There are more legends about Valentine’s Day than cupid has arrows. In ancient Rome, February witnessed a fertility festival where, legend has it, the young single women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would take a lucky pick and be paired with the woman he chose.
After a year, he gets to pick again. If there are remnants of that custom appearing in your relationship life, the information in this column won’t apply.
When we expect relationships to happen magically just because falling in love feels magical, we set ourselves up for failure. When we care enough to do the work it takes to keep healthy communication happening, we are ready to form an interdependent partnership. First we must grow conscious of our deep-seated desire to collapse into another with total abandon.
“That’s not me,” I can hear you saying. “I am probably too independent. I’m the one who takes care of everything. I’m actually trying to learn how to depend more on others.”
Let’s look a little deeper. When we hold on to a self-definition that we are fiercely independent, all that really means is that we conveniently gloss over all the times in our lives when we are dependent. We minimize the contributions others make to who we are or we operate out of a “keeping score” mentality to make sure that we are never caught owing anyone anything. We maintain our strong and always in control image at the high price of being emotionally isolated and feeling alone and unsupported.
Why would we do that? Because it is less terrifying than acknowledging that deep down we are afraid of feeling weak and out of control. Dependent translates as vulnerable and open to harm.
Conversely, when we define ourselves as dependent, we simply minimize our own contributions and strengths. We keep all the times that we operate independently and in complete control a secret. Therefore, we appear more pliable, vulnerable, and in need than we really are. Instead of standing firmly in our own strengths and accomplishments, we hide them in favor of desperately trying to surrender by collapsing into another and mistaking that for intimacy.
When we throw all of our needs, desires, wants, gifts, talents and abundant caring at another and call it loving them, we only burden and overwhelm them. When we have given our all, we have succeeded only in abandoning ourselves. Instead of fulfilling another, we have merely reduced ourselves to nothing.
When both partners give themselves up in order to come close to each other, there is no firm ground beneath them. There is too much pleasing, understanding and collapsing. Too much yes and not enough no. Too much dependence and not enough independence. The relationship is doomed to a free-fall into helplessness and stagnant disappointment, all in the name of love.
When both partners maintain an overly-independent stance and refuse to acknowledge their insecurities to each other, distance reigns supreme. Task focus rules. What they do is more important than who they are. The relationship is maintained by superficial conversations, pat phrases and stagnant “deadening to the emotions” time together. Heartache, loneliness and unfulfilled longings are the true children birthed from “nothing personal, we are both so strong and complete in ourselves” unions.
Loving well requires that, first, we become aware of our deep-seated desire to collapse into another. Next, we must grow solid boundaries around this unfulfilled longing. As a result, we are better able to be both dependent and independent, say yes and no, surrender and stand firm, open and close and fashion a fulfilling life with another.
Loving is an art. When we are considerate, generous, and protective with each other and when we are willing to accept our strengths and insecurities, gifts and challenges, we are ready to live an interdependent life.
When we take responsibility to grow and progress together, we infuse our love life with the intelligence and passion given to a great adventure.