I think it’s time we stop striving for independence and start focusing on collaboration.
The American Dream is to make enough money that you’re beholden to no one. In our capitalist society, we praise people who are independent of social systems, who have pulled themselves up from their bootstraps. We degrade people who have taken food stamps, been on welfare, needed help.
In that same way, we degrade people who need emotional help. Going through a rough time? Don’t post that on Facebook or you’ll be drama. Want someone to be more emotionally available? Well now you’re just being needy.
Most of my life, I’ve been a highly independent person. I’ve traveled all around the world by myself and rarely let having to do it alone keep me from an adventure. I am often praised for being a single woman daring to do great things on her own.
But I’ve got a secret to tell you: I go at it alone because it’s easier that way.
Doing something all by yourself takes no compromising. I don’t have to think about someone else’s feelings, I don’t have to worry about their needs, I don’t have to take care of anyone but me.
We say it takes guts to go at it alone, but the real struggle is learning to collaborate with others, to come to a solution where everyone has their needs met, to give as well as take. Now that is a test of willpower, intelligence, and fortitude.
I wonder if we praise independence because we don’t want to take care of people.
After my brother died, I found myself needing people for the first time in my life, but I didn’t know how to ask for help. There were no systems in place in my life for this kind of emotional support. Quite the contrary, I’d spent all of my time actively rejecting systems of support so I could feel that glorious goal of independence.
Grief made me needy, the thing I’d feared the most.
I lost many friendships because they were based on the premise that I was strong and independent. I relied so heavily on my partner for support that our relationship broke. I couldn’t pay my bills, I didn’t return emails, I barely got off the couch.
I was so ashamed of how much help I needed.
And society fed into that. I got a lecture about independence when I applied for food stamps. I got a lecture about getting a job when I called to defer my student loans. I got many lectures about needing to be able to find happiness on my own when I was devastated after my partner left me.
Everywhere I went, someone was telling me I needed to find my independence. Everywhere I looked, I searched in vain for that independence I once had, finally having to accept I would never be an unemotional, unattached person again.
It’s been five years since my brother was diagnosed with cancer, three since he died, and I am as needy as ever. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m okay with that.
For the first time in my life, I believe that independence is overrated.
I am not afraid to admit that I can’t go at it alone. More than that, I don’t want to do this alone. I want to live a life where my friends and I are actively supporting each other through the good, the rough, and everything in between. I want to have systems in place for caring for each other, emotionally, physically, and financially. And I want a romantic partner to experience life with me.
I want to create a world full of empathy, love, and collaboration.
My personal and professional lives are built around these new goals. I wrote Bawdy Love: 10 Steps to Profoundly Loving Your Body around this concept that every body deserves to have its needs met. I created the Bawdy Love group to foster body-positive support and the Creativity Squared group to inspire collaboration between writers.
I’ve given up on independence and instead focused on creating a collaborative, compassion driven community of support.
And I’ve never felt more satisfied.
How would it feel if you stopped striving for the masculine ideal of independence and started making space for more feminine collaboration? How would it feel if you ditched capitalistic theories of being self-sufficient and embodied the socialist concept that we’re all in this together?
I’m not saying we should give up our power, I’m saying we should share it.
Let’s pool our resources. Let’s stop aiming for independent success and start thriving together.
Who’s with me?