I’ve dated plenty of guys but I’ve only been in three actual relationships in my life. However, my current boyfriend is the first one I’d consider a real adult relationship and it’s helped me to learn the ropes of love, commitment, compromise and ultimately, having a choice. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- There are no rules. When you’re young, you depend on movies, books and other people’s advice to decide what and how things should play out. Obviously, it’s mostly BS. I came to be in my first real, grown relationship over the course of four months of thinking we were just going to be friendly hookup buddies because he didn’t take me out to dinner right away, call me every night or buy me roses. Love is not so simple as first dates, grand gestures and the mutual desire to commit — sometimes, as in my situation, it takes low expectations to really be yourself around someone.
- Relationship tests are BS. Putting your partner to the test is a term used to mask the word GAME. In grown relationships, games don’t work. Believe me, I tried, and what I found out is that ignoring your partner all day long and pretending to be up to no good just causes them to feel pushed away when you were really trying to send severe smoke signals for attention, love and understanding. If you want to be tested or to test others, just be patient. Life has a funny way of naturally testing you, your partner and the relationship you’re in—no work required.
- Communication must be simple and direct. As a writer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dramatized my feelings into some sort of epilogue straight out of The Notebook, only to get silence in return. As an adult, you’re held to certain standards, like saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Want chicken for dinner? Don’t say you’re okay with whatever he gets. Want sex tonight? Don’t crawl up in bed and hope he jumps your bones and pout when he doesn’t pick up the hint. Love works best when you ask for what you want.
- You have to be vulnerable. I remember being six months into my relationship, walking down the street hand in hand when my partner told me he doesn’t move in with people until he’s been with them for three years — and no, he’s never made it to three years with anyone else. We’ve now been together for three years, and two months after that initial statement, we were renting our first place by the beach together. He tried to keep up his guard, but real love doesn’t have boundaries. Authentic love requires vulnerability. You can’t half-love someone out of fear of getting hurt or screwing up. You’ve got to be all in.
- Put your needs first. If you’re not listening to your body — emotionally, mentally and physically — how can you expect to be a good listener, lover, friend and partner to your significant other? Whenever I’ve put my health and happiness by the wayside, it’s directly affected my relationship, causing me to lash out, ignore, disrespect and belittle my partner. When I’m in a good place, I can give him the love he needs and deserves.
- You’ve got to have fun. Being in a grown-ass relationship is a balance between bad moods, important bills, dark thoughts and make out sessions just because, inappropriate sexting when no one asked for it, funny pictures to lighten up a stressful work day and naked dance parties in the living room. I can feel the shift in our relationship when my partner and I don’t find ways to smile, laugh and enjoy each other with no effort at all. We’re tense, lack communication and focus on the negatives. Keep it simple. Keep it light.
- You need to give each other space to get closer. While it seems counterintuitive, suffocating each other only creates more distance. I learned the hard way, by not having nights away from my partner and spent with a close group of girlfriends instead. We lost a sense of ourselves in each other. We could no longer offer advice or grow from each other because we had, in so many ways, become one. It’s entirely necessary to give each other room to flourish in order for the relationship to continue onward and upward.
- You always have a choice. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, and certainly the most hard-earned. For a long time, being in a relationship meant giving something up and never really having the ability to get it back until all was said and done. But in a real, grown relationship, you always have the choice to stay or leave, say yes or no. You are, at the end of the day, still your own person, no matter if you share a bank account, a dog, a home, the same last name, friends or children. A real partner respects your individuality. You are you, and no one can take that away from you.