We grow up believing someone will swoop into our lives and save us.
It’s in every story we are told, every book we read, every movie we watch in the late hours of the night with our girlfriends. We spend so much of our time waiting for and depending on this other person to come in and bring us all the things we feel we are without—joy, happiness, excitement, confidence, love.
As we get older, many of us are still learning to develop a sense of self-responsibility, but most of us were never actually taught how to do that. We then grow up expecting to fall in love with someone who we think will fulfill our lives in every way.
Inevitably, they don’t. Our relationships fall apart, and we are left wondering where everything went so wrong.
I have been—I sometimes still am—this person.
I have spent years holding my relationships to the highest of expectations, hoping this person will be for me all the things I can’t seem to be for myself.
“Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?” ~ Esther Perel, psychotherapist and author.
There is seduction in the idea that if only we could meet someone who will save us, we will be eternally happy. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works. But what we can do is create lives for ourselves that are meaningful, irrespective of another person.
We can work to strengthen our own self-reliance. We can work to enrich our lives with the things we love, with the things that make us happy, motivated, inspired.
A few summers ago, I distinctly remember a moment with a new partner where I felt that all-too-familiar tug of anxiety-fueled dependency.
It was early evening, and we sat on the balcony of his condo, two glasses of red in front of us. He was talking about all these plans he had for the rest of the summer, all the things he wanted to do and had planned for himself. As we sat there, I couldn’t help but feel this deep sense of jealousy overpower me.
And immediately, my thoughts began to race in their usual unhealthy pattern:
He has all these things that bring him joy, but they have nothing to do with me.
What if he prefers to do these things over spending time with me?
What if he realizes I don’t have as much going on and he leaves me for someone who does?
Am I not enough?
Can I not give him what he needs?
I stopped my thoughts in their tracks. I looked out at the city around us, looked at its vastness, and thought: “Nope. Not again.” This time I will not sink into patterns of self-deprecation. This time, I will use these feelings to try and understand what’s missing in my own life.
I asked myself: If I’m feeling jealous, does it mean that I don’t have things in my own life that I am equally excited about?
When we think about the “strong independent woman” trope, we often imagine a woman who is hard, lonely, and not this way by choice but because she has had to be. But what if we change that narrative? What if that narrative is, instead, two people who have full, happy lives and are together out of want not out of need?
I vote that we start making self-reliance sexy.
Since I’ve channeled my own goals and drives in life and have dug deeper into my own passions, I have found my partner is more attracted to me. Even better, I no longer get jealous when he is excited about the things going on in his own life that don’t involve me. We are able to be happy for one another, and we have more to share with each other at the end of the day.
Even better than all of that? I’m just happier—period. I’m working to a create a life that I actually like, one that I can be proud of.
It’s sexy to have passions and goals.
It’s sexy to be independent and fearless.
And it’s sexy to want to have someone by our side along the way—but it’s also sexy if we don’t.
There is more than enough room for all of it.
I now wear the badge of self-reliance with pride. These feelings sometimes still tiptoe their way in, but I now know how to fight them, because with self-reliance comes strength. And that strength, I like to believe, resides in each and every one of us.