The Importance of Being Independent

Some people think that being independent means you have to do everything yourself.

This simply isn’t true. No man is an island. Trying to do everything yourself is inefficient and ineffective.

What being independent really means is this: If you were left to your own devices, what activities would you engage in of your own volition? In other words, what will you keep doing because you alone want to and not because of other people?

We all have things that we know we have to do, because they are important. We go to work because we need to earn a living. We make sure we brush our teeth everyday because of dental hygiene. We exercise regularly because being physically healthy is important. We eat well because we don’t want to put on weight and develop diseases. We watch our spending because we need to save for the future. And so on.

Some might say that it’s too hard to manage all of the above alone. It’s better to find someone who can help them manage these things. When I say someone, it could refer to a romantic partner, or it could refer to someone who is close to you, like a family member. But for the most part, this article is geared towards romantic relationships. It is at this point that I would like to introduce two concepts that biologists should already be familiar with: Symbiosis and parasitism.

One is ok. The other is not.

There is nothing wrong with relying on someone for things if that person can also rely on you for things as well. This relies on playing to each persons’ strengths to cover up for each others’ weaknesses, and is a good strategy. In biology, the term symbiosis is used to describe exactly this: Two different organisms which live in close physical association, which benefits both parties. This, in my opinion, is the second best possible state of a relationship.

What then, is the worst possible state of a relationship? That’s where parasitism comes in. In biology, a parasite is an organism that exploits and habitually relies on another organism to survive, often to the detriment of the organism being relied on. So similarly, a parasite in a relationship is one who expects his/her partner to help the parasite out, but does not give anything in return. In other words, a leech. (Actually leeches do provide some medical benefits to their victims, but that’s a story for another time…)

Some of you reading this may already be thinking of couples or individuals which exhibit either symbiosis or parasitism. Perhaps you may even detect these elements in your own relationships. If so, I hope it’s the former and not the latter that is present. Otherwise… maybe it is time for some reflection?

So that’s the worst and second best scenarios covered. That just leaves the best scenario for a relationship? You have probably guessed from the article title that the best case is when both parties are independent. But for argument’s sake, let me throw in a straw man counterargument: If both parties are independent and do not need each other, then it can’t really be called a relationship. Two people may live in the same house but lead totally separate existences if they are both independent because they each have their own things to do and lives to live.

Now, this is a completely valid point, but the above scenario is not the kind of independence I am talking about nor encouraging. Going back to my definition of independence at the beginning of this article, being independent means being able to carry on with the things you know you have to be doing without anyone telling/pushing/cajoling/nagging you to do it. But I never said you couldn’t do these important tasks together, right? You can exercise together. You can cook healthy food to eat together. You can’t really work together unless you work in the same firm as your partner, but you get what I mean.

You’ll notice that there doesn’t appear to be much difference between an independent couple and a symbiotic one. Both types will do things together (as opposed to a parasitic one where one party is always doing things for the other), but there is one critical difference: The symbiotic couple cannot survive if separated from each other. If they split up, or one party has to work overseas, both their lives fall apart because they had previously been depending on each other to get their lives in order.

Not so for the independent couple. They will continue on with their responsibilities and dealing with important issues even if there is an extended (or even permanent) period of separation. All this brings me back to the idea of being independent. In short, being dependent upon someone else is pushing responsibility for your own well-being onto that person – a responsibility that should lie solely with ourselves.

We all have the capacity to be self-sufficient – none of us are born “incomplete” as so many love to say in wedding speeches unless we are physically or mentally retarded. Don’t sell yourself short – if you are depending upon someone else, you aren’t recognizing your full potential to be the person you could and should be.

Also, consider it from the other person’s point of view. If your partner is responsible for 100% of his/her well-being, but now this person has to shoulder 50% of your well-being as well…. It doesn’t take a genius to foresee that eventually that 150% burden is going to take a toll on his/her physical and mental health. Not only that, as he/she burns out he/she will probably become resentful towards you, which can harm the relationship, sometimes irreparably. Is this really the kind of relationship you want to be in?

For those single people out there, some words of advice:

1. Evaluate yourself very carefully if you are a parasite or not. If you are, you shouldn’t be in a relationship and subjecting someone to that kind of burden. Your potential partner has his/her own things to take care of. He/she doesn’t need to deal with your problems too when you can manage them yourself.

2. Evaluate any potential romantic partners carefully to see if they are parasites. If they show an inability to fend for themselves, if you sense that they basically want someone to take care of them for life without them having to lift a finger – drop them like a hot potato.

When you make yourself (and only yourself!) responsible for yourself, then you are truly ready to enter into a proper relationship. You won’t be a burden to your partner, and your partner won’t be a burden to you. Because of this, your relationship is that of a true partnership – each partner is not bogged down trying to solve each others’ problems, but both are free to enhance each others’ strengths, and enable each other to reach new heights which they could not reach alone.

In mathematical terms (forgive me but this is just how my mind works), this means that if you’re a complete person, aka 100%, and you get together with another 100% person, you two can boost each other to 150% because you two have the capacity to synergize with each other (For example by doing important things together).

Conversely, if you’re 100% and the other person is 50%, you’re gonna be bogged down in order to pick up your partner’s slack of 50%. Eventually your 150% load is going to make you burnout, while your partner continue cruising along, without a care in the world. And if BOTH of you are dependent and expecting each other to pick up the slack…. well. Let’s just say the relationship is sort of doomed.

If you look around you’ll find that the best (and rarest) relationships are where both parties can take care of themselves and help each other become better than they were before. But most relationships that range from “okay” to “good” normally involve a couple where one is 100% and the other is 80%. The bigger the difference in independence between the two, the more problems that couple will face. Eventually, the 100% may decide enough is enough. Instead of helping the 100% achieve his/her life goals, the 100% is being held back.

Now, you may get “lucky” and find an overly generous partner who’s willing to bear your burden, but everyone’s human. People have limits, and they burn out. What then?

So. Learn to be independent. Take care of yourself. Nobody owes you a living except you. And take it from me, being independent isn’t bad at all. Knowing you can take care of yourself is a really powerful thing to know about yourself. If you can master yourself, what can you not master?

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