One of the accusations levelled against me when Lucy and I got engaged was that I, an itinerant beach-bum, just wanted to marry her because she had a house. Despite the fact that she also had a mortgage, and two children, was entirely besides the point. There was, is, a perception that we marry someone because of what they bring to us.
My observation is that this is insidiously embedded in our culture. In the way we socialise our children. In gender discrimination. And ultimately this becomes the criteria we use to choose our life partner.
One of the most important things I want my daughters to learn is a healthy way to approach long term relationships. I remember my father advising me “Kissin' don't last, cookin' do.”
And that's the last advice I'd ever want to give. Not that we shouldn't value practical care over sex(ual attraction). But that we should care for ourselves rather than needing it from others.
Speak to any relationship counselor and they'll quickly get to the principle of 'You need to be happy in yourself, before looking for happiness from another.' What I call the 'Emergency Oxygen' principle. You know, put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping a fellow passenger.
Personally I've found this advice to be pretty unhelpful.
I fear there are far fewer people with healthy self-esteem than there are relationships. And mostly, self-esteem isn't an absolute as in, you have it or don't. Rather it's contextual, there are contexts where you can have great self-esteem, only for someone to walk in the room and shatter that.
So to only enter into a deep relationship when you achieve a unicorn state of permanent self-worth is an impossible ask.
The nugget of the principle is true, of course. That's why it's so popular. My experience puts some practical legs onto it though.
Not Why But What…
Ask yourself the question, “What do you want from your partner?”
Is it financial security? A house? Dare I say it, some form of status, like religious, or social, wealth or class status? Do you want someone to keep you safe? Someone to care for you, or (one day) your children?
Whatever that need is (or those if more than one) figure out how to provide that for yourself first.
Anything you want, figure out how to get that yourself.
The first step to interdependence is independence.
If you want a husband (or wife) so you can buy a house, figure out how to buy your own house.
If you want a wife (or husband) to cook for you, figure out how to cook yourself.
If you don't believe that you want a partner for any of these things, get honest with yourself 🙂
Admittedly this is an incredibly hard ask when you're young, poor, lonely, and wired for your sexual peak. But if you can figure this out, you'll be in a far better position to navigate life in a partnership. Especially if you're a woman (unfortunately).
Independence empowers you to bring your full self to the relationship. To give rather than take, or the ultimate route to mediocre disaster, 'give and take.' To add to your partners strengths. To become a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
It frees you up from insecurity, fear, jealousy.
Of course there's a challenge of bringing 2 fiercely independent people to a relationship. But that's a far healthier and ultimately easier challenge to overcome than bringing one or two needy people into a relationship.