s good, bad or enough. I don’t want to hold you back. I want the things you want, if that helps. But if you need to do this by yourself, I can help you look into things.”

And I thought to myself: shared dreams are one thing, but what about my independence?

And in the next moment, I knew I was being insane if I thought that he — who was taking a trembling, terrifying glance around at a world outside of his life to make a change and do something different with me, or with hands shaking and tears in his eyes like how he sat before me now, would help me research something that would take me away from him — was not helping me find my independence.

I was idiotic if I could not see that he was selflessly volunteering himself to act as my home base from which to become independent in all the best ways. He proved, and continuously proves, that he is good for me. As a person, not as a girl or a young woman or an emerging adult. As a person. And whatever that meant for my independence, I did not know.

I do know, though, that it does not hurt to have a very privy, very wise, and very supportive source of strength in one’s life. Whether that be a partner, friend or parent. No one gets through the rough spots or the confusing spots totally alone. Oddly enough, to achieve independence, no matter old man — or, young woman— a fantastic support system along the way is completely necessary.

All the questions floated away, their weight lost with the answer I found for them. I said to him, “You don’t hold me back.” And I know it’s true.

So, what I found to be the answer to these questions, as it is frustratingly often for pretty much everything, is: it is dependent on your situation. Your independence is not independent from the type of relationship you have. It just… depends.

by kicim23

Writer, doodler, baker, optimist, listener, walk-taker. Always learning. Author of a bilingual children's book, The Lights in the Night / Las luces en la noche


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