Relationships can be beautiful sources of joy, empathy and incredible growth for not only couples but communities they touch. However, while vital, they do not define us and I fear this is not modeled in society. We need to learn healthy dependence. “I can live without you, but I don’t want to.”
Legendary on-screen doctor Meredith Grey delivered this climactic line with both vulnerability and steadiness as I watched the finale of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”—cross-legged with an immodest serving of potato chips.
Meredith and Derek had just endured a multi-month separation over a disagreement concerning the family’s prospective relocation to support his career over hers, despite their predetermined agreement. Meredith found distance was extremely daunting at first; losing her husband’s emotional and physical support was challenging. However, with a heightened focus on her work and life, she discovered not only was she able to survive, but thrive as she achieved new gains in her career.
Upon the return of a homesick Derek she confesses, “I can live without you, but I don’t want to,” as evidence of her newfound confidence in her autonomy.
It recognized both the significance of the relationship and her distinct position of power in her own life. I immediately latched onto this line.
This concept, while not revolutionary, is seldom hailed in today’s culture. We live in a society in love with love and romantic euphoria. Listen to the lyrics of popular music from classic ballads to timeless R&B tunes and top 40 radio hits today, and you’ll hear common lines such as “I’m so lost without you,” “You’re all I need” and “You’re my everything.” They consistently highlight our inability to breathe, think or live without a lover. And no wonder they’re popular: who wouldn’t want to be overwhelmed with a love so grandiose it literally sweeps you off your feet? However, wait a minute or two and you’ll no doubt hear songs of profound heartbreak, leaving us “lost,” “helpless,” “broken” and “damaged.”
Hearing these songs back-to-back go from romantic euphoria to debilitating brokenness gives me legitimate emotional whiplash. It’s the relationship model that perturbs me; the framework feels unbalanced. Do relationships truly demand “all of me?” Culture seems to encourage us to surrender our identity, ability and worth to romance.
I will first establish this: I believe we were created for relationships. They allow us to become the best version of ourselves. Relationships can be beautiful, fruitful sources of joy, empathy and incredible growth for not only couples but communities they touch. However, while vital, they do not define us and I fear this is not modeled in society.
No person truly “completes you.”
You are already complete and whole. Relationships can complement you and help you grow, but they are not your identity and do not validate or verify your worth.
Abandoning this insecurity gives your relationship the opportunity to shape and mold you. In truth, you don’t need your relationship. This is a hard one to swallow at first, but true. When we wrap our self-worth and identity in our relationship status we leave ourselves vulnerable to a fall greater than we are prepared for. Know your worth alone.
No one is perfect—your partner is just as human as you are—however, popular culture implores us to place our partner on a pedestal. Beyoncé’s “Halo” paints her love as an angelic being (“You know you’re my saving grace.”). James Morrison croons, “For you, I give my soul to keep.” Foy Vance’s haunting ballad proclaims, “You’re my guiding light.”
These metaphors, while lofty and romantic, ignore the fact that we are all fallible creatures. Placing your lover on a pedestal not only assigns them an impossible benchmark, it unfairly sets them up for failure.
We ought to challenge our partner to a higher level of morality and excellence but not impose the pressure of perfection.
People change and people fail. Your partner should not be the foundation you stand on but the person whom you stand with. And to clarify—I don’t believe making this distinction will not shield you from the grief of a broken heart or troubled relationship. This, too, is a part of life. But when each person knows their intrinsic worth, it allows room to love, learn and make mistakes without compromising your identity. Let’s lower the stakes and remove the pressure to be someone’s “everything” by simply being ourselves, together. And as Dr. Grey so profoundly stated, let’s love out of desire and not necessity.