Are We Ever REALLY Independent?

2010 July 1
by Grace Boyle

I often talk and write about my independence, so do my friends.

Historically, my family, friends and boyfriends have called me independent: not to be pinned down, a leader, walks to her own beat, follows her own path – you get the picture.

I believe in independence and learning to rely on yourself for resources, needs and desires. I’ve traveled in foreign countries alone by plane, car and boat, I’ve spent bouts of years single (and being okay with that), I’ve relocated on my own with no one on the other end to ‘catch me’ three times before I turned 23 and I’m financially stable. That denotes independence to me – mighty woman, hear me roar. I take care of business – personal and professional. I stand on my own two feet and nothing, will ever take that away from me.

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But wait…is it all by myself?

A conversation, sparked between my brilliant friend about independence and another person making you whole made me think about a more evolved vision of independence that I have come to terms with.

That is: we aren’t ever really truly, independent.

I know, at first thought I got all fiery, growled a little and prepared my rebuttal but as I thought about it it’s true and I realized, why does relying on someone else have to be that bad? Why the bad rep?

Thinking back to a time in the past when I was recently single I would stomp my my feet indignantly about my independence and argue, “I do everything on my own,” (this story could be paralleled to so many of my independent girlfriends) – but really, my family and friends wiped my tears and fears away when I went through the breakup and felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed, my job kept me going with a schedule each day, I relied on my yoga classes and instructors for clarity and my professional mentors, helped me realign my goals and stay focused. I landed on both my feet, but with the help, support and reliance of loved ones.

These are some of the things I rely on and lean on for support: my hairdresser (for others colorist, waxing, etc.), clothing, my farmers market and local grocery store for food, my health care provider, my family, my parents (think of stages of life: as a baby, middle school, after losing a job, when you start your own family, etc.) my friends, my boyfriend, my car (subsequently, my mechanic) my apartment and roof over my head (property manager and the money to pay rent) and my job and the steady income it provides. See, common things many of us rely on, but don’t think about.

Jodi states:

Come on, think honestly about this.  Can you thrive without your personal board of directors?  What about your best friend? Mamma?  Papa?  Mentor?  Lover(s)?  Barber?  Barista?  I know what you are thinking, Yes!  I can and shall (thump fists to chest)!  But think more… all of them at once?  Forget about thriving, can you even survive without them?

Historically, coupling has enabled survival, evolution, beautification, innovation, enlightenment.  Coupling is the oldest, most trusted, most instinctual, most fundamental method of coping, method of learning, and method of achieving greatness.  Are we willing to say that coupling with multiple people in inherently more beneficial than coupling with primarily one? What’s wrong with making one person the primary source and benefactor of your gifts?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaning on someone or multiple people and resources. In return, often the greatest pleasure in life is giving back to those you care about and letting others lean on you.

I do believe you can stand firmly on your own and be happy. I do not believe in making someone else your happiness. All these words starting with “co” (meaning to bring together): cohesive, collaborate, connect and co-working are about joining together to create something better and more full. The important distinction can be in wanting, versus needing someone to co-anything together.

I would still call myself an independent woman. It’s just in my nature. I prefer to bootstrap and do things on my own, but in learning to ask for help and to lean on people in times of need and struggles, I think it makes me just as independent because I’m emotionally aware and attuned to ask. Knowing when to ask and rely doesn’t make me weak, instead, I think it makes me stronger.

At what stage in your life were you ever really completely, independent? What do you think?

Jodi ends with this outright thought:

I’m actually saying it.  If the spirit moves you, find yourself completely (what’s that bad word again?) co-dependent.  Completely, co-creating.  Completely co-piloting.  Completely, complete.  And if this is too scarey of a place for you, get off your butt right now a look at yourself in the bathroom mirror.  Were you ever really independent?

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  • doniree

    Oh, Grace – you so beautifully weaved together Jodi's words with the subsequent conversations that have followed, more than once and in considering girlfriends and boyfriends and love and heartbreak and friendships and family. You're right – she's right, and everything I learned in Interpersonal Psych in college is right – we are meant for companionship, whether that means romantic love or simply having a support group, we are not built for independence forever and only. I think it's crucial to know your own strength, to trust in your own abilities to make things happen – to bootstrap as you say – but I think that it's a beautiful thing to CO-everything and “create something better and more full.” Ah, this is just so beautiful :)

  • suki

    I consider myself to be independent, but I'm hardly ever without the boyfriend these days.

    I think the “independent” fits in more with how decisions are made and how one is motivated. Being in a relationship and working together with someone doesn't make a person dependent either.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Doni Thank you dear! It has been quite the realization for me – knowing that independence doesn't quite mean what I thought it was and as Jodi even went as far to say, it's sort of bullshit 😉 You know what I mean.

