To Grow Stronger Together, Learn To Remain Apart

How solitude aids relationships

As I sit down to write this on the first day of 2021, I realize that I’ve seen many relationships go haywire in 2020.

The lockdown, at least in India, was seriously imposed by March 2020. Even today, months after the lockdown was lifted, there are restrictions on where you can go. If you’re a sensible human being, you’d still at least think twice before going out anywhere.

In such a case, there are two groups in which most relationships would fall.

First is the case where you’re living together. Here, you’re literally stuck with the person for the unforeseeable future. This can be dangerous for people who’ve not done it before.

Living together makes you know each other in a lot of detail. We all have little mannerisms and preferences. Perhaps you like the toothbrush to be kept a certain way, the towel to be hung in a certain direction, to get ready by a certain time, etc.

You can’t however follow your usual schedule to the letter when you’re living with someone else.

This for a lot of people can be a source of trouble. You may also get to know things about the other person you don’t like. And depending upon the degree of your dislike it has its own repercussions.

The other case is you’re living apart. This was the case with a lot of people too. Couples who were used to meeting every day or regularly were stranded in their homes.

Yes, you could do Zoom calls and talk for long hours, but face-to-face meetings are their own league. And so, I’ve seen couples who were not strong enough to endure this phase.

They couldn’t be with themselves and feel the same feelings for the other person for example.

In both the above cases, I believe the main culprit is solitude. In the first case, you have little or no solitude. In the second case, you have a lot of solitude and you don’t know how to deal with it.

Whatever your case was, I’m sure this pandemic taught us the value of solitude and its importance.

Here’s what I learned about it.

Appreciating Something Requires the Opposite Experience

Life is full of opposites — ups and downs. The reason we like the ups is that we experience the downs. Without it, life will be full of anguishing monotony.

In fact, it’s made to be like this. The dark is made to exist within the light so we can appreciate the light when we have it.

Similarly, you can’t feel the joy of being together if you haven’t been alone. It’s good, thus to take breaks for yourself every now and then.

When you realize how your life is without the other person, only then can you appreciate the role they play in your life.

Companies sell us products by making us feel we’re worse off without them.

It’s important to have this practice otherwise, it’s easy to become ungrateful for the people we have in life. When you’re ungrateful, you take them for granted. And no one likes to be taken for granted.

You can see how this leads to fights and petty arguments. People don’t like to fight. They’ve just forgotten how it feels to be apart.

You Have to Be True to Yourself

If you don’t take time for yourself because you have a constant need for recognition, then something is wrong.

Often when we’re with others, we wear a coat over our original personality. We employ hundreds of filters that make us behave a certain way in front of others.

Over time, if you never remove the coat, the mind starts to think it’s a part of your body. And thus, your ‘fake’ identity becomes your default state.

When this happens, you can no longer relate to your feelings, emotions, thoughts, aspirations, and choices in life.

Only when you can commit to being alone, can you see the difference between your true self and your superficial self.

Again, the reason this is important is you want to be honest with yourself and with the other person. And if you never know what you truly want, it’s hard to make the right choices in life.

Solitude Prevents You From Burnout

There’s a notion that happy couples always stick together and grow together. But it’s just a pipe dream. In reality, rarely do two people grow at the same pace. And thus, people who restrict themselves to live a version of this pipe dream soon realize something is wrong.

The truth is that teamwork is important but if it’s not followed by individual development, it’s a waste.

Our loved ones cannot be with us all the time even if they wanted to. So why set such expectations? You can be in solitude and have a relationship. There’s no need to fill every moment, every void with the presence of each other.

Even if one person in the relationship has such high expectations, it will not take long for anger and resentment to set in.

People chase the feeling of “oneness.” But the feeling of “two-ness” is equally important.

Coming From a Place of Desperation

Too often when we need the company of others, we come from a place of desperation. Because we’re not used to being alone, we are with them like vampires — taking a lot for ourselves but not giving at all.

This clinging is extremely unhealthy.

First, no matter who you are, you will have to be alone at some point in life. And if all you feel in solitude is agony, you need to do some work.

Second, when you’re comfortable with yourself, you come from a place of abundance and “wholeness.” With this feeling, you can give the joy and happiness you’ve experienced to the other person.

You have new things to tell, new experiences to share and that’s what makes being together exciting.

The Takeaway

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” — Montaigne

Instead of seeing solitude as something undesirable, learn to view it as an opportunity to grow stronger in yourself and ultimately, with each other.

We are constantly deceived by the blunt thought of living alone that we desperately hang on to the branches of the tree so as not to fall off.

Sooner or later, you have to let go of the tree that you have been clinging to. Because for once in your life, you have to plant your own tree.

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Written on January 10, 2021