Oftentimes in marriage we lose ourselves in the identity of the collective. I am not Steven… I am Sandy’s husband, and vice versa. There is a Hallmark card romanticism in this, of course, because it plays off of a basic insecurity that most of us feel: But for our partners, we are lost, uncompleted, and empty. With them at our side we have confidence, security, and, at a most basic level, companionship!
When two people come together and form a relationship, a third entity is created… the relationship itself. This is not relegated exclusively to the marital construct; it exists across all levels of human interaction. Each connection beyond that of an acquaintance takes on a personality of its own and, like a person, it has certain nutritional requirements. Sometimes the amount of time and dedication given to the relationship causes an atrophy to manifest in the original individual partner.
We all have some experience with this. Sometimes it is tangential. We have seen the couples who stay together for no other real reason than they are “together” in the first place. The individuals who created the collective have withered away, and the only thing left is the social construct that exists between them.
“You complete me” may have a dubious connotation… For that completion may spell the end of the original individual.
This also transcends the connection between two people. Tribes and groups have a unique personality of their own that often creates demands on the individual that are all-encompassing. The mistress of the elite collective is a jealous mistress who will accept no rivals, even that of the individual maintaining a separate identity.
When the individual is separated from the collective, the identity of that individual is similarly shattered. Sometimes the demands of the collective are so great, the membership in it so odious, that separation becomes one of self-preservation. Still, it comes with a crisis of conscience.
“What am I now that I am alone?”
“How am I to be defined?”
Last week I read about Leonid Nevzlin. Mr. Nevzlin is… or rather was… a Russian oligarch and, to be sure, not a particularly well liked one by Vladimir Putin, but an ultra-rich Russian nonetheless. Ten or 15 years ago, Putin had had enough of Leonid’s independent streak and tried to have him killed. Discretion being the better part of valor, Mr. Nevzlin took his billons (and his special security detail) and fled the country. But he still maintained his Russian passport. After all, he may be estranged from the collective, but he still had his self-identity wrapped up in it.
Last week he renounced his citizenship due to the invasion of Ukraine. He had enough. No longer did he want to be defined as a Russian.
Still it took him almost a decade to do it, and the actual renunciation was a melancholy affair.
There is a pride that exists in being in a tribe, a group, a marriage, or, more generally, a collective. Membership has an exclusivity about it. By being in it we have been accepted, and it is easy to define ourselves more by what we are not, than what we are.
Yet, we were born as individuals, and, in the end, the shaking off of this mortal coil is a deeply personal and ultimately individual event.
The time between cannot be spent lurching for identity between one collective and another. We must endeavor to not lose ourselves. We must maintain that which ultimately gives us dignity: our rugged, unique, individualism.
This is by no means a screed against marriage, membership in a club, or even the patriotism that is appropriately felt by a majority of our citizens (well, hopefully).
It is a clarion call, though, to each of us. We come together, and we stay together, based on the commitments we have made to our partners in the collective. We also stay because of the continual benefit that we receive as individuals within that collective. When the individual is diminished for the benefit of the collective as a whole, or worse, for certain select members of the collective, then the organization, or relationship has metastasized into something dangerous.
The dignity that you have is not dependent on the whims and accolades of others. It comes from the internal recognition that you, as an individual, have value and you willingly and generously give your energy to the collective for the benefit of others, as well as yourself.
The moment “yourself” has been lost, so has the justification of the tribe.