    Co-anything together with someone is so gratifying and helps us become even more. Thanks for sharing the love and thoughts!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Suki But what is so wrong with dependent? If you're hardly ever without the boyfriend these days I am sure there are things you DEPEND on him for and that's great! I suppose the emphasis of this post is that we actually rely and depend on a lot of people and co-dependence as Jodi states, has a bad rep. Co means to join together and as long as we still represent ourselves, we connect and come together with many people such as friends, family, etc.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  • suki

    Being “dependable” and “reliable” doesn't have a negative rep, but the one
    being “dependent” and “reliant” often is seen as weak or incapable. It
    probably has a lot to do with the connotation that dependence and reliance
    means that you can't do it on your own when in fact you can, and being
    reliant on someone else can also just enhance rather than over the
    experience altogether.

  • Grace Boyle

    I totally agree with you. In part of writing this, let me see the new way I view independence and that I am dependent and rely on many people and I've been CALLED and FEEL like an independent women. The two can exist.

    As I ended, I feel stronger when I ask for help because I know that everyone needs help at some point in your life. Some people struggle to do things on their own and if they simply asked for help (give and receive) it could have been easier or more efficient.

    I like this that you said:

    “It probably has a lot to do with the connotation that dependence and reliance
    means that you can't do it on your own when in fact you can, and being
    reliant on someone else can also just enhance rather than over the
    experience altogether.”

  • Meghan Butler

    Excellent post. I think that being independent is the best thing for you but I also think that there's some merit in sometimes leaning on people. I've also been a fiercely independent gal (I found myself nodding with every “independent” point you made in the first paragraph).

    I think all too often we think that leaning on other people means that we *need* them when that doesn't have to be the case. Can't we, as independent gals, enjoy our freedom and *want* people to lean on occasionally? Can't we still do things ourselves and get out there but then have a warm body and kind words to come home to? Just because we're independent and hold the world on our shoulders sometimes doesn't mean that it's any less comforting to know that we have someone there should we trip.

    I've spent many years pushing people away because I was too independent and oh-my-goodness have they been a rough few years. Over the last year I've been put in a position where I've had to rely on people more and it's truly an amazing feeling. I don't think it's an question of being truly independent, I think it's a question of strength – having the wherewithal to sustain your boundaries and allowing yourself to lean sometimes – but not always.


  • sameve

    This is a great post, Grace! I think it's possible to be independent and dependent at the same time, as weird as that sounds. You can be an independent thinker, someone who is confident in her own decisions and beliefs, and has the courage to take on new adventures on her own, but still call your parents or best friend for a pep talk. I totally agree that there is nothing wrong with asking for help and leaning on the people who care about you. You're right that it doesn't make you weaker, it makes you stronger.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Meghan Thank you for such an eloquent comment. It seems like we have much in common and even characteristics as fellow “independent gal's” :)

    That is my fear…that we push people away or don't reach out, just to prove our independence or that we are strong when really, I think it's weak to do so. As you have mentioned, pushing people away isn't always easy or helpful. Relying on people is beautiful and I think we're hardwired to find companionship, in many different people, services and avenues.

    I like your last sentence especially about a question of strength – to sustain your boundaries – a give and take, if you will.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Sam It has been quite the realization for me to come to… this post speaks measures about how I feel as an adult and knowing that relying and depending on people is actually wholesome and doesn't make me any less “independent.” For that, thank you for your support and amazing comment!!

  • Emailstacy47

    That's something I came to terms with when I began dating my boyfriend. I've always considered myself independent as well, but as you said, a person doesn't do everything on their own… there's someone there to lean on. Great post. :)

  • jennyblake

    I was about to comment, then read Doni's and she just took the words out of my mouth – so beautifully. I loved this post and Jodi's too – they are both a wonderful reminder and reassurance that no matter how independent we may be, it's absolutely okay to share with, lean on, and even rely on others. I too been picked up from heartbreak, celebrated for big accomplishments, and encouraged to keep going – all from friends and family…never alone. I don't know where I would be without them.

    On that note…<3 you both!

  • David

    Jodi’s blog makes my brain hurt with deep thoughts – I love it!

    Like a Miss Independent (but with boy parts), I do like to believe I can do it all myself. It makes me feel macho and strong to say I can handle it all on my own and that I don’t need anyone to help me. But the truth is, sometimes things get hard. Too hard to go alone. (Something you will rarely, if ever, hear me say outloud.) Or maybe it’s that I just don’t WANT to go it alone?

    And that’s when you need/want a support system. Even guys need/want to know that someone is there for them. We all need/want a cheering section, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on at times. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it makes us human – healthy humans in healthy relationships.

    Besides, what’s wrong with taking care of a woman if she takes care of me?

  • Grace Boyle

    @Emily Thanks for sharing and thanks for your kind words about the p0st. Glad to hear you enjoyed it and resonated with it.

  • Grace Boyle

    @David Yes, beautifully put. Each person (no matter the gender) taking care of each other, creates a beautiful balance and doesn't make anyone, any less independent.

    Like I said, people can go at it alone, but sometimes it's even more inefficient to do so and creates walls where you're pushing people away. Embracing the help and being helped is so gratifying!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Jenny You often write about this (did you see, I linked to you in the first sentence;) about having that independence but knowing it's okay to “want” someone and companionship. It makes us human and real.

