We’ve all heard that humans have four basics needs that must be met for survival: food, water, shelter and sleep. I would argue that there is a fifth, however. Connection. Connection with other humans, connection to a spiritual being, connection to our pets. Connection with ourselves. Herman Melville wrote,
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
We are wired to crave connection. That’s why our bodies release dopamine, the feel good hormone, whenever we get likes on our social media platforms. Likes reinforce that we made a connection with someone. These connections become the basis for relationship, both platonic and romantic.
Growing up, my parents, like many do, enforced a “No Dating Before You Turn 16” rule. For me, this was tolerable to say the least. The phase where I thought boys were gross extended much longer than my peer’s did (does that phase ever really end though?). Instead of trying to win my way into the hearts of the pre-pubescent middle school boys, I focused on my education. I focused so hard on my schooling and extra-curricular that by the time I graduated from high school, I still had not dated anyone. This singleness carried on until only very recently, as I entered my first relationship at the age of 27. Here are some things I learned about myself and relationships by being single for most of my life.
I love independence
From the moment I went off to college, I was 95% independent. I went from living off my mom, scrounging for $20 here and there to buy McDonald’s after school, to living on a campus 700 miles from home, making my own choices. Soon enough, I got a job working as a TA on campus, and after a series of less than perfect matches as far as roommates go, found myself in a dorm room by myself. I learned how to budget my small income so that I could still enjoy the experience of college, but I also learned how to self-motivate to accomplish anything that needed done.
After undergrad, I moved back to my home state for graduate school. I picked out my first apartment, and from that moment on, have lived a fully independent life! I learned that I love not being accountable to another person for where I am going, why I spent $40 on snacks last week or why I stayed up til three in the morning binge watching Glee. I continued to learn how to budget, even though I’m not very good at it, and tried to master new skills, like cooking and photography. When you are single and independent, picking up a new hobby is easy! There is no justifying the desire to learn how to juggle to anyone but yourself.
People don’t have to like me
One perk of being mildly funny and moderately good at a variety of things, such as music and sports while living in a relatively small town is that it becomes fairly simple to get people to like you. However, as you get older and begin to define exactly who you want to be, that task gets a little bit harder (wait, you mean being funny isn’t a personality trait?). I personally began this journey of self-revelation in college. As I interacted with more people from a more diverse background, I began to customize my character, so to speak.
At the very core of my being, I just want to be me. Unapologetically. What I didn’t anticipate, though, is that even if I was my true, authentic self, some people just wouldn’t like me. My sardonic sense of humor would turn certain people off. Quoting entire movies sometimes makes people want to punch me in the face. What was more, I learned that me liking a person, either platonically or romantically, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will like me in return.
Furthermore, they may like certain parts of me, but not others. They may try to cherry pick the parts of me they want to be associated with, and discourage the rest. I’ve learned that these types of people aren’t worth the effort. I’m not going to change for them.
I love who I am
Being single in my formative years allowed me the opportunity to determine exactly the type of person I wanted to be, not who my significant other deemed I should be. I was able to experiment with different versions of myself without the pressure of pleasing anyone.
Was I the social butterfly who made the plans to hang out and then kept everyone partying til the sun came up?
Was I the quiet bookworm who sat in the back of the coffee shop with her latest find, avoiding human interaction in lieu of fictitious adventures?
I got to invent myself, and in doing so, settled on a version of me that I love. I’m an extroverted introvert who is fun to have around on game night, but is just as content to watch Netflix alone on a Friday night. As I said above, I just want to be me. I don’t want to have to put on a mask for anyone, and won’t change who I am to fit into the box someone defines for me.
These three things have revolutionized the way I approached my relationship. I was upfront with my significant other about who I was and who I would be in the relationship. We worked together to define how our relationship would proceed, each of us getting our own voice, neither voice weighted more than the other. We are two independent beings dependent on the other for connection. He can’t control who I become, just as I don’t seek to change his path. We can only support the other as they continue to learn who they are. I love me for me, and him for who he is, not who he was or who he may become. I am me, he is him, and together…
“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” — William James