Love without ownership - by Amy Houldey

Love is an incredibly complicated concept, but the mainstream narrative surrounding love is often packaged up and presented to us as also being about ownership. This type of love that we see in Hollywood films and celebrity magazines tells us that when we do fall for another human, they become an extension of us, and therefore form part of our identity.

But this type of love can get messy. We might see ourselves owning part of the other person’s existence, leading to jealousy, control and paranoia in the relationship. As well as this, when we intrinsically link love with ownership, it doesn’t allow space for either person to truly grow into who they are, often leaving both parties feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.  

The truth is that love doesn’t—and I believe shouldn’t, equate to ownership. Instead, love should be the foundation from which we as individuals are able to grow into the people that we want to be. Love, in whatever form it takes, should enable us to thrive, not hold us back with rules and restrictions.

I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with my partner for just over seven years now, and throughout that time I’ve really had to work hard to break free from the idea that love equates to ownership. At times when I’ve felt insecure or unhappy in myself, I’ve tried to place rules and judgements around my partners behaviour. I’ve wanted him to be more like me, to do as I do.

This played out by me trying to control our living environment, wanting to have everything how I like it, with a total disregard for how he would like to live. I saw my way as the right way and couldn’t understand why he didn’t feel exactly the same as me. Instead of seeing his way as different because he’s not me, I saw his way of living as wrong. But I fell in love with him for who he is, not how similar he was to me, and I needed to remember that.

I’ve also struggled at times when I’ve been focused on my own personal self-development and have felt like he hasn’t been in the same head space. About three and a half years ago I experienced a mental health crisis and started making real change in my life. A long time before I reached breaking point, I knew I’d lost my way, I’d forgotten what was important to me, I was drinking too much, spending too much, and generally falling into a spiral of self-loathing. So, I left my career, started freelancing, and went back to university to study for an MSc.

My life drastically changed in a really short period of time. I had way less money, but I felt really driven, inspired, and as a result, I slowly started building a positive identity for myself that meant I didn’t need to lose myself through drink and drugs every weekend, which had been a staple diet for both my partner and I throughout our relationship. We were both party people and maybe equally trying to run away from parts of ourselves.

When I started to change my habits, I definitely felt like it created a barrier between Ollie (my partner) and I. I wanted Ollie to start changing too, but he wasn’t ready. It was a tough time in our relationship as we both tried to renegotiate what our love looked like in this new world and how we could both have our needs met. Ultimately, I had to accept that we were both in different places and that was okay.

What I’ve learnt, is that we all need to find our own path and invest in the things that are important to us as individuals. We need to be fulfilled independently before we can truly love ourselves and anyone else. We also don’t own our partner’s choices and can’t force change on someone just because it’s something we want, it will always turn out badly anyway as forced change doesn’t come from the heart. 

Throughout 2018, both Ollie and I have invested more in our individual selves. Ollie has taken up blading (a hobby of his from when he was young), and I’ve spent chunks of time on my own (something I’ve realised I really need) to write and continue my journey of holistic personal development.

Taking this approach to our relationship means that we’re both happier and more fulfilled in who we are, and as a result can both be better lovers, friends, and confidants to each other. It sounds simple, but it really isn’t. It takes work and a lot of self-reflection. It also involves accepting and listening at times when you really want to advise or direct the other person (something that I’ve been very guilty of in the past).

We certainly don’t have the perfect relationship, and like everyone, we’re both learning every step of the way, but one thing we definitely both recognise is the importance of our own identity and fulfilment outside of the relationship. 

This idea of love and ownership doesn’t just apply to romantic love. Children can often be seen as an extension of oneself, and as I embark upon parenthood (I welcomed my first child into the world in December just gone by), I’ve also thought a lot about what the role of love is as a parent. I want to be able to love my child without owning them, without inhibiting or controlling who they are.

I also want to empower my child by giving them information, rather than hiding things in order to try and remain in some kind of control, so they can grow into who they are and make their own decisions. I believe this is really important in terms of the child’s body, calling body parts what they are and explaining things such as sex and pleasure so they can feel empowered and connected to themselves and also keep themselves healthy. I don’t want them to feel ashamed or disgusted about their body, I want them to feel autonomous and able to explore it.

My goal is to provide them with the freedom to grow into the person they are destined to be in this world, and through this process I hope that they can teach me things about myself too.

- Amy Houldey


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