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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  • mertcan

    Thank you very much. I am currently going through this and I am having a hard time. This post and generally this webpage is helping. Reading it makes me feel better for a short time but applying is the difficult part… Love mertcan

  • Vicky

    Hi Jenn,

    I really enjoyed this post, which led me to your tumblir page and more of your writing. The post ‘our soldiers, our future’ and really resonated with me today too.

    Thanks for writing and inspiring the rest of us through your hoestly


  • Vicky

    Hi Jenn,

    I really enjoyed this post, which led me to your tumblir page and
    more of your writing. The post ‘our soldiers, our future’ and really
    resonated with me today too.

    Thanks for writing and inspiring the rest of us through your honesty.


  • Nick Norman

    Beautiful. I’ve been on my own journey to understanding these same things. Relationships have always been about latching on and leeching off of someone who seemed more beautiful, wonderful, and “together.” Suddenly, I find myself in a relationship where there is an inter-dependency, rather than a co-dependency, and I have to relearn what love and relationships feel like. One thing that is certain, though, is that I can’t get by trying to live another’s life. I have to be one, whole, and centered in myself in order to find true satisfaction in a relationship.

    Thanks again for the article!

  • D

    Thanks for the great post Jenn! I have been trying to accomplish what you described. All I wish is that I can be comfortable in that perfect moment alone. A few years ago I was very sure of who I was and what I wanted. Then a diagnosis sent my world spinning until I was completely lost. Now, it seems that there is always something that pulls my attention away from myself and when I have the alone time, I yearn to be with others, filling my void with numbing television or the computer. I hope that I will revisit your post and others similar to it and finally have the will to create enough space in which I can be happy with myself.

  • Renee

    I really needed this today. I’ve been trying to detach from some toxic aspects of my life for a while now and the process does feel sluggish and lonely sometimes! It’s not quite so…exciting. I know I’m making healthier choices, but it feels boring!

    I love what you have to say about the importance of forming relationships ‘from the sacred space within.’ I will take that to heart as I let go of some toxic ones and (re)establish healthy ones.

    Thank you!

  • Jana Rice

    This post has perfect timing for me. I am a leader in a job with no upward mobility. Though I love my coworkers and the comfort of the sameness, I’ve grown so unhappy being underpaid and underutilized. It’s time to branch out and move on as last night I finally started working toward making my side-project into a full-time gig. It will be difficult when I no longer go to the comfortable place to work that I’ve been use to for the past 8 years. But I can no longer grow at this place and I need to have the courage to move on. Thanks again for this great post. I plan to revisit when I need a reminder.

  • Jenn Hourani

    I know it’s not an easy journey, but when you come out on the other end, you’ll be so proud of how far you made it, and all the difficulty you’re experiencing now will feel more like a treasure than a burden.
    Hang in there!

  • Jenn Hourani

    Wow Vicky, thank you! That article was my first published work, and soldiers are a favorite topic of mine. If there are any topics you’d like to read more about, please let me know and I’ll post something just for you! Happy 2013 🙂

  • Jenn Hourani

    Thank you for your brave honesty, D. It seems like the things we are the most sure of in life, are the ones that cost us the most when we lose them. But that’s how personal evolution happens. That tension is painful, but once we’re out of it, we are face to face with our immense strength and will to live, and our souls blossom on such a deeper level! Please contact me if you ever need a shoulder or an ear. Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Jenn Hourani

    You can do it, Renee! Just the fact that you read this and felt a response within you, shows that you’re not only ready, but on your way, to establishing healthier patterns and relationships. The most important thing to focus on, is that YOU deserve that sacred space. YOU are worthy. It’s okay to acknowledge how beautiful, strong, and capable of love you are – these things make the best compass to navigate this new life you’re building. Let me know if I can be of any help with that.

  • Jenn

    That’s music to my ears, Jana! You don’t know how bold it is to acknowledge that you can do more, that you’re unsatisfied, and that you’re ready for a change. This life really is a blink of an eye – and knowing how you want to live it can fill that short time with such beauty and wonder. As I’m a huge fan of lists (you can probably tell, haha)… I would recommend making a list of what you hope to accomplish, a list of people who inspire you, and a list of references – both for business purposes, and for general motivation to keep you positive on your journey to a better career. You’ll be great, I know it. 2013 is your year 🙂

  • Jenn

    Wow Nick – your words definitely echo with me. When we lack something in our lives, whether it’s from a difficult past or an empty present – we seek something on the outside to fill the void. But if we reconstruct our inside, we make the foundation stronger, and we can finally find our equals, and our complements – rather than our providers, or our dependents. The key to having that balance with others, though, is reaching it within yourself – loving yourself enough to change, but without limits or conditions upon that self-love. You seem to be highly aware of this point, and it can only mean great things from here on out 🙂

  • Julie

    Wow, I felt like that was ME writing that! I’ve been going through the same process, and even taking the same steps like meditation every day and journaling. It’s important to make friends with oneself again and to get excited about those things you may have put aside for the comfort of a relationship. I’m excited to dive back into pursuing a career I care about! Thank you for sharing this and reminding me I’m not the only one going through the lonely and important transition into self-love and single-hood.

