A tale of two girls—one single, one in a committed relationship—discovering the perfect relationship (because yes, it exists!)
The girl in a relationship
My partner and I got together just about five years ago now, after being friends for a number of years before that.
At first it was like a Nora Ephron movie. We brought picnics of crusty bread, strawberries and wine to the river. We hung twinkling lights on the patio and held hands, kissing under the full moon. We wrote love letters and mailed each other care packages.
No romance I’d been in before had ever started like that: quirky and nurturing and sort of movie-perfect.
It left me feeling like my skin was singing. It felt like he loved all the things about me I’d not been hiding to make a better first impression. Our relationship was exciting and new, but it felt more grounded than anything I would ever have expected.
After I moved to his city, we were living together within a few months. And it was perfect. It was everything I’d ever wanted, and I made the mistake in thinking that because we had been friends first, it would continue to be as magical, forever.
Then we both got new jobs. As we put deeper roots into our careers, our life together got further and further away.
While there was the definite comfort of domesticity and of having daily sleepovers with my best friend, I started to notice after a few years that the “dates” we were having usually consisted of “getting that one thing done around the house that we’d been talking about for ages”.
But also, and weirdly, because of the length of time of our relationship, we were also being packaged more and more often as a unit—which, as it turns out, didn’t really help the bonds of intimacy that we could have been strengthening.
We started taking each other for granted.
What I noticed about myself during that time in my relationship was how I was starting to identify myself as part of my own unit. While I love my partner and while our relationship is one of the most important parts of my life, I truly believe that to consider it the most important relationship of my life is to dishonor a lot of the magic of being me.
I am the most important relationship of my life.
As much as I want to do with this body and soul that I have been given, I can’t do any of it if I don’t fully love, trust and honor myself: my boundaries, my heart and my weird habit of belting out made-up songs completely off-key.
And there lay our way back to everyday gratitude for each other: as silly as it sounds, we really needed to put the brakes on everything else and carve out time to spend just with each other: no to-do lists, no future projects, just him and me and doing something fun.
We are both people who can live too much in our own heads if we’re not careful—by truly trying to see each other, we found things in each other that we’d each forgotten.
And so finding my way back to my partner helped me (once again) find my way back to myself. It showed me how easy it was to get in similar, “automatic pilot” patterns with myself and not give myself room to change, or flourish.
Now dating ourselves as well as each other is a non-negotiable part of our lives.
The Single Girl
I’ve been single for awhile now. Sometimes that bothers me, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, I take myself off to swim in the sun, I go to dance classes even if I can’t dance, I eat pasta in bed while watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother and my extent of “making an effort” is to blow-dry my hair.
I realise, in my alone-ness, that I love this version of ‘happily ever after’—the one where I am unabashedly myself. It is freeing and wonderful to feel all and completely myself: all of the good bits, the beautiful bits, the wobbly, knobbly bits.
It would make sense then, wouldn’t it, to take this happily-ever version of me out when I’m on a date? But this doesn’t happen. Of course.
Instead, I fuss over eyeliner and agonise over how to match the perfect outfit. I am cautious about laughing too loudly. I feel awkward about the way I sit, or cross my legs, or stand, or walk, or carry my handbag. No matter how much I may like the person I’m with, I spend a notable part of the evening wishing I could be back at home, eating pasta and watching The Simpson reruns.
I think back now to the very first guy I dated. I was in my second year of university in a part of England that seemed to rain more frequently than anywhere else. Because it was so dreary, I hardly bothered with making any sort of effort for anything, so I spent most of my days in a pissy mood, sitting in tutorials rolling my eyes. I wore baggy jeans and wooly jumpers, not caring care if either matched, and let a friend cut my hair into a jagged, messy mop.
That first boy told me that this was why he had noticed me: because I didn’t care what anyone else thought of me (I didn’t), because I seemed ballsy and with-it and had my shit together (though I didn’t).
It was the same with the next guy, and then next and the next. Each time, I was at a place where relationships weren’t a priority. I was excited only about doing whatever I wanted to do and making an impression on others was the very last thing on my mind. I was being completely, utterly, unashamedly myself.
In turn, each of the guys I’ve dated would eventually get round to telling me that that was why they had liked me in the first place. I had made an impression on them precisely because I wasn’t trying to.
This time round, as I’m single again, I’m see that I am the most important relationship of my life.
I need to stop wishing for a perfect relationship to come along and realise that I already have it—with the magic of being me, my life, every one of my good, bad, wobbly, knobby bits.
Those versions of happily-ever-after—the one where Bronwyn throws out her to-do lists and Jamie eats pasta in bed—aren’t versions. They are the happily-ever-afters. They are the celebrations of us, whole and centred and happy all unto ourselves.
They are the results of the “hard work” we put into creating a life that is joyous whether we’re choosing to create a happily ending with someone or enjoy it on our own. But that ‘work’ isn’t drudgery or obligation. It is work that is juicy and real at every moment in our lives: it’s simply about being honest and present with ourselves and/or with the person we’re sharing a life with. This becomes a joy to maintain, one that lives on ever after.
It doesn’t matter that one girl (re)found herself through her partner, while the other (re)discovered who she really is on those many quiet evenings alone.
Many routes lead up to the same mountain, but at the top of that mountain there is only one peak—me or you, or you, or you. Our solitary, magical selves that stand out alone, or form part of a harmonious landscape with other mountain peaks. That mountain, that pinnacle is as important on its own—holding up other little worlds in its being—as it is as part of a mountain range—a backbone for entire ecosystems, interactions and lives.
It is a sum of parts, and we are each one of those parts, splendid, true and beautiful in our singleness; splendid, true and beautiful in the many sums we form.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: regan76/Flickr Creative Commons