Why do people who are 17 or 18 years old get into relationships if the chances they can last is unlikely?

A student wrote to me, asking:

Why do people who are 17 or 18 years old get into relationships if the chances they can last is unlikely?

If you think about it, there are many relationships that don’t actually last regardless of age. So why zoom in to those years? The same can be said about any other age.

The real question is why do something if you know it’s likely to fail? Some people use this line of thought to justify not getting married because of the likelihood of failure. We might as well be asking: Why bother living if we know we’re going to die?

The point is that it’s about the experience. Not all experiences are good, and not all experiences are bad. But all these experiences teach us many things about life: what we really want, who we really are, etc.

Of course, being in a relationship at too young an age can lead to more hurts due to a lack of maturity and experience in knowing how to handle difficulties, conflicts, and hurts. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop people from trying, and from learning from their experiences, whether good or bad.

At the start of the relationship, my wife (then girlfriend) had many worries, and she said, “What if we break up? What’s the point in being together?”

My answer was that at least we would have had the experience – the joys, the sorrows, the happy memories, and even the sad memories – that would define us, that would mark a chapter in our lives. These are never wasted time together.

And if we have to go our separate ways, we’ll then say, “Thank you for the time together. Thank you for the happy memories, and the sad memories. Thank you for the laughter and the tears. Thank you the experience. And more importantly, thank you for sharing this chapter of your life with me.” And then we’ll move on to a new chapter, with a new adventure and a new story to tell.

Is it better to be dependent or independent in a relationship?

A student asked me a question about relationships, but I’m reframing the question a bit here:

Is it better to be dependent or independent in a relationship?

Dependency is never a good thing.

Here is something marriage counsellors will often tell you: “A healthy relationship is one where two whole individuals come together to enrich each other. An unhealthy relationship is one where two non-whole individuals come together expecting the other (or the relationship) to make them whole.”

What I mean by a whole/wholesome individual is minimally, one who is able to love himself or herself.

I think it is part of the struggle of the human experience to go through phases of disliking or hating who we are. I suppose it’s an important process of discovering more about we who are and what we want out of life. There can be no end to the amount of imperfections we can find within ourselves. We are saturated with imperfections at every nook and cranny of our being. And it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of self-disgust at every imperfection.

The Japanese have a concept in their aesthetic philosophy known as “wabi-sabi,” which is a cultivated ability of appreciating beauty in the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. And I do think that that is a very powerful idea to embrace, to be able to look at our imperfections in their full glory and learn to see beauty in that.

Allow me to digress a bit into this. One of the most fascinating things I’ve learnt about visual art is that you need to add imperfections either as noise in digital art, or “imperfect” brush strokes or seemingly “unmatching” colours to the canvas to increase the level of realism and beauty in a picture. If you didn’t do that, the image looks too clean, almost like a cartoon. In a similar way, I do like to think of my own imperfections as contributing to the aesthetic quality of who I am.

Why is this important in a relationship? Because if we don’t know how to love ourselves, we outsource the love of ourselves to an external party, and become entirely dependent on the other person to make us feel whole, and with it comes the insecurity of losing that wholeness. It often gets confused with the insecurity of losing the person who can make us feel loved and wholesome, and depending on the individual that insecurity may manifest itself in different ways: either sacrificing far too much of yourself or who you are just to please the partner in the hopes that the partner will stay; and/or, attempting to manipulate and control the partner in the hopes that the partner never leaves your grasp.

These are things I am sharing from personal experience. Because I was once in a relationship with someone who could not love herself. She was very dependent in the relationship, and thus was very clingy and fearful of losing me to the extent that I was emotionally manipulated into giving up a lot of my friendships and personal hobbies and interests much to my own personal detriment. And in many ways, I too am to blame for this, because I should have stood my ground. But I think at some point, I also forgot how to love myself and prioritised the relationship as if it would make me whole and wholesome, that I was willing to give up all these things that mattered so dearly to me. In the end, we gave up so much, we sacrificed so much of who we once were for the sake of preserving the relationship, that we both became empty shells of who we used to be.

The moral of the story is this: Don’t be dependent on your partner to feel loved and whole. And don’t be dependent on the relationship either. It is our lives and it is really up to us to make ourselves feel loved and whole. Relationships are meant to enrich us. Relationships are not meant to save us from ourselves. So don’t ever prioritise your partner or the relationship at the expense of giving up who you are.

But even if we make such mistakes, that’s ok. It’s normal to make such mistakes. Even I made such a mistake. I guess it’s an important learning experience, perhaps it’s an important experience for our own growth and development. Humanity seems to repeat this mistake again and again, and we know this because stories like these are recorded even in the earliest of writings. The history of humanity is filled with many stories of heartbreaks, miseries, and regretful sacrifices people made for the sake of one’s partners or the relationship.

We just have to learn to love ourselves so that we can be better and kinder to ourselves, our friends, and our partners.