Sunday, May 10

Co-dependence

I'll open with a story: once upon a time, there was man and woman and they were happy. The guy would go out to work and earn the bread, lift heavy stuff and use powertools. The woman would cook the bread, keep the home and raise the children. There weren't many complaints with this situation, or perhaps more correctly none were aired - the guy was bored and unfulfilled at work, while the woman felt she was always under-appreciated. However they each stuck to their responsibilities, ironically, because of each other. Even more bizarrely they were happy with their lot and wouldn't have it any other way.

Then something went wrong. What that something was is beyond the remit of this bit of writing, but it could have been sucky men leaving their wives with no way of fending for themselves, or it could have been the women feeling that they were better than just mere housework. Whichever it was, the balance had become irreparably upset and women (more than men) decided to take action.

This happened on both practical and emotional levels. Practically, a woman would now be called stupid for not making sure she had a professional backup plan, while men were told they need to learn to do housework partly as a useful skill (it is), but mainly to enable the general redistribution of roles that was occurring.

On the emotional side, men now had their boys and the women their girls: groups of people who were the most important to them - sometimes more so than family. These are the people you went to with your relationship problems (you know, instead of each other) and the people you went out with (you know, instead of each other).

And now we find ourselves in the position where we don't technically need partners any more. We have our own money, we can keep our own homes, we have our own friends to lean on. Faced with this there's no purpose or even room for a partner. I mean hey: what would be the point?

I'd be the first to admit that I depend on my family a lot, and in the ways you might typically think I do. Where some people have seen that as a weakness, I see it as a blessing. The fact is that I could move out and learn to cook and keep a home (I like to think I know how to do the 9-5 already); but possibly counter-intuitively I just don't think it would be very facilitating to my general well-being. I want to rely on someone else for some things, just like I would want my nearest and dearest to rely on me for the things I can best provide. Just like my friends who had moved out of uni could never return home, it's this familial co-dependence that keeps our home together. It's also worth noting that being needed provides some self-worth to an individual too.

Traditional roles aren't the only way to distribute roles though; I mean sure, perhaps it makes me a classic chauvinist how I personally feel men and women are better at certain things, but that doesn't mean roles can't be switched if that's what's been agreed upon (just remember though: working can suck as much as housework). It's the co-dependence that's important here, not the actual things that make that co-dependence possible and this should be discussed and negotiated rather than assumed.

But it isn't just practically that people are becoming more independent: it's happening emotionally too. Married people now keep group of friends where the spouse isn't relevant or even welcome; some even wish to travel without their partners after marriage. The idea that only friends can provide a level of well-being and social process that a spouse can't disturbs me quite a bit - in my idealistic world you not only would one not need much more than a partner who is also a best friend, but should also contribute to your existing group-dynamics too.

The usual response to my stance above is for people to claim that space and independence are important and even vital components for a healthy relationship. I'd say that bailing, however temporary, isn't a solution but merely wallpaper over the fact that you can't bear the company of someone for an extended period of time. I recognise that practically you can't do everything together - but I think it's important to at least aspire to that. And besides, space can be overrated: parents can't choose to have space or time-outs from their children for instance. I would also disagree with the assertion that co-dependence is somehow a weakness, or barrier to development. I didn't need space from my family to grow; in fact it helped with that in a very specific and unique way.

Co-dependence means exactly that; the support should go both ways and not just be the woman depending on the man, or man on the woman. It has to be almost symbiotic, since this is where the co-appreciation stems from. This requires a consciousness regarding your roles and responsibilities in a relationship whether you enjoy them or not (leaving aside the pleasure one gets from providing for a loved one).

And despite the coining of the term Superwoman Complex I don't think any specific gender is the most to blame. In fact quite ironically most of my female mates agree with the article in that they are actually looking for co-dependent relationships. For some reason however this wish doesn't manifest in the actual searching process, possibly due to it being seen as a possible sign of weakness, or perhaps it's the concrete and possibly rigid definitions that frighten some people.

I would say that looking around, the relationships which I see lasting the longest are the ones in which the participants are the most co-dependant. Put simply, needing each other is an incentive to work hard to keep one another - one reason why divorce is such an accessible option now is because it literally is. I'm not implying that people should endeavour to stay in bad relationships, but if you don't need to stay in one then that could be an easier option than trying to fix or bear with it.

And finally just to qualify my bias I should say that I personally find co-dependant relationships far more attractive than independent ones. I've been raised with the idea that I will one day provide for a family - this idea is what got me through study and my early years of working rather than any kind of professional or personal ambition to succeed.

I think that that's an aside to my suggestion that they're the strongest though. In essence it unfortunately just seems that we're now looking for someone we'll be able to live with, rather than someone we couldn't live without. I know which position I'd rather be in.

Originally drafted 2nd February 2009