The Dangers of the Independence Agenda

Ella Beadman

A cultural shift has seen an increase in the encouragement for independence, particularly through social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, whether it be through the new promotion of ‘low-maintenance friendships’, the prominence of ‘situationships,’ or the stigmatisation of the desire for romance. While the focus on self-discovery, new experiences, and prioritising yourself is something to be celebrated, is the shift in narrative dangerous for its glamorisation of weaker and unreliable relationships that may help to fuel widespread isolation? Ella Beadman explores.

There are countless posts on the dominating social media platform TikTok, eulogising the benefits of ‘low maintenance friendships’. These videos have amassed over 45.6 million views influencing users to embrace this new approach to friendship. While the label can vary in meaning from person to person, it is generally understood as a form of friendship in which there is minimal contact and where long periods of time can elapse between each meet-up. For many, busy schedules and countless responsibilities makes this sort of friendship desirable for its ease and lack of commitment. 

Many praise these forms of friendships for being undemanding, easy, and comfortable and claim that they are ‘the only friendships that survive’. These boundaries in friendship allow for people to prioritise themselves and their needs in order to maintain a balance in their life. There are massive reductions in friendship guilt for having to rain check, or lacking the mental space to regularly check in with friends. However, given the loneliness epidemic, especially prevalent for those in their twenties with those aged 16-29 being over two times as likely to report feeling lonely, is this new approach to friendship doing more harm than good? 

Humans are inherently social creatures and need connection

While low effort is easy, it also comes with a fear of becoming a burden, a hesitancy to initiate a meet up or reluctance to send a text at the risk of being perceived as high maintenance. Friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson states that the growing ‘chatter around low maintenance friendships being the standard has people second guessing their very natural inclination to pursue relationships with other people in a platonic capacity’ and it has people ‘measuring their words, fearing their love is too great’. 

Humans are inherently social creatures and need connection. Psychological research demonstrates this as it has been found around the world that having social connections is one of the most reliable predictors for having a long, healthy, and satisfying life. Furthermore, there are correlations between high quality relationships, those being ones that provide both social support and companionship, and protection against mental-health issues such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, while friendships may not always be easy, it can be argued that they are essential for happiness. 

I personally do not think it is a coincidence that we are living through a period of widespread loneliness while at the same time promoting friendships which require no connection or maintenance, and simultaneously stigmatising a need for companionship and support. While I think that it is okay, and in certain circumstances beneficial, to have these low maintenance friendships as long as you are getting what you want out of it, I think there should be a reframing of it in order to discourage it as an approach to friendship.  

The dominant ideologies surrounding relationships in the younger generations seems to be synonymous with the giving up of personal freedom

This trend of low commitment relationships extends beyond the realm of friendship. In recent years, attitudes towards sex and dating have evolved to give way to ‘situationships’. This is a term which is used to describe the grey area between friendship and relationship where there is more often than not both physical and emotional intimacy between a pair, but no clarity on what the relationship is or where it is going. It is essentially a relationship without commitment. There seems to be a rise in the embracing of this kind of relationship in order to ‘solve some kind of need for sex, intimacy, and companionship’ as now, more than ever, there is a growing reluctance to define a relationship. 

Instead, people are putting an emphasis on personal and professional stability. Narratives around needing to resist becoming too attached to another person as it risks sacrificing the trajectory of your own life, are influencing people massively to avoid relationships. The dominant ideologies surrounding relationships in the younger generations seems to be synonymous with the giving up of personal freedom. These ideas create a dating culture that people appear to be adapting themselves and their wants to in order to establish some form of romantic connection. Massive numbers of people seem to settle in the murky grey area in fear of change, judgement, and the loss of the other person. While this form of relationship for some is great as it allows for freedom and autonomy, for others it is anxiety inducing and can wreck one’s self-esteem. 

Don’t hold back on the love you want to give and receive out of fear

While the emphasis has moved away from marriage and kids, especially for women, and shifted to self-growth which, while this is something to be celebrated, the expectations seem to be falling too far in the other direction. The wave towards independence does not mean that relationships and connections have to be given up in order to obtain this. Don’t hold back on the love you want to give and receive out of fear of being seen as high maintenance or dependent. 

Ella Beadman

Featured image courtesy of Gilles Lambert via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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