    Thanks for your kind words and always loving support xoxo

  • Susan Pogorzelski

    Grace: I love this post. As someone who considers herself independent and self-reliant, this is a great reminder that we're not really alone. In fact, I don't know where I would be without the support system from my family, particularly my mom and dad with whom I'm so close.

    I wrote a post last week about how love exists in many forms, but we usually just tend to link that to romantic love. I think the same might go for independence, as you and your friend discussed. We may believe ourselves to be independent — and in many cases we just may well be — but I think we need people far more than we realize. And those people that we tend to rely on — whether knowing it or not — come in so many forms, are in our lives everyday.

    As much as we may want to be independent, it's pretty incredible to see the kind of support we have all around us when we need it.

    Beautiful post, Grace.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Susan Yes, very good comparison between the many forms of love. Independence is the same and it just doesn't have to be a romantic kind of reliance, as we all know, there are family, friends, co-workers, pets, etc. that we can rely on to support us (and visa versa).

    Thanks for your kind words!

  • Susan Pogorzelski

    I have to admit, I love the idea that our pets can support us just as much as we're responsible for them. Off topic? Yeah, a bit. But thinking of Riley in that way makes my heart fuzzy and my OK-day ten times better. Well done, Grace! 😉

  • jennyblake

    I did see that…thank you! :)

    Have an AMAZING long weekend!!

  • clearlycomposed

    Really informative and thoughtful post. I am glad we depend and rely on each other to an extent. Giving is such an enormous blessing and if nobody ever needed support, encouragement or feedback we wouldn't be able to give from our hearts and miss out on a truly remarkable feeling. Being able to accept the generosity of others is being open and willing to say…I don't want to do this alone and there's no reason that I have to do so. :)

  • andreavlewis

    Great topic (and timing) Gracie! During the ages of 19-27 I considered myself independent because I answered to no one but myself. Like you, I had a support team made up of parents, boyfriends, friends, therapists and pets that I relied on to give me advice, support and companionship.

    Now as a married woman, I still rely on my support team. The only difference is that my husband gets a vote, but I still rely on family, friends, therapists, pets, etc… for their advice, guidance and companionship.

    I still consider myself independent in terms of having my own thoughts, ideas and ways of doing things. That will never change. I think the only thing that changes is the dynamics of your team.

    Happy Fourth of July Gracie!

  • Conor

    I was going to try and write a comment with some wise words, but in the end I don't think you need any wisdom from me. Thanks for sharing. I fight hard to be independent, but have realised at various key moments that it is not bad to be dependant.

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  • Grace Boyle

    @Conor We all need a little wisdom from each other :) Thanks for stopping by – your line sums it up nicely “at various key moments that it is not bad to be dependent.”

  • Grace Boyle

    @Andrea I replied to you on the Brazen version of this post but just wanted to thank you for sharing your story before and after married life. It's always a good snapshot and I totally agree with you :)

  • Grace Boyle

    @Clearlycomposed I'm glad to hear that you like it. You're very right that accepting generosity and even being open to trusting others shows magnitude of strength and composure, as well. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Elisa Doucette

    It's a delicate line to walk between independent and closed off. I think there are many people who are of the belief that independence means doing everything on your own, but in reality it just means not NEEDING to depend on others for EVERYTHING. Cause truly, how can you attain independence if you don't first know how to depend on yourself.

    That being said, I am a habitual offender of the closed off “independence” rather than the actual independence. Plowing through and not letting anyone close or in, struggling to always “do things myself” and relying on no one. This isn't independence, it's foolishness.

    The true beauty of life lies not only in the moments that we are able to take care of ourselves and others, but also in the times of allowing others to take care of us.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Elisa Thanks for the RT and what a beautiful comment. For me, this was such a self-actualization post because it was something I finally came to terms with.

    I love this:
    The true beauty of life lies not only in the moments that we are able to take care of ourselves and others, but also in the times of allowing others to take care of us.

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  • Pratik Patel

    We are dependent and we can’t escape from this fact. But certainly we can create beautiful life from dependency. Please refer my blog:


    I am an independent person who is quite melancholy and is a(n) misanthrope of sorts who has a schizoid personality disorder. Personally define independence as self reliance but I am so because I am afraid of emotional response in general. Being that, I tend to make decisions on a personal basis instead of empathizing with others feelings because I have my own to think about. On that note. I am by choice independent. I eat alone. Because I have to study people in sociological patterns to assimilate as a normal functioning member. I am a chameleon you could say. From this outsider perspective, I can say that none who are part of something bigger than themselves such as work structure or the reliance of a government, are truly independent. Such is the philosophy of antidisestablishmenterialism. Which is a key influence of modern day bhuddism and nihilism. To live within is to live without. You can find many answers to life’s mysteries if you look within in a dedicated manner.

  • Nightvid Cole

    No one is independent. This is why solitary confinement is torture. Without the contact of another human being, many if not most of us would eventually become suicidal. We also use things that were invented and built by other people.