Can railing against the norms of a prescriptive path lead to a life that’s truly free and full?
Most of us grew up osmotically absorbing society’s script for a love story: meet someone and date for a while, fall in love, get married, move in together or buy a house, have two kids, and live happily ever after.
It’s the stuff of fairytales, rom-coms and so many Disney movies. And while that might actually be the path to happiness for a select few, it’s a damaging campaign that causes many to live in shame and judgement of their failure to either attain or keep it. Yet, there’s an even deeper danger that seldom gets mentioned.
I’ve been in many long-term relationships. I’ve even had the privilege of marrying my best friend, buying a house, adopting a dog, and spending over a decade together. After ending our relationship, I came to realize that society’s love story didn’t bring me bliss. Why? Because it was missing a vital component: prioritization of the love affair with myself.
“To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.”
— Robert Morley
Here’s a metaphor for you: If your life were a bicycle wheel, would you rather your beloved be a spoke in that wheel or the center hub? Said another way, would you want your life to revolve around another person, or would you like your companion to be one of many equal parts that contribute to your momentum?
From a very young age, we’re directly and indirectly taught to make another person our hub, when they should actually be a spoke. Hear me out.
I recently came to realize that in order to experience freedom and the full richness that life has to offer, I needed to recalibrate the role of my romantic counterpart. I needed to morph her from hub to spoke, and she needed to do the same. Our reasons for recalibration may differ, but nonetheless, we were able to communicate our needs honestly and then commit to what seems will work even better for each of us: (1) to show up and to trust, (2) to remain in conversation, and (3) to love one another with kindness, respect and joy.
For me, a person who doesn’t like to be blindsided and therefore thrives when there’s basic scaffolding in place, this triumvirate caused a conscious shift that was visceral.
Now, these are not lifetime promises that lock either of us in; instead they represent a healthier path where love is simply a choice — not an obligation, expectation or attachment to a particular outcome. These three commitments fulfilled a basic human need for safety and security, and that made everything else possible.
What’s Healthy is Considered Unconventional
In my former life, I believed that an unconventional relationship was impossible, and I felt guilty for wanting something outside of the normative, prescriptive path. Maybe I didn’t actually want to be married, or maybe I wanted be married but not live together. I certainly didn’t want kids, and I absolutely wanted to explore and experience the world on my own. Most partners would be threatened by many of those desires because they have built a life around their counterpart — and if their person wants time alone or to have deep and meaningful relationships with others, those desires are in direct opposition with the expectation of constant centrality.
We’re taught to put others’ needs first, but that’s the opposite of healthy because it means that we’re operating from a place of insecure attachment and ultimately running on fumes. That’s no life to live, yet millions of people do it because it’s the very dynamic that’s been modeled for hundreds of years.
If our own cup is not continuously full to the brim, we end up depleted, abandoning ourselves, or much worse. And that fullness must be derived from multiple spokes — deep and meaningful relationships with multiple friends, family members, colleagues and our significant other, passion projects, solo interests that fuel our creativity or help us stay grounded, and anything else that allows for playfulness or brings us both profound and subtle joy.
It all begs the question: How much smaller does life become when we center it around our paramour?
The amount of fatigue, anxiety, and depression being experienced by people everywhere, especially now, is proof that if we don’t take care of ourselves — and do so by diversifying our resources — our lives can feel stagnant and caged. It’s the very definition of living small when we’re here to experience the full spectrum of what it means to be human.
Creating Freedom and Fullness
If you create your own reality, and I believe that we all have the ability to do so, then the first step is to assess yourself honestly and without any judgement. Turn inward, pay attention and get curious as to how you’re feeling about the various aspects of your life. What areas are feeding you, and which ones are depleting you?
Next, write out what you’ve observed. Then, jot down all of the people, hobbies and experiences that bring you joy, freedom and fulfillment. Make two columns next to those, and in the first column, assign each of them a number from 1–5 (5 being the highest) to denote how much you invest yourself in each one. In the second column, rank their importance to you. Compare the difference between the two columns.
Prioritization of the Self
The line items that are most important to you, based on that second column, should be the areas in which you invest yourself most in order to ensure your mental, emotion, and even physical or spiritual health. If you’re not, consider how vibrant your life might be if you did.
Let Love Flow In
You are meant for more than the promise of a fairytale with a singular focal point.
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.”
— Jean Shinoda Bolen
Love feels wonderful because its chemical components are purposefully designed that way, and I believe that the feeling in your heart of being in love is exponentially greater when its source is diverse. When you make yourself the center hub, you create a reality in which you can absorb all the love that flows in from every direction.