As a Scandinavian woman (and a strong one at that!), I’ve always identified myself as a strong, independent woman. Ever since I was at high school, this ‘label’ and identity I built for myself was always around being tough and capable and most of all: independent. But now, in my 30s, I have been challenged in thinking about what being “independent” actually means.
Does it mean being single? Or can one be “independent” in a relationship? Does it mean not leaning on or trusting anyone else? Or is it more about making your own money and keeping financial independence? Is independence even something to thrive for in a deep and meaningful relationship, whether it be a friendship or a romantic relationship?
Whilst pondering these questions, I have progressively realised the vast differences between men and women in how we view independence. I’ve come to believe that we women tend to be more relational than men – so consequently, independence can look very different to us. From experience, I’ve seen that women are more likely to identify themselves through relationships with those around them (I am a daughter/mother/friend/sister/girlfriend/wife), whereas men seem to be more likely build their primary identity around careers and achievements (doctor/lawyer/entrepreneur/bodybuilder/surfer). Women are more likely to crave relationships and commitment, and so in-turn we can struggle with being perceived as ‘independent’. As a contrast, men seem to be less likely to have issues with independence, so they aren’t necessarily as relational – and are potentially more likely to struggle with meaningful relationships and making a long-term commitment. As a case in point, think of the words “needy”, “co-dependent” and “insecure”. Do you picture a female?
And so, considering all this, what does independence really mean for women? And what is the line between having deep relationships and being co-dependent? Whilst I’m still on the journey of self-discovery, I think I have managed to nut some of these questions out.
What I’m convinced of is that being independent does not mean isolating yourself from other people. We all need people around us. Humans were created to live in communities and we are meant to form relationships with others, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Needing people is not a sign of weakness. But at times, there’s a fine line between this important aspect of us that craves relationship and meaningful connections, and us limiting ourselves and our lives. We have to be careful not to let the tendency of identifying ourselves through our relationships become a rejection of our independent identity within ourselves.
I believe – and this is one of the biggest revelations I’ve had in past year – that the key to independence is to truly have the revelation of ‘I am enough’. On my journey of discovery I have reached a point (mind you, it’s not an endpoint but a continuous journey) where even though I enjoy and yearn for meaningful relationships in my life, I don’t need another human being to define who I am. My partner, my friends or my family do not define me or my identity. I am still me and the essence of me is still there even if they’re not. Having reached this point on my journey has been freeing, and it has also meant that I am not giving other people the control or authority over my life.
I also believe that once we women learn and get better at being both relational and independent, it can free us from trying to please people, and gives us the freedom to be what we were created to be.