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Saturday, 22 June 2013

Individualism and Loneliness

I grew up in a very codependent household. There were unhealthy aspects to it, but there were also very affirming ones. Two main contributing factors to that dependency were my parents' divorce when I was twelve, and the fact that I was homeschooled for my entire grade school career.

In large part due to the homeschooling, I was always close with my mother - being in her physical presence for most of every day, it would have been difficult to have a distant relationship. My older brothers, who went to public high schools*, had more strained relationships with our mother and my father (their step-father) and they didn't live with us for very long. For the most part, my childhood and teenagehood involved a very close relationship with my mother and two younger brothers.

Things were never perfect, and when I got older and started to form my own thoughts, my relationships with my family got a lot more complicated and a lot unhealthier. But even after the emotional abuse started, the fact remained that we were all very dependent on each other.

When I left home, I knew that was going to be the hardest part. I had spent my whole life in constant contact, and constantly supported (in certain ways) by my immediate family. It could be stifling, but it was also comforting in ways I never really appreciated until after I left.

The processing and decompression that occurred when I first left cost me a lot. I believe it was the turning point in my relationship with my Ex. My friend group at the time had scattered, and he was the only person I really had to rely on. The transition from having the constant presence of my family to depend on to just having him was difficult. I didn't know how to be truly independent and he got the brunt of that. It was too much for him, and understandably so. What previously was split between four people (him, my mother, my two younger brothers) was now all on him.

In the year following the breakup, I learned a lot about being more independent, less co-dependent, but I still hated being alone. I remember having a bit of a light bulb moment when I spoke with my childhood best friend, telling her how much I disliked not being in a relationship. Everyone had been telling me that I should embrace being single: the freedom of it, the ability to do whatever I wanted without having to check in with anybody. And I tried. I slept with a bunch of people, went on dates, went to New York City with some friends, wrote my honours thesis. And the entire time, I had wished I had someone who I could share those things with - the sexual encounters, the travel, the stress. Someone who's emotions were in tune with mine and would help me and let me help them.

When I told my friend this, she said "That's who you are. There's nothing wrong with wanting a boyfriend or a girlfriend to be with."

And it struck me, because she was the only one to advocate any sort of dependency. To be fair, she has known me for fourteen years, known my mother and my family, and is one of the few people who really knows me. More than I did.

What I ended up taking from that conversation was that, yes, while a lot of the codependent habits I had learned were pretty unhealthy, and the independence that I had learned was very important to my development as a person and an adult, that I didn't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I mentioned previously, in my mental illness post, how individualism in our society is the apex of achievement and success. If you do it on your own, you really did it. It's not quite as impressive or successful if you do it with help. This applies to relationships, too. I've been told by so many people that dependency is the last thing in the world that you want, that it's not only unhealthy, but will drive away any sort of worthwhile partner.

I really don't understand that. Is your partner not your partner? Doesn't that mean they are there to be relied upon, for support when you need it, and for you to give support to when they need it? Finances get pooled so you can both (or all three, or whatever dynamic your relationship is) live better lives, emotionally and economically? I'm not saying it's for everyone, I know a fair number of people who are happy doing the single thing. But I know as many who are miserable doing the single thing.

But we can't say that; we're not allowed to admit it when we're lonely. That's weak. We're supposed to love being single - especially as women, or somehow we're setting back feminism by falling into old traditions. Well, bullshit, I say.

We're human beings. We're group animals. We evolved in groups and gaggles, depending on one another for breakfast and lice-picking. It's so ingrained that even in our modern civilizations, we pack our individual selves into cities; we're surrounded by strangers, but at least we're not really alone. You can hear your neighbour in the next apartment fucking his girlfriend. You can connect with the guys upstairs by banging on your ceiling to get them to turn the music down. We're never alone, but gods, are we ever lonely.

But it's such a bad, dependent thing to say "I need someone. I could survive on my own, but I can't live like this." What is so bad about being a little dependent? About needing a little emotional and physical support? Sure, you should probably draw the line at never letting the other person out of your sight - I did say earlier that there were unhealthy levels of dependency.

I just think that we'd be a lot less lonely, and a lot more comfortable, and capable, if we didn't have all these hang-ups about individuality. You can be your own person and still rely on others. I don't think people who think they are going to lose their personhood in a relationship truly understand how to be an individual if it can so easily be taken from them.

I do think that people would be happier if they would share their burdens a little more often.



*The strained relationship my older brothers had with my parents had more reasons than just that they attended public schools. There was a lot more to that story. I don't mean to imply that publicly schooled children don't or can't have good relationships with their parents.

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