I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of codependency in my romantic relationships. The why has many answers, from battling debilitating anxiety and depression for the past two years that have made it hard to leave my house, to the fact that most of my friends have moved away from the city I live in. As I shifted careers and began solely working from home, my isolation increased, as did my antipathy towards my city. Convinced that there’s nothing left for me here, yet still figuring out what the next steps are to launch myself into the life I want, I’ve turned inward, relying on my partner for happiness to fill the black hole of lost energy and vitality that my life has become.
A recent life-altering family crisis in my partner’s family has forced me to confront that the codependency I’ve increasingly fallen into is no longer going to work for either of us. As my partner struggles to heal, I’m left coming to terms with the extent to which I need to rebuild my life outside of my romantic relationship.
It can be easy, when you live with someone who is also your favorite person, to fall into a pattern of doing things together. Sometimes doing everything together. Especially when that “everything” is in reality a limited amount of things due to lack of energy and, in my household’s case, lack of money. My story of relationship codependency is just as much a story of mental health, economic struggle, and being emotionally crushed and depleted by the daily atrocities unfolding in the Divided States of America.
As an introvert, my instinct is to hide, to avoid seeking out community, when life has me down. But I’ve learned that especially when you’re in a committed romantic relationship, cultivating and prioritizing platonic relationships with friends (in particular single friends) is a key source of life-affirming goodness when the whole world is turning upside down. I don’t have all the answers, but here are three ways you can tune in and nourish the galaxy of friendships in your orbit.
Reach out to all your networks, including virtual.
I mentioned that most of my friends have moved away. While mustering up the energy to pursue new connections would be an ideal scenario, my depression and anxiety haven’t always been so cooperative.
That’s where turning to existing friend networks, no matter where they live, can be so fruitful. I may not have as many friends in my city, but I have connections to treasured people from coast to coast and even beyond, built up from college, grad school, and queer community.
It can make such a difference to text someone you haven’t talked to in a year, find out what’s new in their life and how they’re coping in that new town they moved to. Reminisce over old memories, laugh over Skype, talk on the phone while you walk your dog. Invest in the people you’ve loved along the way, and let them know how much they still mean to you. You can even find new friends online — make use of the positive aspects of this millennium you live in!
Embrace being vulnerable.
My deepest friendships are those in which I can be emotionally vulnerable. The connections in which my friends and I can truly confide in each other about the ugliness of our emotions, the imperfections of our romantic relationships or singlehood, the grief we’re carrying from the news and past traumas.
It’s about getting past that glittery happy filter that Instagram deceives you into thinking is others’ lives. It’s having the courage and honesty to see what’s really going on underneath. When you realize that we’re all going through something, and that you can open up as your most authentic self in a consensual, reciprocal exchange of vulnerability, that’s when you’ve hit friendship gold.
Test the waters to figure out which friends are willing, able, and relieved to have that level of emotional intimacy with you. (This probably won’t be all your friends, and that’s ok — different friends can serve different needs and purposes in our lives.) Then figure out which way of being vulnerable works best for you. For example, while I might not want to talk on the phone while I’m bawling my eyes out (for some people, doing so helps!), I’m a huge fan of expressing myself through the art of the text message novel. As a writer, the written word is a huge way for me to process my feelings, so I find being able to seek catharsis in giant text message threads with my closest friends to be one of the most meaningful parts of connecting.
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Rethink what platonic versus romantic relationships can and should offer.
As queer theorist and activist Dean Spade has written about human relationships in his piece “For Lovers and Fighters”:
“One of my goals in thinking about redefining the way we view relationships is to try to treat the people I date more like I treat my friends — I try to be respectful and thoughtful and hav[e] boundaries and reasonable expectations — and to try to treat my friends more like my dates — to give them special attention, honor my commitments to them, be consistent, and invest deeply in our futures together.”
Spade asks us to be more intentional about our relationships with everyone we care about. To rethink our society’s messages that our relationships must be arranged in a hierarchy with our romantic relationships at the top.
Of course, this is easier said than done. I’ve flaked out on meeting up with friends many times. And I’ve spoken unkindly to my partner in ways that I wouldn’t speak to my friends. It takes energy and commitment to realign our values about our friendships. It also starts with ourselves: pursuing the self-care needed to value ourselves as our most cherished friend of all.
In consciously working on reaching out to those around us, we’re able to rejuvenate and deepen our friendships. In turn, we’re able to replace codependence in our romantic relationships with interdependence: the joyful blossoming of two (or more) lives, holding hands and walking down the path of life together, with each person taking their own confident steps.
[Featured Image: A gray scale photo of there people facing the camera. The person on the left has long dark hair and is wearing a white shirt. The person in the middle has short, dark hair and is wearing a dark hoodie. Their arms are draped over the other two people’s shoulders. The person on the right has dark hair and is wearing glasses and a dark hoodie. Source: pexels.com]