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By Brianna Wiest

To be an independent woman is to trust yourself. It is to believe that your life is about fulfilling your individual potential. And while that can and often does include a happy, loving partnership, independent women do one thing – one crucial thing – differently: they put themselves first in a world that all but demands they do the opposite.

Letting the life you’ve built for yourself intertwine with your commitment to another person can feel terrifying and strangely threatening at times, and there are very few conversations being had about what it means to let your desire to be yourself and be part of a pair coexist, if not merge. This, and all the other things self-proclaimed independent women should know before they fall in love:

1. You might fear losing the autonomy you’ve carved out for yourself – not because you’re going to, but because you care so much about it.

Committing to someone genuinely can feel sacrificial. It requires your brain to shift to consider the whole a lot more often than not. It’s a thing many women are naturally good at, and can be good at to a fault when their emotional and biological instincts are activated. The love we’re all aiming for is the kind that’s endlessly rewarding and deeply gratifying and entirely selfless. Being able to maintain your concept of a whole “me” and a half “we” is an extremely difficult balancing act, one that people didn’t really have to manage with such intensity before. So it’s scary – no matter how grounded and certain and confident you are. You’re allowed to be afraid of losing the thing you likely value most, but you’re not allowed to let that fear hold you back from other things you want just as much.

2. Historically, you weren’t supposed to maintain your “self,” which is part of why it seems so difficult to do.

You were supposed to find an individual to marry, have your father “give you away” (pass on the property) at the ceremony, take your newlyweds’ last name, and dedicate your life to your relationship. You didn’t have to maintain your sense of self, and it was more of an inconvenience than anything else. The idea that women can both be completely in love and completely devoted to themselves and to their life’s work is new territory, and it’s demanding in that we feel the obligation of our ancestors’ generations and the pressure of our own, and it’s culminated into this feeling as though we must do everything flawlessly (when in reality, nobody does anything perfectly… relax.)

3. Independent women are not made for relationships in the way that women are “supposed” to be.

We’re not completely, singularly devoted to one thing or another. We value our alone time and sometimes our work or art or well-being comes first. This does not make us unequipped for real love, it facilitates it. The more we ground in who we actually are, the more we can bring that person to a genuine relationship. But getting there often requires letting go of expecting a it to look the way the relationships we idolized growing up did. It’s rewriting the narrative of what a love is “supposed” to be, and how it “should” feel, not only on terms that you’re comfortable with, but that are a more true and honest and loving expression of who you are in and out of your partnership.

4. Independent women tend to have incredibly high expectations.

… And that’s usually the reason why they have trouble with relationships – romantic and not. We all know the “successful woman” archetype as it’s traditionally presented: a cold, calculated, unemotional workaholic. We assume it’s this nature that makes them always saddled with relationship issues, but more often, it’s that they have such sky-high expectations for themselves and for their work, they have a really hard time not holding their relationships to the same. The only problem with that is a lack of insight: you can change your career, but you cannot change another person to be what you expect. And so long as you’re focused on changing them, you’re not focused on loving them.

5. Your partner won’t be the most important part of your life, but they’ll be one of them.

Your relationship will come first at times, your work will come first at times, your self will come first at times. It depends on the time, and it depends how well you’re able to break yourself free of the obligations you feel subconsciously compelled to. The truth is that nobody puts any one of these things first consistently. People who effectively balance everything that is important to them in their lives learn when and how to prioritize.

6. You can be independent and also be connected, the right relationship will make you feel seen and respected for who you are and what you want.

If at any point your partner makes you feel guilty or as though you have to choose between who and what you love, you’re probably not with the right person. Or, rather, they are not the someone with whom you will be able to build a truly fulfilling life. The best relationships are the ones that make you more of yourself, not less. Even if your fears flare up at the beginning, the right person will reassure you that they are not only tolerant of the life you want, they not only support it… but it’s what they love about you most.

Image: Caleb Morris

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