That’s quite the word, isn’t it? Apparently I’m hitting hard today. It’s a very simple concept, independence; we know how to explain it when a kid asks, we know what it means to us. Yet, I think many of us fail to realize how truly blessed we are to have it. It gets taken for granted, like so many other basic rights and privileges that we’ve come to see ourselves as being entitled to.
But while it is a right, it also has the status of privilege, to my mind, because right or not, it isn’t always given. Obviously, children who haven’t yet learned independence and simply don’t have the capability to strive for it won’t achieve it. As for the rest of us…. well, I don’t know about you, but I treasure my independence and guard it fiercely.
That said, it could mean something different to everyone. Some might value their independence so much that they can’t function in a relationship, too afraid that adding another person to the equation will cripple their happiness. Ironically, by worrying so much, they hobble and cripple their happiness anyways. Some might be content with their independence and not see any need for relationships. A solitary life may suit them just fine where it would drive others to madness.
Others (and I may be biased, since I include myself in this category) sometimes need to have carved out that independence and grown comfortable with it before they can share their life with someone else. I said in yesterday’s post that I’ve known my boyfriend for a total of nearly eight years and have dated him for two. Honesty time–who wondered, however idly, why we didn’t start dating sooner?
It’s very simple. For one, we hadn’t come to see each other “that” way. Friendship worked for us, for a long time. Second, I truly believe that even if we had attempted to start a relationship sooner (and for the record, he totally started it), it would have been doomed to fail, because there was no way I was mature enough. My teen years, particularly the later ones, were filled with change, just the way they’re meant to be: I fought with my parents, my mom remarried, more siblings came into my family, my dad worked late nights… and I think, while he worked nights and I played the role of surrogate parent, I tried so hard to play that role that I kind of forgot to be a kid while my last few years of childhood were slipping away.
These days, my dad can admit that he feels that my two brothers (the two other children he and my mother had together) and I are too independent. We’re autonomous to a fault, stubborn even, determined to blaze our own trails even if we whack our heads on a few rocks to a fault. The first time he said that, I kind of snorted and looked at him like “Gee, ya think?” I’d already come to the same conclusion.
But you know what? Distance, in the form of my first year at college, helped. For those of you who make a big deal about sharing a room with someone you’ve never met, let me just tell you: as the eldest of six siblings, who had been sharing her room with a toddler, it was heaven. I grew up a lot in my first year of postsecondary–I came to terms with the fact that my dad is an asshole, accepted what his emotional abuse had done to me, and said screw it. I was going to be who I wanted despite that.
I’ve always been independent, occasionally prone to bursts of self-imposed solitary confinement. That first year of college–and the two years since, where I’ve largely lived on my own (with an adorable dog), allowed me to solidify that aspect of myself so that when I did embark on a relationship–with my best friend, no less; go big or go home, am I right?–I was able to do so as my own person, not the shadow of those around me. And though I was afraid, a little, of what would happen if it didn’t work, at least I would know that it wouldn’t be due to my own immaturity.
Nearly two years, all but three months of that as a long-distance relationship, later, I can honestly say that it’s worked out, and I haven’t lost a bit of my independence. Duncan’s made it clear that sometimes it’s difficult for him (he’s, by his own admission, a tad old-fashioned) to “look after me,” as is the typical relationship role. So I try, every now and then, to let a little vulnerability eke out without making it seem like a vulnerability. I let him take care of me because I know he’ll do that without affecting who I’ve become, and because really, being cared for does not mean giving up and does not imply weakness. The man I’ve fallen in love with, amplifies my best qualities and mitigates my flaws, making me the best I can be. I am my own person just as I always was, but if you’ll forgive me a case of writer brain, I like to think this relationship means I am a slightly better, more rounded out character than I might have been having never known what it’s like to be in love.
That’s what relationships should do for independence, in my opinion. And it’s what independence should do for countries around the world. It should give them the freedom to govern themselves and have a say in their country’s goings on while preparing for and uniting the people in times of hardship. It should improve and not harm, make better rather than cause things to worsen. Independence should mean what it sounds like: liberation, freedom. Like the right and privilege it is.
And on that note, it’s your turn now, because I enjoy turning on you and demanding opinions! What does independence, in any of its forms, mean to you? How do you view it?