It took me a long time to adjust to loneliness. I’m the type of person who gets attached to people very quickly, and I am often left feeling empty inside when my person can’t be my person anymore. A tendency to give too much of myself to others and let myself fade away has given me quite the battle over the past few years, leading to a debate between my own mental health and the happiness of those surrounding me. But, why can we never have both? Why is dependence upon others such a deeply rooted human condition that is incredibly difficult to break?
I have asked myself these questions countless times. I am grateful to say that things are starting to change for me, and I have already learned in the past three months of college that I can find satisfaction in life while still being alone. It’s not a perfect system, and I still find myself feeling lonely at times, but I know that sometimes my alone time is the most precious time I have. It gives me the opportunity to focus on my goals and aspirations, to improve my study and self-care habits and to improve myself as a whole without the help of anyone else. It’s okay to need help at times, but independence is such a critical part of growing up that so many students fail to adopt within their college careers.
I grew up as a pretty independent person, but I still found myself caring far too much about people who did not requite the feeling. Something I learned from high school and finally started to act upon in the past three months is prioritizing myself over others. No, not in a narcissistic way; by no means do I believe I am better than anyone else. But, I prioritize myself, for me, for a better future, better work ethic and income and stronger relationships. It’s impossible to love someone the right way if you don’t love yourself.
I’m a big relationship person, but I’ve had to accept that sometimes I just need to be alone and work on myself in order to be satisfied with my life. In past relationships, I have become so distracted by the happiness and well-being of my partner that I forgot to take care of myself. I was in a healthy relationship for over two years and once we broke it off when I went to college, I tried jumping into another relationship long before I was ready. When I was supposed to be focusing on myself, my health and my grades, and building strong friendships, I instead tried way too hard to fix someone who did not want fixing. This took a lot from me when I should have been growing. While I was personally okay with trying to help someone, my mental and physical health was not. I didn’t want to say goodbye to “my person” but now that I am out of the relationship, I am already realizing how much I can thrive on my own.
When looking back at my longest and most prosperous relationship, I can see a notable difference between that partner and others I’ve had: that partner was independent and mature on their own, while the others were more dependent on me for their happiness. In all honesty, I depended on them too, and sometimes I still have to convince myself that I am fine on my own. But, by not being in a relationship, my time is my time and no one else’s. I get to work, study, exercise and be with my friends as much as I want, building an empire within myself that will eventually be used to care for another person. I am on my way there, but I still have plenty to learn.
So, if you’re in a relationship right now and questioning it, don’t take this as a sign to break it off. Instead, take a step back and analyze whether you are truly happy. Do you have time to yourself to work on a future that will lead to your happiness and not depend on others for growth? Do you have the motivation within yourself to do things that make you feel strong, happy and prosperous rather than constantly looking to those around you for support?
We tend to forget that we are the most important people in our lives. It’s easy to overlook our own mental and physical health when we are so focused on other people, but being in a relationship—or codependent friendship—should never be about needing someone else to complete you. Rather, you both must be complete on your own, and instead compliment each other. A relationship is supposed to be a fun experience that adds more than it takes away; it’s easy to let love blind you from something that might be leaving you worse off than if you were alone. It’s okay to need others at times, but trusting that you can be a successful and powerful person on your own will leave you with more successful relationships that will let both parties thrive. This applies to friendships, too.
So, my advice is: the next time you take a walk outside by yourself, take a second to look at the scenery that surrounds you. Think about the leaves that speckle the trees towering above you, the colors of the sunset as the day turns to dusk and the tiny animals adventuring through an underground world that you barely know. There is so much to appreciate in this world, and by being alone, you can truly take it all in. Be your own person first, find your strength and let love from others follow love for yourself. Life is not about loving one person and letting that love die with them. Instead, build an empire that will outlive you.