Since it’s Valentines Day, I thought it was a good time to turn the #30before30 lens on relationships. Flying solo, committed long-term, or somewhere in between: all three stages are tricky.
I never planned out a fantasy wedding. I’ve always said I’m quite happy going it alone. Yet there’s an incurable romantic in me, and I’ve managed to navigate more than one long-term relationship. Along the way, my understanding of how to successfully survive at every stage from uncoupled to committed has changed.
Part of this is simple experience—you learn from trial and error what really works. Part of it is simple maturity—I’ve changed drastically over the past decade from a hot-headed kid to a more thoughtful woman (or at least I’d like to think so!). I feel like the past ten years have given me enough material to write volumes about relationships, but for the sake of keeping it to one post, here are some brief thoughts I’d love to share with my younger self…
This feels like a curse to many, but it’s not until you’re coupled that you’ll understand what a gift it is to fly solo! This is your chance to explore, test, and develop who you are. No one can tell you that Fruit Loops aren’t an acceptable dinner. There’s no one else to consider when making vacation plans. The level of freedom is something you’ll probably never again experience in adult life. I wish I had cherished it more.
Singledom is also a time to improve yourself. We all make lists of the qualities we want in a partner, but what about the qualities we possess? Is the person you are now an equal to your ideal mate? If not, adjust for desired results. Practice being more patient, showing kindness, and communicating better. Learn to compromise, to forgive, and to apologize (had I worked on these sooner, it would have saved me endless unnecessary arguments). Like attracts like, so be the kind of person you hope to attract.
…on new relationships
I was a pushover when I was younger. This led to lots of situations where I bent because it was easier than saying a relationship was at a breaking point. It’s true that relationships are about compromise, but it’s also true that you need to know what your boundaries are and stick to them. Things that seem small early on will create issues down the road, so don’t ignore them because you’re in the hazy “lovey dovey” stage.
Also: don’t cut out the rest of your life just because you’ve fallen in love and think it’s the Best Thing Ever. I’ve done it over and over and have never not regretted it. Don’t neglect friends, your career, etc. just because you’ve got butterflies.
…on “what are we?”
Not sure if you’re long-term material? Better off strangers? FWB? Hint: there isn’t a right answer, because everyone on God’s green earth will give an opinion, but none of them actually have to live in your relationship. So decide what you want, and if you can agree, then it’ll probably work itself out organically. If you have two different visions of where your relationship is headed, it’s time to hit the road. Thinking you’ll be the human version of a magic bullet that changes a person when no one else could is a recipe for disappointment.
…0n long-term relationships
They’re the best and the worst. The best, because the comfort of having “your” person in your corner is a magic balm on the days when the world just really sucks. And the worst, because it is really freaking hard to commit to someone for the long-haul. You’re there on each other’s worst days, when life is shitty, when you don’t agree, when you’re bored.
I don’t think you should make any major moves to settle down with someone until you’ve gotten several years under your belt, because by that point the newness has worn off and you’ve had a chance to see each other through less-than-ideal circumstances. You’ll know if they’re really ride-or-die material.
…on long-distance relationships
They suck! Really badly! For starters, you both have to have an equal level of neediness (enough that you’re eager to jump through the required hoops to see each other, but not so much that you get insecure and jealous). You have to put in matching levels of effort (and it will take massive effort to spend enough quality time together), You both have to trust each other and you both have to be loyal at a distance. All that said, if you can make it work across miles, it bodes well for tackling other challenges down the road.
…on life after love
It happens. You’re permitted to be sad. You’re not permitted to do anything permanently stupid because you’re temporarily sad. Because yes, it is temporary, and yes, you will move on, even if you hurt for a while.