Independence and self-reliance feel empowering. You can stand on your own two feet, look around at everything you’ve done and all the places you’ve been and pat yourself on the back. You learn to do your own thing without considering or consulting anyone else, whenever possible. You think independence equals freedom. Freedom equals happiness. But does it?
Who would want to be completely dependant on others, deprived of the freedom to be who they are, do what they want, and helpless? Seems like a no-brainer. Why then, are all these singles, accountable to no one but themselves for their life choices and activities, having all the freedom in the world to do whatever they want to do, complain about being lonely, depressed, uninspired and are constantly searching for their soulmates, life partners, friends, and companions?
While a healthy amount of independence and freedom can help us be self-expressive and the builders of our own dreams, too much of a good things does turn into a bad thing. Time and again, research shows that relationships make us happier than achievements and career goals. Being productive is better than not and hopefully fun. Staying engaged in interesting endeavors, learning new things, exploring new places, and creating, make us feel useful, inspired, and occupied. But having a deep connection with others beats it all. Why is that?
I didn’t think about any of this for a long time. I went about my business of being a lone ranger doing my thing and never put enough energy or investment in any of my relationships, or at least not all of them. Frankly, I didn’t know how. Mostly, I didn’t know that I wasn’t fully invested. Life revolved around my concerns and I went about fulfilling my needs as if I had never heard of or seen the benefits of strong relationships. My default setting is Me-Myself-And-I.
I said things like “I have everything I need and anyone who wants to be in my life has to be an asset, not a liability.” In fact, I became pickier over time. People came with baggage. Baggage meant the potential for drama. I hate drama.
I used to think that if I can get my shit together, anyone should be able to, and had very little patience for those I labeled complainers, attention seekers, lazy, and boring. I kind of still do, but at least I stop to check my judgments and reconsider.
Then, one day, I realized that I could have my shit together way better, but I don’t. I wondered why. It occurred to me that if I had more patience for others, I may have had more patience with myself and chosen differently on occasion. I could have had more friendships and more close relationships. And where there are people, there are ideas, and viewpoints, and support, and lessons to be learned.
Still, realizing something, and changing habits are two different things. I made a lukewarm effort to reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. I went out more. But still, I found myself mostly on my own. It felt nice to hang out, but also uncomfortable, because I could be doing something “productive.” Old mindsets die hard.
Then I got little Lulu and my life was full of doing stuff for her all day long. She needs walking, feeding, grooming, playing, and cuddling to keep her happy. She doesn’t pay the bills. Does not pick up after herself. Does not clean up her messes. Does not do her laundry. Does not cook for herself. Does not remember to take her allergy medication. Does not scoop her poop. What she does is make me want to do it all for her, happily!
I even changed my work schedule to make sure she gets walked every morning and eats her breakfast leisurely. I wake up in the middle of the night to comfort her when her allergies kick in and she’s scratching all over. I skip dancing nighs if we’ve already had a busy day so she can get to sleep on time. I plan around her and I am happy to do so.
And I watch myself doing all of that in disbelief. What the hell happened to me? I realized that for the first time in my life I have made a full commitment to a being. My exes would definitely agree. Where would have these relationships gone, and how would I have handled myself in them had I been committed to them, until death does us apart? I am not saying that every relationship deserves a hundred percent commitment. But if we think about committing fully to another human being, would we choose our relationships more wisely?
As I write the above question, Lulu moves from the far end of the couch and snuggles against my thigh into a little furry ball as if to demonstrate the sweetness and comfort of surrendering to those who love you. I’ve had to learn patience with her too. A dog, even a smart one, takes it’s time to learn something. Then proceeds to ignore what it has learned in the presence of worthy distractions. So, along with the patience, I’ve learned to be consistent and keep her accountable or else, all the time invested into working together to train her will be totally wasted.
At the end of the day, I learned from a dog what years of psychology research and countless humans could not teach me – commitment, patience, and sacrifice. Putting the other person ahead of you while being consistent and keeping them accountable keeps you and them on the same page and connected for the benefit of both.
Beyond the world of significant others, lay a bigger world family and friendships. Those too can benefit from commitment, patience, and sacrifice, consistency, and accountability. As much fun as it is to be your own world with your own rules, there is strength in numbers. Two heads are better than one. A true friend is the best possession. Etc. Etc.
But while it may be easy to be nice to a dog, humans can give you a run for your money. You may not expect a dog to thank you for scooping their poop, but if a friend forgets to make a big deal about you picking up the lunch tab, you’re ready to drop them and bitch about it to all your other friends for a week. Family members are particularly annoying with their forever habits, seemingly untrainable, ever. Even though getting the relationships pieces figured out may be the hardest thing for us, humans, it is worth it the most… research promises.
Give it a try. A little improvement goes a long way. You’ll get better with time and effort. I know that I am. When in doubt, I just ask Lulu. LOL.