A Research Study Asks “Who Am I Without You?”

Partners develop shared friends, activities, and values, which all contribute to self-identity and self-concept. So when the relationship ends, the part of our self-concept related to our partners seem suddenly ripped away, leaving a void. We might look in the mirror and ask: who am I? Who am I without you?

In their research “Who Am I without You? The Influence of Romantic Breakup on the Self-Concept,” Slotter, Gardner, and Finkel found that due to a partner’s influence, your self concept clarity often decreases, while emotional distress increases. 

In fact, the study found that a “significant amount of the distress experienced by individuals whose relationship ended was predicted by the self-concept confusion they experienced after the breakup – beyond the distress caused by other aspects of the breakup, such as self-rejection.” 

And we see it in everyday life. In order to get rid of the “shared’ self-concept, many people often change their hair, clothing style, or find new activities or hobbies. However, sudden changes in behavior and parting with a previously established self-identity can easily lead us to a feeling of emptiness and confusion—is this really me? Who am I without you? 

So how can we preserve our self-concept clarity without being overly reminded of our ex?

One idea from the study is to participate in activities you shared with an ex with other friends, to reassure yourself that your interests are of your own even without your partner. You can then keep the hobbies you enjoyed doing with your ex, without being too uncomfortably reminded of him/her. 

As for changing fashion or hair, it’s a normal sign of beginning again. But maybe try doing these things with your friends, which will make the experience not a loss of your previous self, but a novel experience with a friend that can affirm your sense of self!

How Our Culture Impacts Relationships

When I first came to the U.S. from China, I was surprised but also delighted by the American enthusiasm I saw all around me: the big hugs and “perfects” and “I love yous” were so different from the much quieter and indirect culture in China.

In fact, research has found that in Western cultures, failure to directly express appreciation can have negative outcomes. Not being expressive can make someone upset (“You never even said ‘thanks’”) or make them question what it might mean (“Don’t you love me anymore?”).

However, in high-context cultures like China, appreciation is often expressed in indirect ways. Culturally, the social environment is much more focused on harmony, which requires each individual to contribute and participate as part of the social fabric. Standing out isn’t the most desirable thing, which means that directly and verbally expressing appreciation to someone might be similar to singling the person out. Even if it is for a good cause, that singling out might result in embarrassment. 

In stark contrast, Bellow found that “low-context cultures are much more likely to engage in overt and verbal expressions of thanks.” Take American hero movies (Marvel movies for instance!): there is often one hero who saves the world and receives appreciation. In this case, direct verbal and enthusiastic appreciation is highly desired.

And knowing these differences might help us in relationships, especially intercultural ones. Just remember that appreciation is just one part of a relationship. Bear in mind the general trend of cultural differences, but also keep your mind open and remember that each individual has their own way of showing love and appreciation.

Can An Intercultural Relationship Make You More Creative?

Have you ever felt like your world view has expanded after living abroad or in a new environment? Studying or living abroad exposes you to a new language, a new style of living, new ways of thinking. And new research shows that this also happens when you date someone from a different culture.

In fact, JG Lu’s research shows us that cross cultural relations result in increased creative thinking and innovation.

The study included three experiments that demonstrated how intercultural relationships enhances creative thinking. The first study is a longitudinal study that followed MBA students in a cross-cultural relationship for 10 months. Their creativity levels were measured through diverse perspectives and compared before and after the program. The results demonstrated “an increase in both divergent and convergent forms of creativity over time.” And there is growing  consensus in the academic circles that “the depth of multicultural experiences is the key predictor of creativity.” 

But although there is evidence to support that intercultural relationships can make you more creative, don’t feel restricted or intentional in finding an intercultural partner. After all, how do we characterize foreign culture anyways? Every relationship could be viewed as intercultural in a sense that romantic partners often grew up in different backgrounds and had different life experiences.

Ultimately, the effort and investment we make during a relationship predicts how much we influence (hopefully in a positive way) each other and learn from each other. Trying to understand and adopt the positive life attitudes of a partner can often bring about better relationships, as well as positive self growth.