While recognizing that relationships with other people are going to essentially produce conflict and frustration, we must also consider how they are nevertheless important to us. Certainly the strongest relationships come about where each participant wholeheartedly throws themselves into the relationship, but while doing it is still important to retain one’s own sense of self. By allowing each other the freedom to pursue their own goals and interests, relationships can be of tremendous benefit to both parties and can actually add more meaning to our lives.
Unfortunately, people too often use relationships with others as an escape from the world. According to Simone de Beauvoir, the feeling of security may be comforting, but it can become a problem when people make the relationship the only source of meaning in their lives. Instead, she advised people not to become so dependent on one another that they can’t exist without each other. Relationships are much more interesting, and stronger, if the participants also enjoy the diversity of their own independent goals. In this way they are free to focus their energies on continuing to develop their authentic selves while also supporting each other’s goals, instead of holding each other down with petty power games. Relationships can have so much more to them if the participants are both strong-willed individuals and good friends.
Unfortunately, there is a common theme in western culture around the idea of finding what is referred to as a soulmate; that somehow there are people in the world who were “made for each other” and destined to be together. Since individuals are free and must therefore define themselves (that existence precedes essence is key to existential thinking), there can obviously be no such things as soulmates. Not only is this a useless romantic illusion, it is also dangerous. de Beauvoir argued that a belief in soulmateship seduces lovers into turning away from their own authentic goals for the sake of the relationship. Buying into the soulmate delusion is almost a guarantee of future frustration with the relationship.
Successful lovers are first and foremost individuals who take responsibility for creating their own lives and do not become reliant on a relationship with another person to be their meaning in life. The best kind of relationship, one without frustration, is one where the participants respect each other’s freedom and support each other’s working towards whatever goals they choose, even if it means pursuing goals that may ultimately pull them in different directions.