Love, Individualism, and Western Bootstraps 


August 27, 2021


Wanting a life full of love is totally logical and completely human. So, why do we sometimes feel guilty for needing or wanting others? I saw a meme once (which is basically the 21st Century equivalent of gospel. Not really, but stay with me.) that said, hyper-individualism is a trauma response. And I felt that. For several reasons, actually. One, America. Two, slavery. Three, my actual upbringing. 

This industrious individualism business is not most culture’s natural state. If you identify as a BIPOC or more specifically a BIWOC, chances are individualism has historically been used to isolate, manipulate, and exploit you. (Well, that’s intense.)  We are taught to celebrate our solo, bootstrapped, climb up to the top of the hill and then shamed for needing or wanting partnership or community once we get there. 

Human beings are community-oriented creatures. We depend on the interactions we have to shape our identity, beliefs, and values. So, of course you (if the “you” fits, wear it. If it don’t, put it down.) want healthy relationships in your life, romantic or otherwise. Being a part of a thriving human ecosystem is a measure of wellness. Wanting to experience wellness within the context of partnership is a reasonable goal and desire. The Ancestors were village people who depended on each other, it’s cool if you do too. 

And another thing, please let go of the notion that you have to compete for love or earn it. That’s that insidious western individualism at work. There is enough love to go around that is perfectly made for you, that you don’t have to do anything remarkable to earn. In fact, one could argue that our “imperfections” are actually an infinite array of opportunities for us to love ourselves and others more perfectly. Love that leaves room for us to “people” is that easy love. 

A community of like-minded people you can trust and depend on is waiting on you. There is the possibility that you have some “work” to do to expand as a person, but don’t we all. Growing and maintaining relationships takes effort, but with Intention on your side the load can be easy and light. Yes, there are risks involved. Some of them may even trigger an experience of harm from the past. But, baby, you’ve survived that. You made it. This can be something new. 

(Disclaimer: Some harm is not undone so easily and some hearts need help letting go. That’s okay. Check in with your therapist! Therapy is for everyone.)


I know that when people say, “love yourself first” they mean well. I get it. Self-love is great, meaningful, and powerful. Truly. But, the phrase reeks of individualism. It doesn’t acknowledge the perfectly natural human desire to bask in the warmth of another’s love. It doesn’t validate the fullness of a life spent dwelling in love, surrounded by a village, tribe, and community who knows you and wants you to grow. It belittles the feelings of wanting that sometimes come when you’ve accomplished everything you set out to do and then find yourself craving love. 

Yes, who you are is powerful and meaningful without a partner or a family. Partnership and family are not the measures of a successful life. There is joy without them and many deeply unhappy people who have them. There aren’t any obligatory milestones to achieve wellness and fullness. This is not an attempt to pressure anyone into expired milk ass patriarchal, heteronormaitve expectations that just don’t fit. This, rather, is an attempt to extend kindness to those of us who feel the urge to apologize for wanting a boo to love on, a best friend to cry to, or a crew to escape with. Needing other people and purposefully taking steps to gather them, and share your life and memories with them is a noble goal. 

In the meantime, who you are is enough. The risk is worth it, don’t stop trying. If it feels new and uncomfortable, don’t worry, you’ll grow into it. If you need a break and want to try again later, that’s okay too. 

Alexa, play SULA (Paperback) by Jamila Woods