Really, I’m completely terrified. The uncertainty in my mom’s voice when I told her what I was thinking was enough for me to know that I was well founded in having my million and one concerns. I could hear her thinking, “What the hell are you thinking, don’t your remember where you come from?!” Of course, she was way to kind and supportive to say this, but she and I value honesty above all else so although she was less blunt than usual, she did not skirt the issue and simply asked, “Are you sure you have thought this through?”
Recently, I left my job, relocated to be with my significant other, and did not have another job prospect in sight. For the past 2.5 years, we have both been working in residence life and commuting 5.5 hours to see one another every few weeks (or when we could…). I have been self reliant and independent for as long as I can remember. My mom, who worked full time and took night classes at ECC, trusted me to clean the house and have dinner on the table after volleyball practice every night at the ripe old age of 12.
I come from a long line of women who have been trapped in terrible relationships due to some form of dependence (usually financial or emotional). Women in my family have dealt with living with wife abusers, alcoholics, and adulteration. Thankfully, for those who have chosen to step away from a terrible situation, not knowing the future or having any stability, things went well and we all survived (I mean this very literally). Many women in my family have not been able to take this step. With this as my historical context, framing my lens for making decisions on dependence and love, you can start to understand how this decision was difficult for me to make.
I thought about a lot of things. I thought about my life, how I would be genuinely happier with my significant other closer, how his life would be better because he has wanted this for a long time, how our dog would be happier, how I would have to job search again, how we would be on a relatively strict budget (which is terrifying to me after growing up in poverty), how our friends’ weddings are coming up, our wedding and the holidays will arrive in a few short months, being unemployed. Most of all, I thought – “I don’t think I can be dependent on someone. I don’t think it is healthy. I have never seen this work out well. I don’t want to resent him for leaving my job and possibly jeopardizing my career.”
I talked about these fears, concerns, pros, and cons with my partner. He had a lot of ideas, thoughts, and suggestions. He also commented that he thought it would take a lot more than unemployment to make me dependent on anything, which made me laugh and generally feel better. The conversations then took an unexpected turn to the idea of being interdependent not dependent or independent. Concepts like interdependence are not in my vocabulary. Dependence, not being independent, relaying on anyone but myself to get things done or make things happen in my world, are concepts I am all too familiar with.
My partner once said to me, “Ciji, I need you in my life. My world is better with you in it and I don’t ever want to NOT need you.” Then it hit me, of course I never want to go a day without my partner in my life, but I never viewed that as a form of positive need. That need like I need air, and water, and food. A craving like I crave culture, education, information, knowledge. Like a positive force akin to empowerment, encouragement, strength, and sustenance. I have always viewed “need” as a negative, dependent, parasitic concept opposing ideals of strength, independence, and “standing on my own two feet”. This is not the case. My life is so much more enhanced with my partner in it, I am the best version of myself often times because of his prodding, poking, and general psychological support. How is this different from allowing myself to be brave enough to take this leap and show him that I trust him to be supportive in many ways? I trust him to build a family. I trust myself to take this journey and not completely lose myself, my sense of independence, or my mind. Maybe it is not dependence, maybe it is interdependence. And maybe my concepts of dependence are too strictly defined.
How do you define concepts of dependence and interdependence? How do we communicate these concepts to our families, friends, and students? How do we differentiate between healthy interdependence and unhealthy relationships and help others navigate this terrain?