It’s a sob story I have heard a million and one times.
“I’m just so tired of being alone,” says the 20-something who's really only been an independent adult for about two years. “It’s like there are no good people out there,” says the same 20-something only looking for love via hookup app.
It’s the catch-22 of the century, and everyone looks at me with the same look of horror, guilt and offense when I break the news to them. The truth is that, if a person finds themselves pining to be in a relationship, that is probably a really good indicator that they aren’t ready for one.
The reality stings and no one wants to hear it, but as our lord and savior Lizzo says, the truth hurts. At the end of the day, healthy relationships consist of two independent people who choose to bring out the best in each other. If a person is consistently discontent with their single life, that tends to be an indicator they aren’t fully grounded or comfortable with who they are as a person and therefore are probably not ready for the emotional work genuine relationships require.
There’s a word for relationships founded on the base of one or more parties being lonely and sick of being single. It’s known by psychologists and relationship experts as codependency, and, honestly, it’s probably the single most toxic presence within a relationship since the invention of #couplegoals on Instagram.
Codependency is characterized by a set of behavioral traits that cause one or both partners to rely on each other for all forms of emotional support and comfort. When a person hasn’t taken the time to find themselves and establish who they are as an individual, any relationship they hop into will be codependent in some way. The double-edged sword is that more often than not, when people feel like they’re super ready for a relationship and they’re tired of being lonely, it tends to mean the opposite.
The only way to fully grow into yourself as an adult is to spend time in isolation. I’m not saying go off the grid and become a hermit, but the only way to truly get to know yourself is to be by yourself.
The old adage is unfortunately correct in the way cliches tend to be. One cannot fully love another without fully loving themself.
The best piece of advice I ever found on the subject of codependency and healthy relationships was from a clearance self-help book, “Scary Close” by Donald A. Miller, I impulsively bought from Barnes & Noble in the wake of a horribly toxic tryst with a track runner.
In the book, a writer with raging intimacy issues goes to a retreat for serially monogamous people who have the money to afford retreats in Nashville, Tennessee. On the first day of the retreat, the event coordinators gather all of the participants in a gymnasium and have them partner off. Each set of partners receives three pillows. One for each partner to stand on and one to be placed between them.
Both partners could step on the middle pillow at any given time. The only rule was that above all else, the two could not step on each other's pillow. The pillow in the center was representative of a relationship, and the individual pillows on either side represented the participants within the relationship.
A lot of people within our culture do relationships with two pillows in which they persistently step on each other's pillows because neither person is fully formed and in love with themselves. This is how codependency corrupts a coupling. The only way to avoid this is to do the emotional labor when one is single and be content with the temporary loneliness.
A healthy coupling is something two people share while still maintaining the life they built before they met their partner. A person should be in love with themselves and the life they have prior to falling in love with another person.
At our age, it’s easy to feel down and to crave the ever elusive feeling of being loved and loving another. However, this pining is temporary and instead of focusing on what you don’t have at the moment, perhaps take the time to ruminate on what you do have and how it can be improved.