Image by Janneke Storm
Losing yourself in love
Recently a friend of mine was going through a breakup. Usually, I’m pretty good at breakups (unless, of course, they are my own, as my friends who saw me throw the entirety of my ex-boyfriends suitcase in a hotel pool in Bali back in 2014 will attest to.*)
I mean in those tender times there’s nothing anyone can really say to make it better. But I’m good at listening, I’m good at finding the silver lining in heartbreaking situations. So when this friend informed me she had terminated the relationship, I had my pump-up speech ready to go. Along the lines of: congratulations, girl, you got your independence back. The world is your oyster, you go get yours. Yee-ha!
But this time this friend looked at me, confused.
“What do you mean, I got my independence back?” was her response. “Where did it go?”
It was then I realised something I had never really examined about myself: in my brain, relationships and independence were two mutually exclusive things, sitting at opposite ends of the scale. Like Voldemort and Harry Potter, neither could live while the other survived. Which is why I largely have avoided them for the majority of my life.
Because I have seen it, time and time again.
I have seen friends with goals as big as the moon reduced to Friday nights on the couch with their partner, week, after week, after week.
I have seen women who used to roar loud for equality, now laugh at racist, homophobic or sexist jokes from their new partner, ignoring the bile that rises in their throat as they do, because it just feels so good to be accepted by the person you love.
I have seen women who have only ever wanted to travel the world stay in their home country because their boyfriend at the time told them “people who just want to travel all the time are living an escapist life.”
That last person was me.
You know what happens to those people who lose themselves for a relationship? They either start dying slowly, or one day they crack. I learnt this as I stood there watching my ex and his friends fishing out his t-shirts and panties from the shallow end of the pool that fateful 2014 Bali day.
How does this happen? How come for some people, men or women, they deeper they fall into love, the more they forget who they are, what they want, forget all the stuff that makes them burn with passion for life?
When you are single, you are your pick-me-up, so you do all this stuff for yourself to keep yourself feeling badass. You put yourself in challenging conditions outside your comfort zone. You go balls-to-the-walls with your career goals. You work out like a beast, not because you care what your body looks like, because being covered in sweat with your lungs burning as you push yourself through another Kayla Itsines circuit strangely makes you feel incredibly sexy. You fill your own cup with friends and nice times and adventures and personal bests.
You are responsible for your own happiness
I think a big misconception is that when you get into a relationship, that responsibility for your happiness shifts from you to your partner. Being in a relationship, I found, gives you this source of validation you can drink from whenever you need a pick-me-up. And logistically speaking, why wouldn’t you drink from the lake that’s only one meter away from you and easily attained, rather than travelling to the lake on a path that’s fraught with hard work, a whole lot of positive self talk and challenging situations (I.e, working to make your damn self happy?)
When you’re in a relationship it’s easy to take the short cut and drink from the relationship well for validation instead of doing all the work you used to do to be your own champion, every day.
All this hit me like a ten-foot closeout that night my friend looked me in the eye and asked “what do you mean, I get my independence back?”
“It’s easy to fall in love. But it’s harder to rise in love,” says Mylène Bergeron, manual therapist and founder of Deepflow.
It’s easy to fall in love and let yourself drown in the sensation of loving someone and having them love you, because it feels so fucking good. It’s easy to let some of your long-established routines slide because, eh, who needs that post-workout endorphin kick when you’re already riding high from the dopamine and serotonin of that mornings sex session?
Hard to rise in love
It’s easy to go to your love for the words of encouragement you used to give yourself.
But when it’s years down the track and you feel like you’ve lost yourself you can’t blame the relationship, or even your partner. Because the relationship didn’t take your independence away. You took your independence away the second you stopped showing up for yourself and started expecting someone else to do it for you.
When you fall in love with someone and they you, do not make the mistake of thinking that because they love you for who you are at that moment, you have to freeze time and remain that person in order to keep the love. That, I think, is a fatal error. To stop growing. To stop making that space in our lives for change and evolution. When we’re single we are more open to change, to evolution, to the Unknown, to being receptive to opportunities no mater where they take us.
But that’s not what they fell in love with about you. They fell in love with the fire that burned in your eyes, how desperately you were committed to growing, to living, to experiencing, to being the absolute best version of yourself you could be.
Good, healthy relationships are not about completing each other, but being in relation as two whole, self actualized beings who choose to share love. It’s about supporting each other’s goals and wanting them to be as big as they can. It’s about watching them grow and change and not fearing that change.
Be the person they fell in love with.
Be the person they fell in love with. The loud, the ambitious, the driven, the intense. Acknowledge that no matter how dope your significant others might be, they are only a slice in the pie that makes up your whole life. Your hobbies, your friends, your history, your family, the passions that keep you awake at night.
That’s how you can be in love, and independent.
*I’m not proud.
**I would just like to clarify that I do not condone the throwing of ex partners property into swimming pools. No matter how immensely satisfying it is at the time.