By Marilisa Racco
The theme of “finding yourself” has launched numerous coming-of-age novels and countless angsty movie plots, but in some cases, when it happens to one member of a real-life couple, it’s not a cliché. Regardless of age, some people really do feel that they need to find themselves, but it may not be the best reason for ending a relationship.
“There are times when someone really does need to be alone and not distracted to focus on personal growth and development,” says Nicole McCance, a Toronto-based psychologist and author. “This is usually the case when people easily put others before themselves and they need to be alone to force themselves to put themselves first.”
And yet, if Hollywood is to be believed, oftentimes this person will find themselves in a new relationship shortly thereafter or running back to the arms of the person they just broke up with. The reason for this is because there’s no straight answer — it comes down to whether you recognize that you’ve found the right person regardless of whether you still need to find yourself.
“Some people need space to find their way in life; other people find their way while they’re in relationships,” says April Masini, a relationship expert and author in New York. “That said, if you commit to someone, it’s good to know that they are willing to make changes — both intra-personal and interpersonal — while in the relationship so that you don’t have to break up every time they need a new direction or clarification in their lives.”
In fact, deciding that your crisis is grounds for breaking up with your current partner could work against you. Especially considering that they can help guide and support you on your journey. If it’s a relationship in which you feel secure, staying in it while working on yourself can actually promote personal growth, McCance says.
“It is possible to find yourself and to evolve when you’re in a committed relationship. In fact, that’s how healthy relationships grow,” Masini agrees. “When you are with someone who is committed to you and the relationship, there is room for finding yourself.”
How do you know if it’s real or just a line?
Needing to “find yourself” can sound like a flimsy excuse for not wanting to be with someone. The experts agree that it’s akin to “it’s not you, it’s me,” but if the person is being sincere about their need for space, it’s a clear message that they feel they’re being hindered by the relationship.
“What they’re really saying is that they’re not happy and that they think the relationship (you) is holding them back from personal evolution,” Masini points out.
Hearing that can hurt, but it should also be a strong sign that you need to let this person go. This is not a battle worth fighting.
Does being alone guarantee that a person will “find” themselves?
Someone who jumps from relationship to relationship could be construed as being rash or incapable of being alone, which for many is a red flag. But being alone doesn’t always ensure a path to self-discovery.
“There’s a grieving period that is important to take place after a relationship ends. As long as the person feels that they have created space in their life to feel the emotions that come with the ending of a relationship — disappointment, hurt, sadness, anger — [they could be ready at any time],” McCance says. “For some, it’s a week, for others, it could be a year. It depends on the person’s resiliency.”
Likewise, Masini points out that people learn about themselves by being alone, as well as in relationships. Even the most self-aware person will continue to change and grow, and that change can easily be triggered by being in a relationship.
“Human beings thrive when they are in secure attachments, our capacity for personal growth is much more when we feel connected and in a safe bond,” McCance says.
The bottom line is, finding yourself doesn’t need to be a solo journey, and the security and comfort that the right person can bring you could help you find your way to the person you want to be.