Freshman year of college means . . . FREEDOM! That was my perspective when I pulled my gigantic green 1996 Suburban into the parking lot of my first college dorm. A family friend used to tell me, “you’ll be homesick, you just wait!” But I knew that I wouldn’t be. I was too independent for my own good. I was prepared to conquer the world, step out on my own, and learn countless new things.
One unexpected and important lesson came not in the class room but from my college roommate: What I called my independence was keeping me from being free.
Freshman year roommates, you either love them or you hate them. I loved mine and still do to this day. But there was one particular fight that almost ended our relationship. And it was about a very particular thing: Her relationship with her mother.
One evening, we got into a spat that turned into something much more personal. I tore her apart for being too close to her family, for being dependent and needy and clueless—at one point even yelling down the hall. Why couldn’t she grow up? Why couldn’t she stand up for herself? Why did she ask her mother’s advice?
This all may seem silly and illogical on my part, and you’re absolutely right. This very irrational reaction caused almost irreparable damage between the two of us. But all of this transpired because I had an extremely unhealthy view of motherhood. In my mind, mothers meddled; mothers shamed, mothers yelled, mothers hurt—even physically.
After years of physical abuse from a mother suffering from emotional trauma and drug addiction, I longed for safety and freedom. I had to act in very specific ways to keep my mother happy, and I became off put by the idea of letting others into my interior life, where I was most vulnerable. For many years, my notion of freedom was simply independence from my mother and any relationship that might tie me down.
In hindsight, I constructed a very lonely frame of mind for my adult self. I determined that my personal independence could not involve other people. If my own mother treated me as she did, how could anyone else treat me better? Rather than becoming free, however, I became very guarded, calculating, and obsessed with perfection. I did not allow myself to make mistakes or be my true self, much less share that true self with others.
One day, everything changed. My roommate helped me more than I could dream by introducing me to her mother. My roommate’s mother was involved, but did not meddle. She had standards, but did not shame. She encouraged, but did not yell. She loved us, but did not hurt. This mother allowed her children to be adults, but did not forget them as her children. She held that memory in her heart as a home that they could always warmly return to, not flee from, as I had. I saw that my roommate was free but also experienced intimate and loving relationships. I realized that love and freedom did not have to be isolated from one another.
To this day, I am still astounded at what I learned and experienced in that short year. My roommate forgave my illogical frame of mind during our fight, by loving me through my mistake. This opened my eyes to a completely new version of love. A love that existed aside from perfection. My being a controlling perfectionist had bound me more than it freed me. With my roommate’s help, and her mother’s example, I was able to conceive of new possibilities, opportunities, and ways of life for myself. And what describes freedom more than new adventures?
I have learned that having close relationships with others does not necessarily imply true love or freedom; it did not in my relationship with my mother. But, having true love and freedom can absolutely include other people. And how much better if it does!