7 Valuable Lessons I've Learned In The First Year Of My Relationship
Last June, I saw a hot guy to my left in an Ibiza club and asked to bite him. I never imagined that by now, he'd be my boyfriend. Yet a dozen plane rides, hundreds of WhatsApp messages, and a maddening visa application later, we've been dating for a year.
Last week, we toasted over Fragolino to making this work against the odds. Initially, after falling in love in just two days, we resigned ourselves to leaving this as a vacation fling. After all, I lived in New York, and he lived in Germany. But on the plane ride home, I realized I couldn't let someone I loved that much already go. I wrote a heartfelt email that spurred his first visit to New York.
Soon after, I decided to pursue my dream of being a digital nomad — someone who travels nonstop while working remotely. That provided an excuse to come to Germany, where I ended up staying for two months. I now spend about half my time there, so I guess you could say we're living together.
Making a long-distance relationship work and successfully cohabiting with someone have both pushed me to evolve as a partner and a person. Here are some things I've learned about relationships over the past year.
1. Relationships Don't Have To Make Your Life Harder
I used to think that if you wanted a relationship, you'd just have to accept that your life was about to get messier. That's why I preferred being single: There was no emotional drama interrupting my work. Given that my past relationships were full of arguments, tears, and unresolved anger, it's no wonder I believed relationships were bad for my career. I lost hours of work fighting with partners, cooling down from the fights, venting to friends about them, and trying to distract myself from them with Friends reruns.
But to my surprise, my life is easier than it was when I was single. I have someone to lean on when I'm sad or lonely. I don't have to go through life's toughest moments alone because I'm part of a team. Our arguments only happen once in a blue moon, and they resolve. Since we both admit to our mistakes, I'm never left with that lingering anger I used to harbor because my partners weren't really hearing me. Don't settle for someone who makes your life harder! It's totally possible to find someone who makes it easier.
2. You Need To Talk About Your Problems — Even (No, Especially) The Worst Ones
I spent a while on the verge of breaking up with my partner because of something I never even gave him the chance to change. I kept it to myself because I was afraid that if he knew I was unhappy, he'd just break up with me. But then I realized that keeping it to myself would also lead to a breakup, because then we wouldn't be able to fix it. When I finally brought it up, he actually listened and made changes. It required some emotional conversations (see #1), but by having them, we saw how badly we wanted to be together despite it all, which ultimately made our relationship stronger.
3. It's OK For Your Sex Life To Dwindle
During the first few months of my relationship, we'd have sex nearly every day, so I got it into my head that if we went a day without it, our passion was dying. But then, we reached the point where neither of us really felt like it that often. For a while, I'd try to initiate sex every day anyway. I had this image of myself as the "cool girl" who's always up for sex and (wrongfully) felt responsible to fight the stereotype that women are less sexual.
But as it turns out, sex isn't so great when you're not really turned on. I'd be left feeling like I wasted my time — not exactly the desired post-sex afterglow. So now, I save sex for when I want it — badly. Because of that, the sex we do have ends up being much better. Knowing he's on the same page has helped me realize that my "cool girl" complex and feelings of responsibility to feminism were unfounded.
4. A Little Bit Of Patience Goes A Long Way
For a while, my partner and I were arguing over something small every few days. Then, one day, I realized we weren't anymore. I hadn't made any drastic changes. I had just put in a little more effort to get along with him. When he didn't do something he said he would, I sent a friendly email reminder instead of an angry text about how he constantly breaks his promises. If he didn't come home when he said he would after a night out with friends, I'd remind myself that he shouldn't have to cut his fun short just to watch TV with me. Now that he's not constantly under criticism, he feels more relaxed, which makes him more forgiving of me, too.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, "Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf." Yes, I'd be entitled to get angry with my partner over things like forgetting stuff and being late. But by cutting him slack, even if it's more than he deserves, I'm avoiding tension and earning extra brownie points with him. And ultimately, that's good for both of us, because his appreciation for my patience motivates him to go above and beyond for me.
5. You Get To Keep All Your Own Opinions & Interests When You're In A Relationship
This may seem obvious, but I think many women (including myself) can lose themselves in relationships and forget that just because their partner believes something doesn't mean they have to agree. You don't need to pretend you're OK with everything they or their friends do. You're allowed to find views of theirs objectionable.
And by the way, you not liking video games doesn't make you uncool any more than your partner not liking makeup does. I know that's a gendered example, but that's because we devalue feminine things. If you pretend to agree with your partner on everything, you're doing them a disservice by giving them less of you.
6. Ask For What You Want, And You Just Might Get It
The decisions that have had the biggest impact for both my career and my relationship have involved asking for things I didn't think I'd get. In the very beginning, after we'd only spent two days together, I asked my partner to travel across the world — and he did. Then, when I traveled across the world for him right before my birthday, I asked him to make sure to get me a present — and he got an amazing one.
If you don't ask for things, you can't fault the other person for not giving you them. And by asking for them, you're not being selfish. You're helping your partner. Most people would rather know exactly how to keep their partners happy than be left guessing.
7. No, Really, You Deserve Better
My friends used to tell me I deserved better when they met my past partners, but I didn't believe them. I figured I had to put up with people who were difficult because I wasn't perfect either. I figured I should settle for partners I found merely decent-looking because looks didn't really matter. Whether or not I deserved better, I didn't think I could get it. But I did. So please believe your friends when they say you can do better. They're not lying. Date the way you would if you were one of those attractive people you're jealous of. Because you probably are.
Just writing that down has helped me realize even more. Maybe everyone should make a list like this on their anniversary.