“Whatever, I’m driving.” — Katarina Stratford, 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999
Anyone who’s ever bought a power tool knows the special joy that comes with doing things yourself. Learning a new skill makes you feel smarter, you get to enjoy the end result, and there’s a smug satisfaction involved in knowing that you didn’t need anyone’s help. Assembling a console table without even a hint of leg wobble makes me feel like an absolute champion, it really does. I love doing things myself. I love finding solutions for problems. I love being a generally well-prepared person. I’ve worked long and hard to become skilled at independence, and after 11 years on the job I’ve achieved mastery. But a strange thought came to me recently: Is it possible for all of this independence to backfire?
I’ve been wondering if maybe never needing anyone is a bad thing. My independence has opened my life up to wonderful experiences. Solo travel, education, hobbies, and I nest better than most avian species. It’s a lovely thing, enjoying being alone and feeling confident in your own self-sufficiency, and I don’t regret the effort that I put into getting to where I am now. But I've come to realise that it's okay to need people too.
The thought came to me inside a MRI tube. For reasons that are not your business, I had two MRIs this autumn. (End result: I’m entirely fine.) The first MRI scared the shit out of me. I’d never done one before. I’m not sure if it was the confinement of the tube, the length of time I was inside, or the needle in my arm administering contrast — a very burn-y substance — but I was, in old fashioned parlance: fucking terrified. And, naturally, I was also kinda worried if anything was actually wrong with me.
I emerged from the test a bit shaky. My friend Conor, who is honestly more of a brother at this point, soon texted to tell me he’d come with me the next time anything scary and medical happened. I agreed, but as the second test approached I took stock of my emotions and assessed that I didn’t need help. I knew what to expect, and I didn’t want to inconvenience my friend. I told Conor I didn’t need him to join me. I was in and out of those unfortunate hospital gowns in an hour, and back at my desk by mid-morning.
But the concern that I’ve gone off the independence deep end is about more than major medical stuff. I’ve started to wonder if I’ve lost all ability to ask for help or comfort. When I travel, I bring my own coffee and French press with me because I like iced coffee first thing when I wake up, and I wake up at 5am. I never want to be a pain in my host’s ass. I could ask that they have a bottle of cold brew in the house, but I never do. I think about texting my best friend every time I’m sad or lonely, but I don’t, because I worry that I’ll come across as needy or that I’ll be invading her day. I see two explanations for this behaviour: First, I’m a lunatic, or second, I’ve gotten very used to never needing anyone because “anyone” has never been around.
But as I was protecting myself from the sadness and pain of not having certain needs met, I was ignoring an entire category of people: friends.
For far too long, I attributed help, comfort, and support to a romantic partner. I thought that’s what they were there for. And then I tried for years to find a partner and never did. So in order to comfort myself and ease any fears of not having the help that I needed, I learned how to do everything that needed doing on my own. But as I was protecting myself from the sadness and pain of not having certain needs met, I was ignoring an entire category of people: friends.
It’s not hard to see why I did it. They were partnering. Everyone was joining forces with their person, the person who would give them that help, comfort, and support that I was looking for. And it wasn’t just that they’d found that person, it was also that I knew that that person would always be their priority. It’s very hard to ask for help when you know you don’t matter the most to anyone.
Even now as I write this, I worry how sad it seems. I worry that asking an audience to read it is asking for too much. But it’s not my intention to dampen the mood of the internet. (That’s Twitter’s job.) It’s instead my goal to remind myself, and maybe anyone reading this who feels similarly responsible for meeting all of their own needs 100% of the time, that it’s okay to let friends help us now and then. Beyond being okay, it doesn’t mean that we’re imposing, or that we owe them anything afterward. It’s okay to let people care about us. But it’s easy to forget that when you’ve spent a lot of time by yourself. The easiest way to remember, however, is to think about how quickly and happily you’d help someone else.
I should have let Conor come with me to my MRI. I should have texted Swathi last night when my great aunt died. I should start practising asking for help, and not feeling guilty or needy when I do so. Because I’m neither of those things. I’m just human, and there’s no life skill I could learn or “go-bag” that I could pack that’ll ever change the fact that we really aren’t meant to be on our own all the time. Because sometimes shit hits the fan, and the clean up process is easier in numbers. We’re meant to need and help each other, to live in communities, and to rely on all sorts of people — not just romantic partners.
Adult friendship is so important, especially for single women, and anyone else who’s particularly susceptible to feeling alone. I’m still proud of my independence, but I’m coming around to the idea that it’s not the only way to live. I’m no less accomplished in my life if need other people, and I’m very lucky that if I need a reminder of that, there are plenty of people around to ask.