confident young manWhile talking about some relationship angst with my friend Kathleen – married eight years to her loving husband Jay – she tossed a film quote my way.  Now Kathleen has been known to cite quips from Jane Austen to punctuate a conversation, but I’ve never known her to quote a cartoon.

She said, “You two can be ‘independent together’.”   As it has been about 25 years since I’ve watched the “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” cartoon, I had to be reminded of the context of the line … complete with a video clip from You Tube (just search for “independent together”).  The elf Herby says to Rudolph, “What do you say we both be independent together?” acknowledging that their unique qualities can exist mutually and respectfully in a friendship.  Now I’m not usually one to take advice from elves however, I think this guy might be on to something.

Kathleen and I had been discussing a recent email from my boyfriend Frank.  After the whole thing about him neglecting to tell me about his divorce/ex-wife (see “Lying By Omission”), he wrote to me that he had only one apprehension about our relationship.  Frank said, “My only concern for our relationship is your strong independence. I am a bit needier in the affection and cuddling department.”

Now I think that independence and need for affection are two different things, often confused with each other.  My strong independence comes from having been on my own since age 21 – going to school and working for the last 15 years in places far from my family – and establishing a life for myself.  I learned at a young age, from my mother’s relationship with my father and my relationship with my father, not to expect to count on a man for emotional and physical support.

This is where the lines start to blur into the affection “department.”  My father was emotionally distant and unaffectionate, so why wouldn’t I find ways to self-sooth and have a difficult time being on the receiving end of a man’s affections.

Frank of all people must know what it’s like to be independent from an early age.  His father was an alcoholic and his mother is mentally ill.  He raised himself and his sister – relying on extended family for affection and caring.  Obviously he acquaints physical affection with “togetherness” and that if someone doesn’t want to be on the immediate receiving end of that affection they are “independent” and rejecting the one offering the affection.  Every woman knows that even though there are times when they aren’t feeling amorous, it doesn’t mean we don’t love the other person.  And, in my opinion there are appropriate times and places to express love and affection.  In my book this doesn’t include: groping me on a dance floor or pulling me into your lap in front of your friends as if I were a trophy to show off.

I’m not saying that relationships shouldn’t be spontaneous – I love stolen amorous moments.  Nor am I of the belief that relationships should be negotiated like a business contract.  Everyone has their boundaries when it comes to affection, and if your partner loves and respects you they should respect those boundaries.

Being independent – having one’s own interests separate from their partner’s – is key to a happy relationship.  Spending 24-7 with someone would drive me crazy.  My grandparents are a perfect example – at 85 and 81 they are more in love than ever.  They spend a lot of time together and share mutual interests however, they pursue their own interests as well.  And they respect and honor the other person’s interests.  They are “independent together.”

My parents on the other hand exist in a pseudo-relationship — they orbit around each other but never seem to connect.  There’s no “together” in their independence nor is their respect in their relationship.  My mother is the worst of all.  My father enjoys riding his motorcycle – it makes him happy, he goes on long rides with his friends.  My mother finds every opportunity to degrade him and his hobby – talking trash about something that makes my father happy.

I’m looking forward to Frank returning from Afghanistan to see if we can create a health relationship built on honesty, trust, and respect – and to find a happy place where we can be independent together.

Photo by Jaysin, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.