I recently read a story in the New York Times about a wealthy, youngish man who gave up his lavish home and possessions to spend time with the people in his life and travel. It seemed like a noble calling, but, as the article revealed, this millionaire had little to no idea how to really BE with people. While he may have felt alone with just himself and his butler in his Bedford mansion, he is not alone in his desire and struggle to connect with others.
Having a strong sense of independence can make relating to another person easier, because it allows you to do so out of desire instead of need. However, when independence veers into self-involvement, it can also be a threat to relationships. Being able to do most things by and for ourselves leaves us with less incentive to brave the brambles of true connection and learn how get along.
In the technological era, people are becoming somewhat dispensable. Online friends come and go with the closing of a browser tab. If another’s flaws, behaviors or values are no longer to your liking, you can cut them out of your life — slowly, subtly, or in a downright upfront manner. This is good when you realize you are involved with a nasty abuser, but can be costly when practiced with those well-intentioned, imperfect people you love.
Perhaps the price of the amazing independence we have access to these days is isolation. How can we satiate our great need for independence, woven into the fabric of America’s deepest thought, without creating isolation?We have to learn how to be with and in ourselves, in the presence of another. Click To Tweet
No easy feat.
Check out these four levels of what I am playfully referring to as the Spectrum of Independence:
Supremely Independent – You are self-sufficient and enjoy a sense of freedom, and may enjoy spending time alone more than with others. You are the center of your life, and although you may at times feel lonely, you’re not really interested or simply don’t know how to make room for another person on a more permanent basis. You may feel perfectly content, or you may not even realize the degree of isolation you are in. No matter how deep the hole you find yourself in, you rarely think of asking for help.
Independent-ish – You like being alone and thinking for yourself, but copious amounts of alone time do not suit you. You need connection. Although you are in pursuit of interdependence, sometimes in relationships you tend to give up parts of yourself in ways that may not be healthy, or expect that others do the same and feel resentful when they don’t. You may identify as supremely independent, but check again.
Dependent prone – You can be by yourself if you have to, but you’ve always worked better in partnership or with groups. You enjoy interdependence, communal living, being of service. You tend to meld into a crowd, family or situation. You may not always think for yourself, but prefer to adopt the opinions of others. You are good at asking for help, although sometimes, you ask before you realize you may not need it.
Dependent – You are under the age of 21, of a ripe old age, or you may have a real condition that renders you dependent on others. Or you simply have no ability to be by yourself, and when left to your own devices, you decompensate. You have difficulty holding a job, and if you are not dependent on a substance, you always find yourself coming “back home,” wherever that might be, and needing support to get back on your feet.
Where do you fall on the spectrum this summer? Is there a direction you want to move in as you cycle through another year of seasons? Share in the comments below.