A gay man’s internal struggle between dependence and independence

I frequently find myself struggling between wanting my independence and wanting dependence too. It is my belief that we need a healthy balance of both. I want someone upon whom I can depend. 

I think we’re hard-wired for the type of connections where someone has our back and shares our life. On the other hand, I also want and need my independence, my alone time. 

Are you in a relationship and often wish you were single? Are you single and often wish you were in a relationship? Can you have both? Can you have your independence and be dependent at the same time? Again, I do not think it is a matter of wanting both as much as it is a matter of needing both. 

While being part of the dating pool the past seven years, I have discovered so many people who are too far on the dependence side. In the psychology world, it is known as co-dependency. According to Psychology Today, the definition of co-dependency is excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.

Dependence upon another person can be a positive and desirable trait. However, co-dependence is harmful. 

The dependent relationship involves two people who rely on each other for support and love. They both find value in the relationship. 

In the co-dependent relationship, one or both parties feel worthless unless they are needed by the other. They feel they must be needed by the other in order to have purpose in life. A co-dependent person can feel constant anxiety about their relationship.

In a dependent relationship, both parties find joy in outside interests, other friends and hobbies. In the co-dependent relationship, a person might have no personal identity, interests, or values outside the relationship. 

We are each an individual being. In a healthy relationship, you maintain that individualism while still depending on your partner for love and support. You spend time without your partner. There is no anxiety about the future of the relationship. You are too busy being your own beautiful unique self to have time for worry. You are busy fulfilling your own unique purpose in this life. 

My internal struggle between dependence and independence is often fear based. I spent 18 years in a co-dependent relationship where I felt I couldn’t live without the other person. We were attached at the hip. We had the same friends. We always did the same things together. Where you saw one, you saw the other. 

In reflecting back on that relationship, I was the more co-dependent one. Feeling anxiety when we were apart. Feeling sad when we were apart. Instead of living my own independent beautiful life, I was consumed with his life and our life together. The fear of going through that again is my internal struggle. 

If I came out of that phase of life with any lessons, they’re these: Love and support your partner. Allow them to be who they are. Allow them the independence they need. It is vital to a healthy long-lasting relationship. 

At the same time, find your purpose. Do what you enjoy. Spend time with your friends. Find a hobby. Live your individual life while at the same time knowing that you have a loving, supportive relationship with your partner. 

Never allow yourself into a situation where someone else dictates your life and schedule. Maintain your individualism. 

Remember, a good balance of dependence and independence is essential for happiness and longevity together. Allow and love. 

Vince Shifflett is a critical care registered nurse and writer living and loving in Atlanta. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or visit him at vinceshifflett.com.

This column originally ran in Q magazine. Read the full issue online here:

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