It’s 8:30AM, and I am driving to yoga. Demi Lovato’s song, “Tell Me You Love Me,” comes on the radio. I turn up the volume, as I am already bopping to the beat of the song. Demi’s powerful voice and the catchy rhythm make me feel alive. I sing along, and, as I do so, I start to think about the words as they come out of my mouth. I’m sure this is a familiar experience: you get caught in the music without thinking about the meaning behind the words. But, as I heard the lyrics for the first time, I said to myself out loud “Oh, no no no!” One line in particular stood out: “You ain’t nobody ’til you got somebody.”
So you’re telling me that I’m not a real person unless I’m in a relationship? You gotta be kidding me!
After listening to Demi Lovato’s song and wanting wash my mouth out with soap, this matter of young women only embodying a sense of self in a relationship weakens women’s dignity and self-identity. I was frustrated. I was annoyed—annoyed that we, young women, can only feel complete if we are in a relationship. It is a recurring theme in our culture.
In conversations with a few of my girlfriends, I’ll hear: “I am only happy when I’m dating someone,” “He didn’t care that I am not skinny,” “I never felt so needed.”
I want to shout, “Stop!”
These statements are coming from a place of insecurity—a state that young women have a hard time grappling with.
Relationships can be very positive. Most people have an innate desire to be with someone. In a partnership, we experience many complementary attributes. We feel a sense of security, value, and meaning. Naturally, it’s exhilarating, but I’ve seen some girls become so absorbed in fulfilling the role of “girlfriend” that they lose their own self-identity.
If a relationship does not work out, some girls feel they lost themselves or do not know who they are. Consider when Demi Lovato sings in her song, “I don’t know who I am without you.” Some women, especially in their late teens and twenties, may be struggling with developing a full sense of self. Those who are may easily fall into this trap of believing that relationships are the only way they can have a sense of identity and purpose—the apparent theme of Demi Lovato’s song. Relationships become dependent, unhealthy, and heavily one-sided. We take on this new role for someone which we cannot let it become our identity.
I hear this word need from my girlfriends. A desperate, longing need to be in a relationship, to have someone to support their purpose and existence. It can become an addiction—a false happy pill. This isn’t just a metaphor; it’s neuroscience. When we are in a relationship or we meet someone whom we are attracted to, neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, and hormones, such as norepinephrine (noradrenaline), are produced.
In her article “Love, Lust and Addiction,” Family Therapist Darlene Lancer says, “[O]ur brain chemicals as well as our attachment style and psychological issues can lead us to become co-dependently attached through a romance or love addiction that feels like love, but more driven by our need for the chemical rush to avoid feelings of abandonment, depression, and low self-esteem.” Having this knowledge, it makes sense why these brain chemicals can leave us in denial about our insecurity. These are the same chemicals involved in all other kinds of addictions.
In her article “Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship,” Katherine Wu says, “[C]ocaine maintains dopamine signaling for much longer than usual, leading to a temporary ‘high.’ In a way, attraction is much like an addiction to another human being.” Relationships and interpersonal attractions can be abused in the same way as these other means of avoidance, and it takes a lot of self-awareness and work to create healthy partnerships.
We do not need a partner to make us feel full and valued. We need, as women, to value and love ourselves and be self-confident.
The need for a relationship is detrimental when it consumes our identity. Our society needs to evolve beyond the point where women organize their sense of self around men. Then maybe, one day, women won’t have to exhaust themselves spreading the message of positivity, encouragement, and confidence. Maybe we can reach a state where young woman feel comfortable with who they are. This day will come when we believe in ourselves and other women.
Women have other support systems besides their romantic partners. Demi Lovato’s sings, “I need someone… on days like this.” The listener infers Demi is having a bad day and needs support, but she also implies that this support must be from, specifically, a romantic partner. There is nothing wrong with going to someone to talk to, but remember that your social circle is wide. Your friends are here for you and they will always be there for you.
Your family can also be a great source of support. Professional help from a therapist or counselor can also be incredibly valuable for many people. Of course, having a supportive romantic partner can be a wonderful resource, but it’s dangerous to view a relationship as the only way to survive life’s challenges. Life is so much larger than your relationships.
As a young woman, I am not demanding someone to tell me that they love me. I only demand love from myself. It took some time, but that’s the state of mind I now inhabit. If and when I am in a relationship, I know I need to be self-secured and independent—confident that I can take care of my own well-being—not solely dependent on my partner to bring me happiness, to comfort me, to justify my body, or to give me a sense of purpose. I need to first be solely dependent on myself.
In the music video for “Tell Me You Love Me,” there is a hint that Demi lands on this same conclusion. The video tells the story of a relationship that ends in tragedy: Demi’s fiance walks away from the altar, calling off their wedding in the middle of the ceremony. However, there is an easy-to-miss moment at the very end of the video where Demi stands alone in her room, facing a mirror, and sings: “Everything I need is standing in front of me.” I hope that this is the true message young women take from the song: even when it feels like you’re desperately missing a relationship, you can find all the strength you need within yourself.1
Also published on Medium.