  • Thank you for this. I’m getting over a break-up now and its time I re-discover myself..I’ve been through break-ups before but each one is harder. Its going to take some time but I truly want to feel at peace with being by myself even in “romantic cozy situations”

  • This was well written and enjoyable to read 🙂 And it reminds me a lot of an article I wrote recently about the need for ‘aloneness’, in order to discover who we are, what we’re about, and what we truly desire out of life. Thanks for posting this. Solitude to me, is the ultimate answer to many of life’s problems. How can we function in a world so full of stimulation, noise and distraction without some time to gather our thoughts, and feel whole and complete inside of ourselves? You’ve echoed some of my thoughts here, and ironically, it’s nice to not feel so alone sometimes 🙂

  • hs776

    This is so relevant to my situation right now, it’s almost like I was meant to see this at the very moment I did. I’m trying to find the strength to break away from a relationship that is draining me of everything, including my very soul. I’ve been trying to control my long-suffering addicted partner and completely neglecting myself. I can do it no longer, I need to find ME, and start loving ME, because for a very long time I have relied on other, more destructive souls to fill a void in my life. I now know that only I can fill that void and when I do, I really feel I will finally be at peace with myself and my life, and my beautiful daughter will see that, and flourish into an amazing woman without making the same mistakes I have. Thank-you for this, I will be keeping a copy close to me at all times.

  • Jenn

    HS, your words break my heart and inspire me at the same time. I think it’s time for us to feel connected to each other through our strength, which to me is a very strong tie… versus keeping ourselves weakly linked to someone who doesn’t value us or see us as the gifts we truly are. Your daughter will love you not only for your strength, but for your mistakes and honesty as well; she’s lucky to have you. YOU’RE lucky to have you. 🙂

  • Jenn

    Thank you for such a well-written response, Luna 🙂 I’d love to read what you wrote. I agree with you on so many levels!

  • Jenn

    I’m right there with you Heather. Break-ups are rough but I also think they’re such an underrated evolutionary tool. Often they’re viewed as times of pain, regret, and loneliness, but those feelings are not only normal – they’re necessary. I wrote this article from a similar place as you’re in right now, and I cant tell you, it does get easier 🙂

  • Jenn

    Your response is exactly why I write, Julie 🙂 So happy to hear you’re back on track… in some ways, it’s almost like we wouldn’t have had that huge boost if we hadn’t gone through a murky time like this. Cheers to our difficulties blossoming us into Renaissance Women!

  • landlockd

    great post. so nice to hear from someone in a similar place as me. thanks for sharing.

  • KJJ

    It’s always healthy to remind yourself of your own value. For myself I know how tempting it is to be side-tracked by anxiety of all descriptions and lose track of my own core value. I get into Worthless mode, so thx for this.

  • Gen

    Wow! What a great articles. My ex dumped me before Christmas and it crushed me. I came to realize, through journaling and therapy, that the break-up was a blessing in disguise. I am starting to take my life back and learning to be in a relationship with myself! It’s not easy and I miss my ex, but I miss myself more. I think self-discovery is so important and I am excited to continue my journey of discovering myself.

    Thanks for a great post, Jenn!

  • Mindy

    This really resonated with me. I was also a serial monogamist for most of my life. Ignoring relationship red flags was easier than being alone. After breaking up with a boyfriend that I lived with I finally realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. I was just ending up disappointed and hurt again and again. I decided to just take a year off from dating and work on myself. That year turned into two years and it turned out to be the best thing I could do for myself. It gave me a chance to figure out how I wanted my life to be for myself instead of always making decisions based on other people’s needs. I ended up buying a house, losing weight and getting into shape, trying new things, and hanging out with friends more. Now that I had this well rounded life I decided to put myself out there. I dated someone for a few months. It didn’t work out, but it wasn’t a major disappointment because I have this great life. About a month later I met an amazing guy who I have been seeing for a few months and I definitely see future potential with him. What surprised me is that he is always saying “You’re so happy”. He says it’s what he likes best about me. I was not this happy person until I realized I could be whole without another person.

  • Jenn

    Mindy – I am so proud of you and I don’t even know you! I can only imagine what a source of warmth and inspiration you must be to people around you. And that process was able to come into motion because of the difficulties that came into your life, and the honesty with which you approached them. And I agree with this guy – you seem happy. At peace, solid. Not because you avoid the ups and downs, but because you know how to integrate them into a fuller existence. GREAT JOB ! 🙂

  • Jenn

    Thank you so much Gen! I know how difficult break-ups can be around the holidays… your best bet is to keep loving YOU, and if you find yourself missing your ex, it’s always helped me to incorporate certain routines/characteristics about that person, into my own life; it’s how you can heal the wounds of missing someone, and benefit from an old connection, versus letting the nostalgia take over. Best of luck to you on your new romance with someone amazing.. YOU 😉

  • Jenn

    KJJ – You are not worthless! You are worthy of love, respect, attention, and growth. But YOU have to believe that, in order for it to happen. I can’t tell you NOT to feel anxiety, or negativity – but what I CAN say, is that those are normal, healthy feelings. You just have to riiiiide the wave… and let yourself feel what you feel. Then move on and up. Integrating your down times with your happier times will give you a deeper sense of balance – and of self. I can see that you’re on that road. Keep going. We believe in you 🙂

  • Jenn

    Thanks for reading, landlockd. Just remember that whatever you’re going through – you’re not alone. 🙂

  • hypnotoad72

    And the best person will be fulfilling, and not leave the moment you lose a job. Especially in this economy.

  • hypnotoad72

    I agree with that as well! One has to believe those things, and so does the partner. About him/herself and his/her partner. Commitment can be a nice thing as well… if people don’t take each other for granted…

  • Jenn Hourani

    Taking people for granted comes naturally bc it’s attached to the ego – when you’re getting what you need, it’s hard to look outside yourself and give the other what they need as well – but those special people are the treasures I seek 🙂 we’ll find them.