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Relationships Should Complement Our Identities, Not Define Them

“On a deeper level you are already complete. When you realize that, there is a playful, joyous energy behind what you do.” ~Eckhart Tolle

The first rain after a long draught gets people talking about cozy things. Being with others, being physically close to others, going out in groups, staying in with someone. Sharing affection. Cold weather seems to always entail groups and partnerships.

What about when those groups and partnerships are missing from the tableau? The other night I was sitting in my apartment with my lanterns on, some incense burning, and some good reading material. The rain was trickling outside my window. The moment was perfect.

For once in my life, I didn’t have my normal thought: “This moment is so beautiful, but it would be better if someone was here to share it with me.” I was completely at peace, enjoying the presence of my own heart and mind.

This might not seem like a huge “Eureka!” moment, but it was for me.

I grew up an only child, so I’ve always craved that group interaction and the comfort of crowds. I made friends easily and was sometimes accused of serial monogamy; I was rarely single for longer than six months. I always felt surrounded—and by being surrounded, I felt protected.

Three months ago, however, I quit a job that made me unhappy and a relationship that was going nowhere, which had filled most of my time. I was face to face with myself in a frightening and jolting pause. I no longer had the noise of others to fill my silences.

Friends advised me to go out, work out, or find someone else. I did all three, sometimes in excess.

It alleviated my pain for a brief time. But I still felt hopeless, directionless. I took the long way in realizing something important: I needed to fall back in love with myself, which meant getting to know myself again, apart from the influences of everything else in my life.

I had spent so much time being something for others, filling my life with adaptation, that I had forgotten what it was like to be me.

I started journaling. I meditated for fifteen minutes each day. I forced myself to do something I hadn’t done in years: spend time alone, once a week, resisting the urge to text or e-mail. I purposely blocked out the static I had surrounded myself with for so long.

It wasn’t exactly easy. I truly believe that we need others. No matter what anybody says, we receive fulfillment from the interaction, reassurance, and influence of others.

My problem was that without all of this, I didn’t know who I really was, and admitting that meant that some serious reconstruction had to be underway.

My self-confidence inched its way back to me as I recaptured things I liked, wrote down my thoughts, and defined what my dreams and boundaries were. My inner self began to emerge, little by little.

In that process, I learned that while relationships complement our identities, it’s vital to form them from a sacred space within, or else that complementarity is just veiled dependency.

This renewed approach wasn’t just a brief answer to a state of crisis, however. It’s the way I’ve chosen to live my life. The concrete rules I made for myself were:

1. Think before deciding to do something.

Before automatically saying yes, ask yourself if it’s something you really want to be doing, and why.

2. Don’t cancel on old plans because new, seemingly more exciting plans come up.

Staying consistent is necessary to defining yourself, even if the lure of adventure seems to place consistency on the backburner sometimes. Yes, you want to stay impulsive and spontaneous, but you can balance that spirit of adventure with being reliable and resolute.

3. Take time to know yourself.

List what makes you feel good. List what kind of friend you want to be. List what you want to achieve in the next five years, no matter how small or grandiose. These things may change, according with how you change, but at least you can track that progression on paper, versus abstractly thinking about everything and getting lost in an ocean of questions and doubts.

4. This slightly contradicts my first rule, but let’s not confuse alone time with cooping yourself up at your place and shutting the world out.

Of course, it’ll always be easier to stay in the comfort of your living room with a meal and a movie. That can be good for you on some nights. But alone time is just one facet of connection with yourself.

Your next steps are to use what you learn on your own and then apply that to interaction out in your world. When you commit to going somewhere, doing something you’ve never tried, being out and about, you never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll see, and what small moments of illumination you’ll encounter.

These moments can bring you closer to who you are and what you want if you’ve learned to nurture your independence and identity first. So, maybe this rule isn’t a contradiction to number one; it’s the complement to it.

5. Allow some space for you and the ones you love.

She may be your best friend, or he may be the love of your life, or she may be a doting mother, but everyone needs time alone. We need it to recharge, to evaluate our choices, and to rest our minds.

It’s okay to not be joined at the hip with people you might wish you were joined at the hip with.

I’m still disoriented from having a long-term job and a partner, and now being single and job-searching.

The detachment process is sluggish. And, as life goes on and we invest ourselves more into each new venture, that detachment doesn’t get any easier.

Time makes us more afraid to leap into the unknown yet again, causing us to deny dissatisfaction and emptiness. But we owe it to ourselves to try.

It won’t always be easy to live for myself; I know that. It might be lonely and unsteadying.

But if I can enjoy a rainy night in the satisfaction of my own company, then I’m happy, because it means I’m strongly connected the one person who can fulfill me the most.

Photo by mrhayata

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