Being Yourself in a Relationship (Aka How to Have a "Big Kid" Relationship)

Last night I had an “Aha!” moment. I’ve had a bunch of them since I’ve graduated college, but this one had been brewing for a while. I’ve been dating my boyfriend, Chris, for three years. We started dating during our junior year of college. At the beginning of our relationship we spent a lot of time together. Now we’re living in a small city where we only have a few friends. Because of this, we spend a lot of our weekends and weeknights together now too.

Here’s how my “Aha!” moment happened: Last night, Chris had a friend in town and he wanted to go to the bar to see him. I wanted to see my other friend for a few hours and didn’t want to go to the bar. In the early stages of our relationship, either I would have ended up going out with Chris and his friends, or he would have ended up staying home with me, or maybe we would have ended up arguing and then doing what we really wanted to do as individuals. I’m not ashamed to admit that. It can be very hard to figure out how to balance your individual wants/needs with another person’s. This is especially true when “real life” (post-college life) is new.

But last night, instead of doing what he/I didn’t want to do, I dropped Chris off at the bar. Then I saw my friend for a few hours. Then I went home and hung out and watched True Blood and read “The Hunger Games” (which is amazing, by the way) and was perfectly content. When Chris texted me, I went to the bar and picked him up. Everyone was happy. I got to do what I wanted. Chris got to do what he wanted. We were all smiles when we saw each other again at the end of the night. This was my “Aha!” moment. You can do things as an individual, then regroup and spend time as a couple and the world will not end.

Last year, Chris spent a lot of weekends working. I used to get really upset and lonely. I would think about all the things we could be doing but weren’t because he was working. I’m not proud of the fact that I did this, but it was so easy to let it happen. We had just graduated college and I was experiencing culture shock.

I couldn't let that be us. I mean look at that hair!

I couldn’t get used to not having my core group of friends around all the time. I wasn’t used to having to seek out things to do and ways to entertain myself. I was bored and lonely and taking my frustrations out on Chris and his job. This created a lot of tension. I realized that this approach wasn’t going to work for much longer. Now when Chris is working I do a lot of writing. I go to the gym. I meet someone for lunch or coffee. I go see my parents. I find things to do, or I accept being by myself. In college you’re almost never by yourself, so alone time can take some getting used to. Now I like it. Things are so much better since I’ve changed my attitude just a little bit. Now that I don’t rely on Chris for entertainment and company, it’s taken so much pressure off of him and us as a couple. When you can be okay on your own it makes the relationship much healthier. Everyone wants to feel wanted in a relationship. No one wants to feel needed in a desperate way.

A lot of times, Chris and I will both be home but we’ll be doing different things. He’s watching sports and I’m writing. He’s playing video games and I’m reading. Then we spend some time together. We each get to do our own thing and then we do our couple-y thing. When we first moved in together we would spend all night together. This was fun for a while, but you can’t live like that for long. You need to have time to do whatever it is you’d normally do when you live with roommates or at your childhood home. If you’d normally watch TV or read or play video games or take a nap, then you have to be able to do that. You can’t be in boyfriend/girlfriend mode all the time. It’s not comfortable. A little alone time mixed with a little couple time goes a LONG way. It took us a while to realize that, but it’s made a huge difference.

When you first get into a relationship, it’s easy to want to spend every weekend and weeknight together. When you first graduate college, it’s easy to cling to your boyfriend/girlfriend because life is completely different and things are confusing. It’s easy to lose sight of who you were before you met this great guy/girl. It’s easy to lose sight of what “normal” is in a relationship. But you have to force yourself to be self-sufficient. If you keep pursuing your interests, hobbies, and other friendships, then you’ll be a better boyfriend/girlfriend. And you’ll appreciate the time you spend together a lot more.


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