Balancing Freedom and Responsibility in Life and Love
What would you do if there were no consequences?
This is one of those abstract questions most of us come across at one point or another in our lives. It allows us to sit back for a minute, wide-eyed and uninhibited. In the Land of No Consequences we would have the freedom to do awe-inspiring things without having to think twice. We could quit our job and jump on a flight to our perfect destination. We could finally share that “I love you” we’ve been holding under our tongue. We could pursue our actual dreams instead of our outside-influenced dreams.
Concurrently, in the Land of No Consequences we could freely do things that are normally seen as inexcusable. We could cheat on our partner. We could steal. We could kill. While that may sound morbid and extreme, it speaks to exactly why we have consequences. They exist, because we need them. We can’t live in a world void of repercussions, because we have to be held accountable when we do wrong and make mistakes. We have to understand that others are affected by what we say and do; that our words, actions, and decisions all come back to us in one way or another, at one time or another.
One of the most important things in life is to have this understanding---that what we say and do affects others---and take it seriously without being trapped by it. In other words, we must find balance. If we want to live with more personal freedom, we must find the happy medium in which we’re not caring too much about what others think while not living solely for ourselves with no regard for others.
As we all know, this can be difficult. We, as humans, inevitably find ourselves lost from time to time. We wonder, How do I stay true to who I am if I’m still figuring out who I am? We struggle with what career to pursue and focus our attention on. We struggle to find that person we wholeheartedly want to wake up to every day and take on the world with. We struggle with how to lead a life that fulfills us. Every single one of us struggles. And while it’s wonderful to have support and receive advice from others during these times of difficulty, we ultimately have to know what feels right to us, even if it goes against what others think is best for us.
In dating and romantic relationships, specifically, we often get conflicting advice from others. If you tell one confidant that you’re interested in someone romantically but don’t know if there’s a future with them, your confidant might tell you, “Life’s too short to be with someone who doesn’t completely excite you. If you’re not confident in what you have, move on!” If you share the same thought with another confidant, they might tell you, “Just stop thinking so much. Time will tell, so enjoy it for now!” It can be hard to navigate these varied pieces of advice, because there’s truth to both of them. The fact of the matter is, there can be truth in two opposing things at one time. And that’s where life gets tricky.
What we all have to understand is, there’s a constant back-and-forth in life between the sentiments of live for now and time will tell. You don’t necessarily have to decide if you’re a go-getter or a planner, spontaneous or calculated. You may lean one way more so than the other, but there’s no reason why you can’t be both. We all should be both. We all should tilt the scales. There isn’t always a way of knowing what the right decisions are, so all you can do is what you feel is right.
And it may take time for you to know in you heart what that is.
So, allow yourself the freedom to explore. Give someone a shot if you feel pulled to do so. If it isn’t meant to be, you’ll eventually realize that. Your gut will tell you when there’s someone, or something, more out there for you, and you owe it to yourself to pursue deeper feelings and connections when you come to terms with that. It may not feel like it all the time, but there are so many wonderful potential romantic partners out there (and, of course, tons of not-so-wonderful ones). You simply cannot end up with all of them. You can explore the possibilities and date as often as you’d like to without shame, but when better, deeper feelings emerge for a certain someone over other someones, you’ll know it.
The same goes for the city you’re living in, the job you’re working, and the hobbies you’re keeping. You’ll feel it in your gut when these things aren’t bringing you the kind of happiness they should be. Maybe you feel that way as you read this.
It’s generally easy to know that something feels wrong or unsatisfying, but it can be difficult---sometimes excruciatingly so---to muster up the courage to make a change, especially when there are people counting on you. It’s hard to make big changes alone, and it can be even harder when your decisions affect the lives of others.
That’s where things get extra complicated. Unfortunately, in exploring our own wants and desires, we inevitably hurt others and get hurt ourselves. That is a bittersweet fact of life. We get hurt by others when we don’t want to, and we hurt others when we don’t want to. Each time we experience hurt---and joy, even---we learn something of value. What each of us does with that piece of value, and our accumulated pieces of value, determines our state of being.
You can live in a state consumed mostly by gratitude and fulfillment, or you can live in a state consumed mostly by resentment and defeat. I’m sure we can all agree that a life in which gratitude and fulfillment outweigh resentment and defeat sounds pretty damn good. It seems so simple, but people tend to complicate things. That’s another thing I’m sure we can agree on. We all have our own baggage---childhood trauma, heartbreak, and insecurities---that causes us to get in our own way and block ourselves from what is so simple in theory: leading a happy, fulfilling life. This kind of life takes self-reflection, work, and balance.
At the end of the day, only you know when you should wait things out or jump head first towards what feels right. And sometimes, even you yourself can’t quite figure out exactly what you want in your gut. You can’t always live waiting for something great to happen, but you also can’t leap towards everything that seems exciting. There’s a balance to strive for.
The best thing you can do is live your life, pursue what makes you happy until it doesn’t make you happy anymore, and consistently be checking in with yourself, your relationships, and your pursuits in order to find what makes you genuinely happy. In others words, award yourself the freedom to grow. Start there. Sometimes you’ll wait it out, and other times you’ll instinctively jump. Whatever you choose will be the right decision in that moment, even if it ends up being a “mistake.”
Never stop making mistakes. You should make a whole lot of different ones, continuously, for the rest of your life. Try to face the consequences your mistakes bring head on, and learn from every last one of them.
If you don’t, that is the biggest mistake of all.