My boyfriend and I were talking this weekend about how my friends turn to me for relationship advice and he chuckled. He asked me why I thought that asked me for advice given that I haven’t been in many long term relationships. To be accurate, I’ve been in one: my current one.
I told him that a lot of relationship advice is about knowing yourself. Your needs, your boundaries, your quirks, your insanities. And that level of self awareness I’ve put a lot of work into with tools like conducting a growth inventory.
In fact, here’s a quote from the first therapy plan I wrote in 2014: “Understand if I am ready and capable of being in a long-term romantic relationship”. At the time, I had a hard time seeing if my idiosyncrasies and lifelong independent streak squared with being in a partnership like that. I didn't see how I belonged in one.
If I had to play consultant, a good 70 percent of your work in a relationship is getting a handle on your own bullshit so that you can communicate and negotiate through it with the other person. Relationships require you to be a good caretaker of yourself and figure out if and how you belong.
This issue of belonging is one that I have been curious about for years. Many people don't know that I grew up in Texas but never felt that I belonged there. I sought belonging through religion by living as a dedicated Catholic for years. After college, I thought I could find belonging by changing my physical situation, moving 10 times in five years. I didn't feel as though my body belonged to me so I tried to "fix" it with weight loss and defining my personal style through secondhand shopping. When I haven't been able to find the sense of belonging I needed, I cultivated it by building communities and bringing folks together.
As I'm building my strategic foresight expertise, I see belonging shifting in profoundly different ways that I'm keen to explore. Religious affiliation is down in the United States. The loneliness epidemic is growing worldwide with urbanization and displacement due to gentrification, conflict and climate change. Technology connects all of us, but often not in ways that support long-term wellbeing. Ownership over borders and boundaries grows more contested. Trust in a wide variety of institutions and authorities has decreased. In many ways, the avenues for belonging have diminished or become hidden.
But all is not gloom and doom. We have more ways to define our identities and communities than ever before in both physical and digital spaces. The wonder and transcendence we sought through religion can now be found in unconventional spaces like in elite gyms.
Belonging is a need that all humans have. So people will look for belonging in new arenas. They will pioneer new approaches to find that validation, support, affinity, and shared sense of identity that comes from belonging.
One of my intentions for this year is to learn in public and share my thoughts and learnings about this subject by writing about it weekly. Want to follow along? Subscribe so you get my weekly thoughts.
Comment below: What is the critical question that we must ask to enable more belonging in the future?