Dear Carolyn: I suspect that I am dependent on my boyfriend to an unhealthy degree.
We live together and spend most of our free time together. I have a reasonable amount of good, close friends, but most of them live in other parts of the country. When it comes to spending recreational time – going out to dinner, movies, bike rides – my boyfriend is better company than most of my local friends, and when I make a point of spending time without him, I usually just end up feeling I’d enjoy myself more if he were there.
We’re actually really happy and get along well, but I worry that if for some reason I found myself without him, my life would be pretty empty. – D.
Life is going to feel pretty empty to anyone who loses a good mate. Or a great friend, or a close family member, or anyone who provides significant companionship.
I would describe unhealthy dependence on someone as exerting or submitting to control, feeling panicky when you’re apart, needing to be in constant contact, feeling that you couldn’t enjoy life again without this person, or sticking around only because unpleasant company is still preferable to having no company at all.
You can be devoted to someone, immersed in someone, and even willingly monopolized by someone, without sacrificing your independence – which I define as your ability to thrive on your own. It’s not the focus of your day-to-day life, but instead the underlying strength (or weakness) you bring to it that determines how you’ll weather a loss. “I’ll be devastated, but I’ll manage.” If these are words you can say with a straight face, then trust yourself and enjoy what you have.
If you question how well you’d manage, then you do need to ask yourself what your strengths and resources are; how you can address any deficits; and where you can start to branch out.