Although we are all autonomous individuals (or at least we should be) everyone wants to belong. I mean no one wants to commodities themselves in that way, making themselves a personal belonging of another person. But there is a psychology behind wanting someone to be yours.
What does it mean to belong?
The noun “belonging” has various meanings. But the most important meanings in relation to this post are “possession” and being accepted into something greater than oneself, like a relationship or a community. The former is wrong in a relationship as it signifies an individual having control and power over another because they belong to them in the same way that their shoe belongs to them. The latter, however, is what the majority of us want in a relationship. You want to know that your significant other belongs to you exclusively in terms of both their emotions and sexuality.
Why do we feel like we need to belong?
Like most things, our need to belong to someone or a community stems from our primal instincts. Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary (1995) argue that belonging is crucial to the development of long-lasting, positive relationships. It is therefore fundamental to human interaction and without it communities wouldn’t grow. If you didn’t want to belong to your family or your culture you’d probably leave ultimately resulting in 7.7 billion (and counting) different communities. Thank God we did not evolve to be that way. In order to develop this sense of “belonging” you need “(a) frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals, and (b) engaging in these interactions within a framework of long-term, stable care and concern.” Although it may seem fun and exciting to continuously change romantic partners, eventually the need for stability, the need to belong, kicks in.
After finding this out I took time to reflect. I was the type of person who continuously wanted to be loved. It’s not that I’m not loved by my family because I’ve seen time and time again how many sacrifices they’d make for me. The problem was that I felt like I didn’t belong. There was so much going on in my life that I kept to myself and over the years it meant the crucial positive interactions that Baumeister and Leary say create a sense of belonging, weren’t happening. I began to search continuously for that sense of belonging in relationships. I mean, looking back that’s what I was doing, But at the time it felt normal to never be single. It didn’t work for several reasons. The obvious being that some men are just trash. But aside from that I just wasn’t ready to be in relationships. I wasn’t ready to belong to someone outside of my family. But because I had an image in my mind of what a relationship looked like and what the guy I wanted to be with looked like, I ignored the fact that at times it was all just forced.
Baumeister and Leary “maintain that belongingness is essential if romantic love is to produce bliss, and in romantic belongingness mutuality is indispensable.”
I didn’t feel that way at all. Not to say that people are dispensable but leaving relationships hasn’t always been hard for me. But surely if I really had that need to belong to someone it would be difficult to leave? Looking back there were times where based on this I was probably the cause of the break up. Not every guy I got into a relationship with was indispensable, not every friend I made was indispensable. Quite the contrary in fact. It’s always been so easy to get rid of people.
Baumeister and Leary conclude that, “love is highly satisfying and desirable only if it is mutual.” Hence, when love “arises without belongingness, as in unrequited love, the result is typically distress and disappointment.”
They also concluded that people who didn’t belong were more likely to be stressed, unhappy and have poor health which could lead to mental illnesses or even result in suicide.
So, what exactly am I saying?
And although not everyone shares the same beliefs on marriage or relationships before marriage, its only now that I understand why my parents tried so hard to shield me from dating at a young age. Think of it this way: You start dating at let’s say age 16. By the time you hit 26, ten years later, how many people would you have dated? Maybe in this generation a relationship is too much so how many people would have tried to belong to? Whether that is as a friend or more? The constant exposure to inconsistent relationships and temporary fixes to the need to belong become a routine. When you do finally settle down and try to belong to something it becomes difficult to stay when things get hard because you’re so used to not even reaching that point where you belong. If you cannot create positive connections with the people you’re already supposed to belong to it becomes harder to truly want to belong to someone. Instead it’s just several hopeless attempts to fill a void.
I’ve stayed single and I will try to do so until I feel like I belong to my family and they belong to me. Obviously, human emotions aren’t robotic and at times I will feel like there is a connection or a possible friendship/relationship between me and another individual. But I’ve realised that it just isn’t worth the depression and stress that comes from unrequited love or failed friendships. And that when I’m truly ready to belong to someone, I will.
Belong to the people that want to belong to you.
Love the people who will show you that love back.
Never, ever, settle for less.