It’s the time of the year when we visit family we haven’t seen since the same time last year, maybe longer.
For some, these reunions can prompt the often-dreaded question: “So, are you seeing anyone?”
I’m fortunate enough to actually like my family, and look forward to spending time with them when I can. I don’t get asked the dreaded question as often as I’m sure some people do, but it does happen. And I have been answering “no” to that question for almost eight years now—sometimes proudly, sometimes with a twinge of sadness that the answer isn’t different this time.
For those of us who know—who are intimately, painfully aware of what it means to be single—we know what it is to be alone and to be lonely. We know the road to learning to love ourselves, even the darkest parts, and to finally finding peace in our own company. Along this road to self-discovery, which we must walk alone, we come to know our weaknesses, strengths, insecurities, desires, and what is important to us in life, and also in love.
In my eight-year tenure as a single person, I like to think I’ve come a way along that solitary road. I love my own company, to the point where I enjoy traveling abroad alone and going to bars, restaurants or movies alone. However, because of this long tenure, I’m also aware that the next time I find myself in a relationship, I will have some work to do on finding who I am as part of a couple.
There is another road toward self-discovery, and this one cannot be taken alone.
Parallel to finding who we are as individuals, we must also find who we are as part of a group—whether that group be a family, a friendship, a group of co-workers or a romantic relationship. These two parts of our selves are not mutually exclusive, and ideally we retain our individual goals, beliefs and hopes while involved with others.
It is common to lose sight of our individual selves when we find a new love. The honeymoon phase is all-consuming, and by all means, let’s bask in the feelings of lust and giddy excitement. That is a fun and important part of any new relationship, and we should enjoy it.
At the same time, it’s important to stay in touch with that individual self whose company we had come to love. It’s worth remembering to check in with that person every so often to see if their needs are being met, same as we would with any outside partner.
As I’ve observed others in relationships, and noted a few of my own tendencies in how I interact with men, I have begun to take mental note of a few things I would like my future, coupled self to remember.
I call them “practices” because, let’s be honest, going from the habits of a long-term single person to the habits of being part of a couple will not happen easily, or overnight. I will need reminding of a few things, and I will need to practice them, like exercising a muscle or practising a piano piece until it sounds polished.
I also like the idea of a “practice” because it reminds me that everything is a process. The road to finding my true self is a lifelong process, just as finding who I am in a couple is a process, and one that changes as I grow and change.
1. Practice alone time.
At first, the idea of voluntarily deciding not to be with a new partner, even when we have free time, feels wrong. But the more we get into the habit of referring all free time to them, and saving none of it for ourselves, the harder it is to break that habit when we really need time away. A significant other may also begin to feel insecure or upset if we suddenly begin asking for alone time, when we never did before.
Ideally, setting the tone from the onset of the relationship by letting them know that taking time for “me” is something that’s important to us, and something we want to be conscious of, will benefit both parties.
It has nothing to do with not wanting to spend time with them, it’s just an important part of who we are, and something that we need. Setting the expectation for alone time from the beginning will also hopefully offset any feelings that someone in the relationship is being too clingy, and help us savor the time spent together.
2. Practice honesty within.
Finding the time to cultivate our individual self while in a relationship will help us stay honest with ourselves, and with our partner. There are, of course, the harmless little white lies. However, we often find ourselves involved in bigger, more destructive lies out of fear. We are afraid our partner will be turned off if we’re honest about a certain thing, or it’ll spark a huge fight, or they might even leave us.
The more we make a habit out of lying to appease our significant other, the harder is it to break that cycle. And ultimately, being dishonest to our partner is not only disrespectful to us, betraying our true selves, but also disrespectful to them, not trusting them enough to share our true feelings.
Lying to our partner doesn’t only mean saying things that are untrue; a huge roadblock in any relationship can also be found in what someone doesn’t say. Keeping something to ourselves will only let it fester and grow inside our heads, until it’s all we can see or think about. It may have started out as something small and easily fixed, but something our partner had no way of knowing about unless we said something.
3. Practice honesty without.
Just as remaining true to ourselves is vital to a relationship, so is remaining true to our partner. This does not only mean staying faithful, assuming that exclusivity is something that is expected in the relationship and both partners are adhering to that understanding.
Remaining true to our partner comes in other forms, as well. It involves honesty.
Being honest with a significant other shows that we respect them and trust them enough to handle our fears and insecurities with care. It shows that we are willing to become vulnerable in front of them, which only strengthens our bond. In return, we openly accept our partners’ honesty and treat it with the same care.
It also involves discretion when it comes to discussing our relationship with others. Everyone talks about their relationships with friends or family—it’s a healthy way to gain perspective or advice from objective outsiders. In remaining true to our significant other, we should be aware that what we discuss with others isn’t something that should be kept between us and our partner, something they trusted us with in their moments of vulnerability.
4. Practice gratitude.
Remember all of those lonely nights spent watching “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and eating ice cream as a single person?
Now that we’re in a relationship, having a girls’ night or alone time with our favorite chick flicks has a different meaning, a different feeling. But don’t forget those single girl nights when all we wanted was to come home to someone who loves us and snuggle up on the couch.
Now that we have that, let’s appreciate it. Let our partners know that we’re grateful to be a part of their life, and how happy we are to have them in ours. Come home with takeout from their favorite restaurant, take them on a surprise road trip, send “just because” flowers to their office—something to let them know they are loved and appreciated.
It can be difficult to straddle two roads at once: maintaining our relationship to our true self and maintaining relationships with others. It is a true balancing act, but one that can lead to living with the utmost authenticity, honesty and joy.
Author: Vanessa Chumbley
Image: Hillary Boles/Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren