Defining an Individual Identity: Where Relationships Fall Short

Experiences throughout life are often (not always) better shared. Most people, even my fellow introverts, crave some level of human interaction. It’s a core part of our being. However, this desire can also prove blinding and counterproductive at times, especially when it’s channeled as desperation to find a significant other. This is most evident of those in their 20s, a decade that from its onset seems to be a sprint towards marriage. 

The problem is that in many of these rushed relationships there is little substance or stability in their foundation. Neither person has really taken the time to figure out what they each want out of life or to develop an individual identity. I believe this is why we see so many failed relationships, whether it ends after five years or 25 years. You are ultimately responsible for your own happiness. Don’t get caught up in the crowd. Remember to take a step back, focus full attention on yourself, and determine what it’s going to take to live a meaningful life, as defined by you.

Unfortunately, most bypass the opportunity for introspection and hurry along the beaten path of school, job, marriage, kids, with no time in between. There is nothing inherently wrong with this course. I just question the speed at which it is pursued. When satisfying the next step becomes the sole focus of your life, you sacrifice personal development that is key to long-term happiness.

I choose to single out marriage because there are people having full-blown anxiety attacks from their fear of being bound to a lonely, miserable existence if not married by 25. When this becomes your purpose and you force the issue, rather than concentrating on developing yourself, leading a life you find value in and letting the rest take care of itself, the outlook becomes bleak.

The importance in developing an individual identity cannot be understated. Time must be dedicated to discovering your hopes, dreams and aspirations for life. This demands that you look within, pursue new experiences, and explore where your passions can take you. In other words, be selfish, put yourself first. This is what provides you an opportunity to grow into a well-rounded, self-sufficient person.

The real secret to long-term happiness lies in self-sufficiency - on which one day I will write a novel. Assuming responsibility for your own happiness is inherent to self-sufficiency. If you rush or ignore this opportunity early in life, chances are it will manifest itself later as relationships dwindle and you tiptoe along the brink of an identity crisis. Divorce rates should be enough to tell us we’re doing something wrong.

Consider the strongest relationships you know. These are typically between two people who are well-rounded individuals that complement each other. Neither is completely reliant on the other and both are accountable for their own happiness. They make each other happier but were already happy to begin with so anything else is just an added benefit. There is no struggle between give and take. A healthy balance is achieved. At the foundation of the relationship are substance and stability. Substance in that there is alignment, to a certain extent, in aspirations, goals, interests, worldviews, etc. Stability in that both have spent time developing themselves as individuals, know what they want out of life, and are accountable for their own happiness.

Quality relationships are not formed out of desperation. The old adage that you’ll find the right person when you quit looking holds some truth here. When you’re not forcing the issue, chances are you will be spending time pursuing your passions and the things that make you come alive. It’s here where you begin to develop an identity, narrow in on what it is you want out of life and better yourself.

As fate would have it, this is also where you find others who share a similar mindset and possess common substance and stability on which you can build. A relationship based on this, where both people are well rounded and self-sufficient (initially cultivated by spending time on yourself) is much more productive, less stressful and has a real chance at making it. Ignore this and pursue someone who has not taken time to develop individually and you’re making life much more difficult for yourself and not doing the other person any favors.

However cliché, there’s no better indicator of a rushed relationship than when you hear someone refer to their partner as their ‘better half.’ Bonus points if you’ve actually said this; your originality is admirable. The only way you could one-up yourself is to publicly declare your excitement about marrying your ‘best friend.’ I understand the sentiment behind finding your ‘better half’ but it seems a bit ridiculous when you actually ponder its meaning. Claiming someone as a ‘better half’ implies that you are in fact inferior and apparently content with being so, having never taken the time to grow as an individual.

Identity exists at the individual level; it’s not something you magically discover in a relationship. It takes time to develop and is often a serious challenge. Hints why most people never fully work their way through it. If it were that easy, everyone would have it figured out. The consequence being that when one or both people lack direction or identity, substance and stability are also seemingly absent. It’s tough to maintain balance in a relationship without them. More often than not, this leads to one person becoming completely reliant on the other for their happiness, which is a slippery slope.

I am optimistic that younger generations are beginning to value this mindset and take time for themselves early on. It’s one of those things we find out the hard way in our first few serious relationships. The important thing is that we actually learn this lesson and take it to heart before it’s too late.

At the end of the day, it’s your life. You have to make decisions that will lead you along a path where you will find meaning and happiness. Life is meant to be shared, but with the right person. Rushing a relationship for the sake of having someone is a shortcut towards settling. Rather than inspiring and encouraging you, it provides a wealth of excuses to put off the life you’ve envisioned until another day; one which never seems to come. Only when you are able to truly assume responsibility for your own happiness and build your identity as an individual will the rest of the pieces begin to fall into place.