Why We Overestimate the Importance of Independence
Picture this: I’m twenty-four years old, my purse is packed with not only my phone, keys and wallet, but also allergy tablets, tissues, and painkillers.
I’m meeting a friend for lunch, and I’m running slightly ahead of time. My outfit is spot on because I picked it out last night. I’ve called ahead to make reservations at a popular restaurant I researched and selected, and I’ve already had a look at the menu.
My career is going exactly where I want it to, and I’ve successfully negotiated a raise. I’ve learned how to communicate assertively with my friends, and I know how to change a tire.
Like a lot of other folks, this is the image I had of myself when I was eighteen: Capable. Organized. Resourceful. Independent. Again, like a lot of other folks, this particular fantasy has never played out for me.
All my life, I glamorized the idea of being a grown-up, of having my life together with no help or prompting. I thought I’d hit those magic mid-twenties, wake up the morning after my birthday, and suddenly have no problem calling the dentist to make an appointment.
Even last month, just before I turned twenty-four, I fantasized about how I’d magically turn into an adult as soon as I surpassed the age of 23. I’d make plans and keep them, I’d quit binging Netflix and read more self-help books, and I’d know how to talk to my landlord effectively and without having to google “how do I email my landlord” a thousand times.
I’m not a grown-up yet.
Much as it pains me to admit it (and much as it would surprise eighteen-year-old Zulie) 24 feels a lot like 23, which in turn felt a lot like 20 when I was barely more than 18.
I’ve got a waged job, two cats, a long-term partner and I pay my rent on time, but honestly? I’m not a grownup yet. I don’t know how to adult. And even though I don’t live at home, I still rely on my parents for a lot.
Most recently, my mom (bless her soul) coached me through asking the landlords for a better mattress. We moved into a furnished apartment, and the mattress was so bad with such a big dent in the middle that I had to cling to the sides at night to avoid rolling towards the center.
I called her when I was drafting my email, discussing this and that word choice, paragraph order, tone, and content. Should I include the fact I’d researched other mattress options? Was it best to remind them we’d been model tenants so far?
While on the phone to her, she reminded me that doing my dishes now would make me feel better later, and that I should stop buying so many clothes online because the returns were clearly stressing me out. My dad coached me on my upcoming job interview, and he reminded me to investigate my company’s pension plan.
In the end, I was able to convince the landlords to get us the new mattress, I washed the dishes, and I did all my returns. I looked up the pension plan and adjusted it to be more favorable to my circumstances. The phone interview went well.
But I couldn’t have done it alone, legal adult and all.
I thought I’d be independent at 18.
Growing up, I remember every age group above where I was seemed like the one who had it together. When I’m eighteen/twenty/twenty-five, I would think wistfully to myself at each preceding interval, I’ll finally be a grownup.
At eighteen, I left home without a second look over my shoulder, and I dropped communication with my family, convinced I was an adult now who didn’t need any help. I flew over an ocean to go to school in a different country and forgot to call home.
It honestly took me three years to realize though I was able to smoke and drink and vote if I wanted to, it still helped me to be told that if I packed my bag in the evening, it would make my mornings smoother, that it was worth making a doctor’s appointment for that bump, that I should keep a close eye on my bank accounts, and that being rejected for a job can be a good thing sometimes.
Obviously I’m still here, still a kid, still with no clue what the heck I’m doing, still out to sea and unsure of how to be a real grown-up. My parents made it look easy, and I’m surprised to be 24 and still a kid. But I’m glad I don’t have to do it alone.
We’re not a solitary species.
There’s a lot of shame in the Western world especially about relying on others. We prefer to idolize stick-to-itiveness, resilience, leaders and lone wolves. We don’t prize the ability to form bonds, to rely on others and be relied upon in turn.
But we forget that while we revere the ability to go it alone, we tend to be much, much happier when we don’t have to.
People in communities are happier. Close relationships, our support network, that’s what keeps us happy and sheltered from life’s storms. I spent half my life chomping at the bit, desperate for my independence, not realizing that being alone doesn’t make us strong. It’s not shameful to rely on others. It’s one of our greatest abilities, that we can form tight-knit groups of people who will help us when the going gets tough, and celebrate with us when we’re doing all right.
I call my parents for help, advice, support, and love.
If eighteen-year-old me had known how much and how often I’d rely on my family to be my support network, I think she would have been a bit aghast.
I had to learn it’s not bad to rely on my parents, that it’s not shameful to ask for help or not know exactly how to do something. I’m 24 and I ask my parents for their input on so many decisions, big and small.
Much as I love that image in my head — put-together-Zulie who keeps a Tide To Go stick in her purse in case of emergencies, whose laundry basket is never more than half full and who does all her meal-planning a week in advance — she doesn’t exist. She’s a fantasy.
Real Zulie, who gets to rely on her family to advise her and guide her? Real Zulie, who needs her friends around her, who asks for input on almost every decision? She’s actually real. And she’s doing just fine.