Marissa Fellows
5 min readFeb 6, 2023

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The Dance of Interdependence

What is it all for, if not to give ourselves to one another?

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

I’ve often said that moving in with my parents at the ripe age of 30 gave me the most unexpected gift: learning anew how to be interdependent.

It was in the little things: a growing patience — and even endearing fondness — for the minor interruptions. The text messages received asking “Will you be home for dinner?” and the unfinished grocery lists beckoning on the counter. Routine banalities I had little tolerance for in earlier seasons now reminded me how precious time is; how little else actually matters more in the playback of a life well-lived.

You see, we live in a culture of hyper-independence. Of self reliance — and self sufficiency — in overdrive. A “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mantra with a self-help podcast and long, distracted scrolls through TikTok in tow. A culture that isn’t kind to unexpected duties, minor annoyances, or anything that takes longer than “real time” “at your fingertips.” And I was not immune to this pull.

It wasn’t always this way — as familial structures prior to the 1950s and across cultures have taught us — but we’re hip and modern and stubborn and have memories of goldfish. And so we forge on, with our fiery sense of ego to keep us warm.

Layered onto all of this is the complexities of modern romance. The psychological fatigue of excess choice. Ghosting. The finger cramps of the constant swipe.

The distinction between interdependence and “settling” — in the romantic sense — is an important one; an appreciation for solitude doesn’t negate the belief that your person — and your people — are out there. The more I realized how the people surrounding me were a cushion for the hardest, sharpest parts of myself and the detours of life, the more I realized that my sense of self was deepened by their presence; the more I realized that taking time to appreciate an individual for their unique quirks required letting go of the fear that they would never show up fully (or like what they see in return).

Because discovering ourselves helps us see more deeply into someone else, and the inverse is equally true: Learning to rely on others makes us better able to rely on — and give of — ourselves. We contribute better when we know that our actions have meaning in an interconnected world. Self reliance undercuts a much better way to navigate and thrive, but it’s also a protection we hold close when vulnerability threatens to shake our sense of stability. For a long time, I unconsciously felt I had to make a choice between my own growth and giving my energy to the needs and dreams of another for relationships to work. This is a fallacy many fall into, not knowing they’re short-circuiting what’s possible for themselves all out of a need to control rejection. As natural as this tendency may be, it keeps us from so much of the best parts of life. It keeps us in survival mode. It keeps us stuck in our own self-congratulatory comfort.

I like to think my last stretch of time spent in the Fellows Residence helped prepare me for the person I most want to be: solo and in partnership. They’re not so dissimilar, after all. What I found in myself in many years of hyper-independence showed me the things I most longed for, and also gave me love for the things that I find within myself, whoever I am in company with and wherever I go.

Susan Cain’s book spoke to me this year with its wisdom on longing and belonging. I wrote this quote down in my journal as I contemplated what was next for me in life, career and love:

“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it is not. It is an existential truth: only those who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of the other person — without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without readucing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.” — Osho (quoted in Susan Cain’s book, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole”)

I love these words (and the rest of the book, at that). They were a buoy to me at a time when I needed to know that my solitude was not in vain. That it wasn’t just a layover en route to a sunnier destination; a purgatory before relationship swept in. But I take issue with one piece of it: is dependency contrary to deep love? Or is it the foundation? If happiness is not given or taken, can it be gifted? Can it be a multiplier? Can two people enmesh themselves in each others’ lives without losing themselves in the process?

An underpinning of trust feels like the missing link here. If you cannot allow yourself to put some part of your happiness into the hands of another, the act of withholding tethers you to certainty…but equally chains you to your pride. Dependency — or, more pointedly, interdependency — is a signal that our happiness is bound to something greater than our sense of self. It’s communal at its core, going far beyond romanticism. The fact that it’s mutual — in both directions, freely given — is the social contract that makes this all possible.

In the end, I think solitude continues to — and always will — give me a vivid appreciation for connection. It’s less a contradicting duality — a darkness and lightness — but rather two sides of the same coin. Not only that, but connection to self — and the intuition felt in these powerful moments — makes me better able to see the needs of others. Not just better able to see these needs — and see myself in their longing — but better able to respond…and maybe even shorten a feeling of distance in the spirit of recognition.

Not too long ago, a soul friend — the kind that reminds me I’m never alone, even with my thoughts — helped me realize how similar fear and excitement can feel. Two sensations that crop up easily when finding your footing with someone new. The dance of interdependence — clumsy as it may be, with as many moments to step on toes as to glide along gracefully — is, like good old Garth Brooks told us, not to miss.

Starting with trust, deepened by moments of solitude, and discovered / rediscovered through the most redemptive bursts of happiness that can be — shamelessly — attributed to the warmth of another is perhaps the most human thing we can strive for.

Out with the facade of independence. In with the positive ripple of interdependence. How’s that for a trend to celebrate in 2023?

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Marissa Fellows

Civically engaged. Community curator. Hopeless romantic and hard-fought optimist. Food & feminism. Art reflects life. Recovering workaholic. Feel all the feels.