In romantic relationships, we can all be a little clingy once in a while. I hesitate to even use the word “clingy” here because women are so often slapped with the “clingy” label for doing nothing more than exhibiting the same kind of behavior that men just as often engage in without the threat of being subjected to a reductive, double standard-bearing label. From birth, women and men are indoctrinated with the stereotype that women are uptight, insecure harpies (see: many, though admittedly not quite all Judd Apatow characters). The truth is that men can certainly be clingy as hell, and there are plenty of couples out there in which both members attach desperately to each other like Saran Wrap. This need to be together all the time, to constantly seek attention and love, arises from a sense of insecurity—in oneself, in one’s ability to hold on to a partner, in the viability of the relationship itself. However, there are some people out there—men and women— who are naturally independent and who bring that quality to bear on their love lives. They could teach the rest of us a few lessons about how to maintain one’s individuality even in the closest relationships.
I want to point out that “independent” doesn’t mean “distant.” People who see themselves as independent often use that as a mask for less desirable qualities: stubbornness, selfishness, and the fear of intimacy. (So if someone says they can’t make time for you because they're “independent,” feel free to cut them loose.) People who are truly independent know that they still have to be giving, emotionally-open partners, willing to compromise on important issues and to make time for their loved ones. Their independence is manifested in ways that ultimately promote intimacy with their S.O.s and the long-term health of their relationships by preventing the emotional burnout that many couples experience. Here are a few of the pages we could all take from the independent person’s dating playbook:
1. They spend time alone
Some people love having time to themselves—for many, in fact, it’s an absolute necessity. They like having time alone at home, going to movies by themselves, and eating solo at restaurants. This desire for solitude doesn’t go away when they get into relationships; instead, they learn to balance the time they spend with their partners with much-valued time apart. This time away from each other can be a powerful component to keeping the relationship fresh, and keeping the couple from burning out on each other.
2. They spend time with other people
Independent people maintain separate social lives from those of their partners: They have their own friends and attend their own social events, in addition to sharing some of those things with one another. Maintaining an independent social life is good for any romantic relationship because it’s simply too much to expect your romantic partner to fulfill all of your social needs. If you get to have fun hanging out with friends, you’ll put less pressure on your partner to be your end-all, be-all companion.
3. They don’t “check in” constantly
Some couples like checking in with each other many times throughout the day—through email, texts, and lunch-hour phone calls. But for independent people, this kind of constant exchange feels unnecessary and irritating. They’re ok with letting a day or two pass without talking to their partners; the break means that they’re not struggling to create small talk with someone all the time, and when they do connect with their partners again, they have fun new things to talk about.
4. They let their partners do their own thing
Independent people understand that just as they need time away from their partners, their partners also need to have their own separate identities. This approach can help the overall health of a relationship by allowing both people to maintain clear senses of self. Being able to comfortably spend time apart is also an indication that you and your partner are secure in the relationship—neither of you is constantly bogged down with worrying about what the other person is doing, thinking, or feeling.
5. They stand up for themselves
An independent person has a very strong sense of who they are, and, therefore, a clear idea of what they want. When you really know yourself, you feel comfortable speaking up about what your desires and limits are.
6. They don’t rush to move in together
For some people, being in love means moving in together as quickly as possible, while others are happy to maintain their separate living spaces for a long time. Having their own spaces means that they can continue to have valuable alone time (see #1) and that they can maintain their own domestic routines. When independent people do finally move in with their partners, they do so after a lot of thoughtful consideration and discussion of how their cohabitation is going to work, giving the endeavor a firm basis for success.
7. They travel alone
Traveling as a couple can be stressful, and some people just like traveling alone. If you’re in a couple made up of two independent people, you’ll appreciate getting to travel by yourself. It will give you a chance to recharge, you and your partner an opportunity to miss each other, and lots to talk about when you get back.